Toward a Nuanced, Feminist Discussion on Venezuela
In the last week, Venezuelans have come out to protest en masse in cities across the country. Depending on where you’re getting your information, people are protesting because they’re wealthy brats who are mad that they’re no longer able to get the official exchange rate for their foreign vacations, or they’re protesting an extremely unstable economy, a lack of basic goods like staple foods and toilet paper, and endemic violence. The truth is, well, both. The fact is, wealthier Venezuelans are mad. Over the last 15 years, since the election of Hugo Chavez, wealth has undergone a massive redistribution - no question a positive thing in an extremely uneven and disparate economic landscape - and the Venezuelan rich have been pretty upset about it; they kinda liked all their money. During this time, there is absolutely no question that the material conditions of poor Venezuelans improved vastly. These things, along with the charisma, guts, and equal parts biting and hilarious political commentary of the late Hugo Chavez have made Venezuela’s leftist project - now led by Chavez’s far less charismatic successor, Nicolás Maduro - the darling of leftist movements worldwide. This has also made Venezuela a major target of unwarranted and undemocratic political intervention by the United States, part of a long history of political intervention in South American left governments.
The economy is devastated, and 2013 ended with an official inflation rate of 58%, with inflation on the black market - to which an increasing number of Venezuelans are turning - at rates at least five or six times that. Think about that for a second. What folks were getting paid in January of last year? Now it’s worth 60%-300% less. If they happened to have managed to save any money, well, that was a bad move, as it’s worth a whole lot less now. This is a national phenomenon, affecting everyone, and actually mostly affecting poor folks - a lot of wealthier folks with jobs at multinational corporations have managed to start getting paid in dollars, so it’s a sweet deal for them. This reality is also part of the context of the protests.
Feminist projects have enjoyed mixed success in Venezuela. While there certainly have been some very important gains, this government has left Venezuelan feminists with a lot to be desired. Despite the fact that, much like everywhere else, a lack of access to safe and legal options for terminating a pregnancy affects primarily low-income women, abortion remains illegal. Throughout the last 15 years there has been no major effort to legalize this very common medical procedure, and in fact it has hardly ever been mentioned. I’ve spent a good amount of time with the transcripts of every single Aló Presidente, scouring them for mentions of abortion and coming up short. Nor has there been any mention, much less action, on the terrifyingly high rates of murders of trans women. Protections for queer folks are nearly nonexistent, and let’s not forget that in the midst of his presidential campaign, Nicolás Maduro called his political opponent Henrique Capriles a fag, calling into question his ability to lead for his lack of a wife.