It has now been a year since student protests first filled the streets of Venezuela’s main cities and met a brutal police response. But people both inside and outside Venezuela are still struggling to make sense of the conflict.
The final toll of the four months of protests that began Feb. 12, 2014 is thought to be 43 killed (10 of them police officers), hundreds injured and 3,517 arrested.
The numbers themselves may not seem that high. In the U.S., for example, about 2 million people are hospitalized each year due to injuries. But a more useful comparison for outsiders looking to understand the scale of the violence might be to look to the protests in Ferguson, MO, that rocked the country six months ago. There, no one was killed in the protests, seven members of the public were injured and there were 205 arrests.
Protests of Venezuela’s economic policies and the government of President Nicolas Maduro had already been taking place in some fashion. But tensions erupted in February when thousands marched to the Office of the General Attorney to make demands. On the afternoon of Feb. 12, a member of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service allegedly shot and killed 24-year-old-student Bassil Dacosta, and popular demonstrations grew nationwide.
National Guard and National Police responded to stones thrown by protesters with tear gas and pellet guns. Protesters and journalists were arrested, their audiovisual material and photos destroyed. Raids were conducted on those thought to be spreading information that harmed the government’s official message.
Officials did eventually succeed in removing demonstrators from the streets, but not before both national and international opinion condemned the government’s tactics.
The consequences of the protests are still being felt — just last month, non-governmental organization Espacio Publico released a report that determined that 2014 was the “worst year” on record for freedom of expression in Venezuela, both in terms of official censorship and self-censorship of TV and print media outlets in the face of government intimidation.
It remains to be seen whether calls for more transparency will have a positive effect. But the one thing most people can agree on regarding the wave of protests, as Angel Bermudez wrote for Fox News Latino Feb. 12, is that “it was a war with no winners.”