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Venezuela's Growing Militia
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Growing Militarism, Shrinking Human Rights
In the U.S., where I live, people are concerned about new healthcare policies, the economy, education, mid-term elections and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other important issues. About the latter two, a great many U.S. citizens worry about their sons and daughters' lives, as they serve in the armed forces.
Something not top of mind, is the state of affairs in Venezuela. Even many of those who read the newspaper every day, tend to give a passing glance to Venezuela, perhaps paying attention to the country's effect on the price of oil, and perhaps shaking their heads at the incursion of Cuba's Castro regime into Venezuelan politics. On a more global level, Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chávez is seen as a sort of Robin Hood, as taking from the rich and giving to the poor. In some ways he has. He has definitely taken from the rich. But as for giving to the poor, not so much. And even if families living below the poverty line are receiving a few extra rations, at what price? This is a president who moves to revise the country's constitution at whim. I've received first-hand accounts from family and friends of widespread shortages of basic staples. And in a petroleum producing country, where filling up an car´s gas tank costs less that a two liter bottle of Coca Cola, electricity is being rationed and any household that goes over the quota is penalized a month without power. Meaning, no lights. Roads and bridges are crumbling. There is rampant street crime and kidnapping is commonplace. Hospitals are vastly overcrowded and lacking in supplies. Then, there is the closing down of TV stations and other media that go against the regime and the silencing (aka imprisonment) of dissidents.
But one of the most frightening aspects of today's Venezuela is the growing militia and the encroachment of a militaristic attitude into all aspects of society. On April 13, 2010, president Chávez swore in more than 30,000 militia soldiers. Ok, I can be unrealistically dovish, questioning the use of military power in places others deem necessary to defend freedom. In the case of Venezuela, it doesn't seem like they are arming against an outside threat, but to combat anti-Chavista tendencies in their own country. Civil war, anyone?
Particularly chilling to me, was the announcement recently, of a new government-sponsored movement in the high schools called "La guerilla comunicacional" - no translation needed. Created as an antidote to views reported in the "private media", the troops train for 4 hours a week in disciplines such as graffitti stenciling. And while these kids are not carrying arms, they are learning military style discipline and responding to a chain of command and chanting slogans. Not exactly encouraging free-thinking.
The images I'm sharing here were sent to me by a Venezuelan journalist, in a communiqué "Militia in Wonderland". It's no wonder.