Bulletproof cars for fear you’ll be assaulted by armed criminals. Private escorts for fear you’ll be kidnapped. Empty supermarket shelves. Empty pharmacy shelves. Children starving, dying. Escasez (scarcity) becomes as familiar a phrase as arepa (and not the arepa at Rubamba, a real arepa — Google it). Anti-government protestors donning red, blue and yellow are a weekly encounter. Protestors’ burnt buses and street warfare follow me to school, one of two safe places. Either school or home. Home or school. No in between. Poor Wi-Fi if any, few excursions. The one time we tried going to one of the country’s beautiful beaches, we were held at gunpoint. This was my life for the four years I lived in Venezuela, two years under Chávez, and two years under Maduro.
I am originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where politicians campaign with slogans like “Better a lunatic than a thief,” and government corruption is rampant. No doubt European colonization in Latin America left behind poor infrastructure, undiversified economies, blind religious devotion and underfunded education systems, all of which have contributed to the disastrous conditions of many Latin American cities. But today is no different. Current politicians manipulate citizens’ religious beliefs to fund self-serving agendas alongside agencies saturated with their cronies through the spoils system. Perhaps worst of all, many Latin Americans have grown complacent, accepting corruption as merely a side effect of their nation’s “third-world” status.
These situations catalyzed my desire to go to Yale, learn about politics, global affairs and economics and obtain the skills to help rebuild beautiful countries in my hemisphere. But at Yale, too many students claim to speak authoritatively on South American politics without knowing what it’s like to live under socialism. What happened in Bolivia was not a coup.
On April 30, 2019, a small group of Venezuelan military officials attempted to overthrow Nicolas Maduro’s corrupt government. They were unsuccessful. As soon as this happened, Maduro cried “golpe de estado” or “coup d’état,” victimizing himself just as Evo Morales, former president of Bolivia, does now. Some say what is happening in Bolivia is the textbook example of a coup. The Oxford dictionary defines a coup as “a sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from a government.”
But Bolivia is not experiencing a coup because its military is not trying to seize power. Many commentators make comparisons to the Arab Spring in 2011, when citizens led revolts against their governments in the Middle East and failed because the military took the reins. This is not what is happening in Bolivia. The Bolivian military wanted to protect itself from having to injure and kill civilian protesters at the government’s request; it doesn’t necessarily want political power. It is standing with civilians.
Some say the attempt is not a coup because the U.S. foreign policy establishment wanted it to happen. Stop right there. What happened in Bolivia was not a coup because Bolivians — a great majority of them — wanted Morales out. Bolivians were behind this movement, not the U.S.
Since Oct. 21, Bolivians have taken to the streets to protest Morales’ election rigging the day before. They are tired of food rations and gas shortages. These are the effects of Latin American socialism, which took hold after the early 2000s Pink Tide that put in place a set of corrupt leftist leaders all around Latin America. On Oct. 22 in Riberalta, Bolivia, protesters knocked down a statue of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s dictator who ruined the lives of millions.
I am not condoning the protesters’ use of violence. Venezuelan protesters interrupted our school year for two months in 2014, and my family had to flee the country. Hong Kong protesters are also using violence to achieve their end. I don’t believe members of the Movement for Socialism in Bolivia should be victims of attack. I can’t condone protesters’ violence but I can acknowledge that they are fighting for freedom, transparency and democracy. You should also be aware that politics in Latin America are not as black and white and partisan as in the U.S. It’s not just left versus right. Right now, it’s corrupt versus not corrupt. Plain and simple.
For those who don’t know, Venezuela was once the richest country in South America. Today, it is literally in ruins. I will probably not be able to go back for another decade, if not longer. Past presidents were white elitists who cared little for people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, justifiably enraging the poor. Who wouldn’t vote for Chávez if he was promising to give poor people their country back? But in the end, he delivered a reality worse than their past one.
Chávez did good things. Morales did good things, like reducing poverty. But eventually, power consumed him. Their governments became incredibly corrupt and inefficient.
I am left-leaning. I am not advocating for the ouster of leftist politicians in Latin America because of their political beliefs but because they are immensely corrupt. Their corruption goes beyond the level of the Trump-Ukraine scandal. Maduro is stealing from a nation whose children have no food and are fainting in their classrooms.
This view is unfortunately absent from many Yale students’ conversations about political developments in Latin America. I am tired of hearing from people who simply do not even know that these situations are too complex to dilute to a left versus right issue. I am tired of hearing liberal Yalies revere socialism as a utopian ideal when no one who has lived through socialism wants socialism. Please stop talking about socialism if you have no idea what it actually looks like. Call what happened in Bolivia what you like. Bolivians spoke, Venezuelans will soon speak, and what Yale liberals think doesn’t really matter. Latin America needs real leaders who are willing to invest in the future of their people. I want to be one of these leaders.
LARISSA JIMENEZ is a first year in Morse College. Contact her at email@example.com .