Formula for Protest: Comparing Ukraine and Venezuela
23 July, 2017

Ukraine's Euromaidan protests served as an inspiration for the current protests gripping Venezuela, says Inaki Sagarzazu, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Tech University. As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro moves his country closer to one-man rule, the opposition is mounting a resistance in the streets and taking a cue from Ukrainians.

In 2014, the Euromaidan protest movement ousted former President Viktor Yanukovich after he backed out of a popular Association Agreement with the European Union. For over a month this year, Venezuelan protesters have been voicing a similar discontent with their own government.

According to Sagarzazu, the similarities between the two protest movements lie in the protestors' goals of governmental change and the pro-state media’s misleading depictions of the protests.

The 2017 Venezuelan protests initially erupted in January after Venezuelan police arrested multiple opposition leaders and dialogue between the opposition and Nicolas Maduro’s government collapsed.

On March 30, the Supreme Court — controlled by Maduro’s loyalists — ruled in favor of eliminating the elected legislature, the National Assembly, which was controlled by the opposition. By dissolving the Assembly, the Supreme Court became the only law-making body. Following this move, protests grew increasingly violent.

Venezuela has been struggling with social unrest since oil prices collapsed in 2014.

To discuss media coverage of protests and the Venezuelan political climate, Hromadske sat down with Professor Inaki Sagarzazu, an expert on Latin American politics.

My first question will be about your statement in your recent publication in The Washington Post. You wrote that coverage of the Venezuelan protests is misleading. Could you please argue why?

Inaki Sagarzazu: There are many things that are happening in Venezuela. It is difficult, especially at the beginning of the protest, it was difficult to determine what was true from what was old reporting. There were many instances where we found that, what was believed was happening at the moment was not really. For instance, yesterday, there was a plebiscite in which the opposition voted, but the government used some of images of voters in the opposition plebiscite to say they were voting in the preliminary round of the constituent assembly that they are organizing in two weeks. Similarly, you see some of the images that news outlets publish saying there are people voting in the plebiscite were actually from the government. So sometimes, it’s a bit confusing, and we have to dig a little bit to make sure we find out the truth.

You also argued that there are a lot of similarities between what is happening in Venezuela now and what was happening in Ukraine back in 2013-14. Could you please explain what are the main similarities between both situations?

Inaki Sagarzazu: Yes. Well, there’s a government that doesn’t want to check what people want to do, that is going towards more authoritarian. There is an opposition that’s being imprisoned; where its leader are being persecuted. And there’s people that want to express themselves but turned out that the only way to express themselves is through protest. And those protests have grown more and more violent as time goes on, with the increase oppression by the government. So there’s a few similarities to the situation in Ukraine that we believe can be seen in Venezuela today.

Why do you think the Ukrainian case is so much an inspiration for protests in Venezuela?

Inaki Sagarzazu: Well, I think Venezuelan people saw that people in Ukraine through protest successfully managed to achieve a changing government, right. And I think a lot in the opposition feel desperate that the traditional political democratic way has not paid out, right. And the government keeps taking advantage of them and violating the constitution. And they see, in that sense, that it was possible to change the government via protest, so they are trying to achieve that as well.

There was a referendum last Sunday, around 98% of people voted against constitutional changes suggested by the president of the country. What are we expecting to happen next?

Inaki Sagarzazu: This was a population of voters that was completely biased to the opposition. It was not an official referendum, it was something organized by the opposition. And with an impressive 7 million voters. It was quite significant, but it’s not the whole picture of the Venezuelan electorate.

What we can expect today from the opposition is that they are going to make a broad pronouncement calling against the constituent assembly and perhaps starting to create a new institutional organization.

/Interview by Tetyana Oharkova

/Text by Chen Ou Yang