Political scholar George Ciccariello-Maher, author of three acclaimed books about Venezuela, visited Hofstra on Wednesday, April 24, to speak to students about crisis and opportunity in modern Venezuela and outlined Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution as a creator of both.
Ciccariello-Maher stated that the roots of the revolution came from Venezuela’s transition to an oil-based economy.
When the price of oil around the world was high in the late 20th century, it was less expensive for Venezuela to import food and manufactured items than to produce them domestically.
People migrated to cities for a better chance at making a living and the governmental focus did the same. When oil prices dropped, the Venezuelan people could no longer afford food, which created a crisis.
This left Venezuelans who lived in rural areas to form their own self-sufficient communities, known as communes.These communes were inherently socialist.
Their ideologies spread into the cities as underground militias formed to protect impoverished Venezuelans from the police. Though Hugo Chávez was democratically elected in 1998, Nicolás Maduro was elected after him through this process.
Ciccariello-Maher explained the trade embargoes that capitalist countries imposed on Venezuela as a reaction to the socialist government.
“Venezuela has been a declared enemy of the United States basically since the beginning [of Chavez’s time in office],” Ciccariello-Maher said. “In 2002, there was a failed coup that briefly overthrew Chavez, and ever since then, it’s been a constant effort to overthrow this leader who represents an alternative not only for Venezuelans, but for Latin-American unity, sovereignty and attempts to build alternative ways of living in Latin America.”
Ciccariello-Maher’s speech drew in many students – 216 Breslin Hall was full to capacity. One student, Ibrahim Naseer, a freshman political science major, wanted to expand their viewpoint on the crisis in Venezuela.
“I wanted to learn from different perspectives,” Naseer said. “I hear a bunch of stuff through the news outlets [and wanted] to get a different perspective [compared to] media shows.”
Antonella Colon, a sophomore English major, had a more personal take on Ciccariello-Maher’s talk. “My parents are Venezuelan; they were born there, they were raised there – they were completely wrong,” Colon said. “The last two presidents, to me, were horrible people – they were dictators.” The idea that Chávez and Maduro were elected fairly was one she had not considered until Ciccariello-Maher spoke.
“Growing up pure Venezuelan, living in a Venezuelan-only town, it’s all like, ‘These people are bad, they’re ruining Venezuela,’” Colon said, contrasting her previous beliefs to Ciccariello-Maher’s presentation of the crisis. “I’m just kind of questioning what happened and what people have told me.”