03/03/2014 12:58 EST | Updated 05/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Venezuela at the Crossroads of Democracy

Just a few days ago on February 11, what started as a peaceful student protest has turned into a nation-wide conflict between the protesters and government entities.

I will return here after a few paragraphs which will set out the need for democratic process in this South America Country.

Venezuela, located the northern coast of South America, has an estimated population of 29,100,000.

Colonized by Spain in 1522, Venezuela became one of the first Spanish American colonies to declare independence in 1811. During the 19th century, Venezuela suffered political turmoil and dictatorship and until well into the 20th century it was dominated by regional military strongmen. However, since 1958, Venezuela has had democratic governments.

The economic upheavals of the 1980s and 1990s led to a political turmoil in Venezuela, with hundreds of deaths in the 1989 Caracazo riots; two attempted coups in 1992; and, the impeachment of President Carlos Andrés Pérez for embezzlement of public funds in 1993. The 1998 saw the election of former career officer, Hugo Chávez, as President and the launch of the Bolivarian Revolution, beginning with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution of Venezuela.

After the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013, Nicolás Maduro Moros was elected President of Venezuela on April 14, 2013. Nicolás Maduro, the former bus driver/union leader, was elected to the National Assembly in 2000. He served under President Hugo Chávez as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Vice President of Venezuela. On his deathbed, President Chávez hand-picked Nicolás Maduro to be his successor as the Presidential Candidate of the United Socialist Party.

The Presidential election was held on Sunday, April 14, 2013. Nicolás Maduro won the election by a narrow margin over his main rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski (50.6% to 49.1%). Reports of wide-spread voting irregularities caused Henrique Capriles to call for a recount, which Nicolás Maduro agreed to on election night. However, by Monday, Nicolás Maduro had changed his mind and had the election commission declare him the winner and he was inaugurated on April 19th.

I was in Venezuela for the April 14th election as an accredited international observer and witnessed a number of irregularities which made me gravely concerned.

Fast forward to today, there have been peaceful protests in many cities in Venezuela. This started on Tuesday, February 11th, when a peaceful student protest became violent when government entities began by shooting and hitting peaceful protesters, resulting in six deaths, including two catholic priests, with many others being hurt. Since then the protests have spread across Venezuela; the death toll has risen; hundreds have been arrested and imprisoned without due process; and, many have just gone missing.

These are the largest protests since the death of Hugo Chávez, nearly a year ago. These protests sweeping across Venezuela, rapidly expanding from student protests to protests which include a much broader array of people.

President Maduro, struggling to contend with a deeply troubled economy, has taken a hard line -- quelling expressions of discontent, squeezing the news media, arresting a prominent opposition politician and sending the National Guard into residential areas.

News channels which are owned and managed by the government have not been reporting the situation. A Columbian news channel, NTN24, the only international channel broadcasting this news has been taken of the air in Venezuela by the government regulatory body, surpassing national laws and human rights.

Venezuelans are completely isolated and are relying on social media which has been disrupted by the slowing down of the internet; the blocking of images on Twitter and even suspending the service.

The Venezuelan government has limited the access of international and non-governmental organizations to the country, obstructing their ability to record violations of human rights.

Canadians of Venezuela heritage have reached out and are asking the Government of Canada to stand in solidarity with the Venezuelans who are fighting for democracy.

We cannot allow political bullies, like Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Nicolás Maduro Moros of Venezuela to line their own pockets at the expense of their countries, suppress dissent and, under the disguise of democracy, bring misery to their people.

Protests In Venezuela