Hey Reddit! I'm Chris Arsenault, a journalist for Al Jazeera English currently reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

With the world's largest proven oil reserves, there are billions of dollars at stake in Venezuela's ongoing turmoil. Supporters of Nicolas Maduro's government say their lives have improved since the socialists won their first election in 1998 - but opponents of the government have been demonstrating since February over violent crime, massive inflation, corruption and what they consider to be government repression.

You can check out my articles on Venezuela here.

I cover events in Latin America for Al Jazeera English online, and my work on Venezuela was recently nominated for two One World media awards. Before that, I worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a series of newspapers.

I'll be on at 10AM EST to answer your questions about the situation in Venezuela - or about anything else you might want to ask.

Here's proof.

Comments: 253 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

ChrisArsenaultAJE18 karma

Thanks everyone for joining us. Hopefully people found this informative. I have to get back to reporting. We will be doing some special coverage on the first anniversary on the death of Hugo Chavez which will be commemorated tomorrow.

For the latest updates on Venezuela, please follow our liveblog http://live.aljazeera.com/Event/Venezuela_Blog

For more context on Venezuela visit http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/chris-arsenault.html

Or follow me on twitter @AJEChris and for anything from Kiev to Caracas, stay tuned to www.aljazeera.com

Thanks very much for joining us

wakawaka80114 karma

Hey Chris, great to have you here.

Can you please explain as simple as possible why there are food shortages in Venezuela? It doesn't seem right that such a wealthy country has food supply issues.

ChrisArsenaultAJE37 karma


It is indeed a bizarre situation. I did an investigation of this a few days ago and fundamentally, the main issue relates to the currency. Venezuela depends on imports for 95% of what people consume. Importers can't access US dollars easily, as the supply of currency is controlled by the state.

For basic products produced in Venezuela, including Arena Pan (corn flour used in Arepas, the national dish) the government has price controls. This has led to companies producing less - especially when they have trouble accessing machine parts or raw materials because of currency problems. The controls have led to a thriving black market, where traders are selling basic goods at prices far higher than the controlled rate.

Hoarding, as the government constantly reminds the population, is indeed an issue. But you don't see hoarding in Brazil or Colombia. Fundamentally, the government has tried to impose its will on the laws of supply and demand and failed quite miserably.

salutishi13 karma

What is something we can do to help?

ChrisArsenaultAJE31 karma

It really depends who you want to help. For all its faults, Maduro's government still has major public support. The Chavistas did indeed win 18 out of 19 elections. There are, of course, plenty of cases where they used state resources for their campaigns and a mix of the carrot and stick to gain support. But fundamentally, these are secret ballot elections and Maduro retains significant support. So, if you want to help the government, come to Venezuela and see what's going on, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, drink a lot of Venezuelan coffee and drive an SUV which you fill at Citgo. The US NGO global exchange offers "reality tours" where one can see the country and meet people from a leftist outlook (full disclosure: one of my friends here is Global Exchange's local guide).

If you want to support the opposition, speak out against the repression of student demonstrators, advocate for boycotts of Venezuelan oil, and organise student exchanges/speaking tours with members of the opposition so they can talk directly to your community.

Oblanca9 karma

Hi Chris

What is the reaction of the universities, do they support the students?

ChrisArsenaultAJE15 karma

This is a good question. Education has been expanded massively during the socialist period, with many new "bolivarian universities" opened for the poor. At these schools, the faculty and most of the students are not sympathetic to the protests.

At the autonomous universities - including key institutions like the Central University of Venezuela - I think a lot of the faculty are supporting the protests, but many are now. I attended a staff meeting at the social sciences faculty of UCV last week and the group was just as divided as the rest of the country. The only thing they could agree upon was a general statement condemning violence on all sides.

ORD_to_SFO9 karma

In America, we often hear that the leadership of Venezuela isn't too fond of the US. Do you find that this feeling is pervasive amongst thevVenezuelan people? If it isn't, do you see opportunities in economic development or partnership (ie. They have oil, and we want to buy it.)

ChrisArsenaultAJE15 karma

Hi, thanks for joining us. Venezuela is still the fourth largest foreign exporter of oil to the US. Culturally, there there is a lot in common - baseball, beer, American TV shows. The conflict is political, based on specific actions of the state department and intelligence services in the US and the socialist party in Venezuela. The economic partnerships are already there, despite Venezuela looking to Asia for new markets. I don't think there is anything cultural to stop relations from improving, the dispute is political.

goodways8 karma

How has the mood of the country changed since the change in leadership from Chavez?

ChrisArsenaultAJE22 karma

It's very hard to get too excited about Nicolas Maduro's leadership. And the feeling of things getting worse is more pervasive, especially given the economic situation. For all of his faults, Chavez was a larger than life figure, someone who radiated charisma and had a real connection to the poor. Within the socialist party, Maduro was seen as a "yes man". He is not viewed as a particularly tactile politician. Supporters of the socialists will say "Maduro is the son of Chavez so we support him" but it doesn't seem like there is a lot of passion about his leadership or where he has taken the country. The mood has certainly worsened. On the streets, there is a feeling of stagnation and decay in many (though certainly not all) neighbourhoods.

sha3mwow8 karma

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the detailed replies - one of the better AMAs I've seen.

My interest in Venezuela was sparked by the 2003 documentary "The revolution will not be televised" about the attempted CIA backed coup in 2002.

What's your opinion on that documentary? Have you heard of any parallels between the situations then and now?

ChrisArsenaultAJE5 karma


I also really liked that documentary; it helped get me interested in the situation here. Yes, there are some parallels to the situation now. There are hardline people in the opposition who are openly calling for another coup. I have interviewed at least a dozen people at protests who openly say this. Today, however, the opposition protests are far smaller than they were in 2002. While there are still plenty of people in the military who don't like the government, it seems that Chavez removed many of the key opposition supporters in high-level positions (with the exception of the AirForce). In short, the opposition is far weaker today than it was in 2002.

wakawaka8017 karma

How present is corruption in the Venezuelan society as opposed to other Latin American countries?

ChrisArsenaultAJE20 karma

Corruption here is major - far worse than Brazil or Chile for example. My own view is that oil producing countries are often particularly vulnerable to corruption and anecdotally I believe it has gotten worse during the socialist period. The mix of high oil prices and government regulation and most of all the currency controls has led to an explosion in the black market. Living on the official exchange rate (11.3 bolivars to the US dollar) this is probably the most expensive place I have ever worked. On the black market rate 80 bolivars to the dollar, it's very cheap. Currency controls are essentially a license to print money for senior government officials.

Doing basic transactions in huge wads of cash isn't something I have seen anywhere else in Latin America in the normal economy (the drug trade notwithstanding of course). This sort of economic climate breeds corruption.

twogunsalute7 karma

Do you feel the news in Venezuela is getting sidelined or even ignored because of the situation in Ukraine? Have a nice day

ChrisArsenaultAJE6 karma

Ukraine is obviously a bigger story. There is no doubt about that. I can only speak for my own network on this, but I feel like all things considered we have struck the right balance.

wakawaka8015 karma

In your completely personal view: What do you think will be the end result of these prostest?

ChrisArsenaultAJE18 karma

In short, if I had to guess, they will fizzle. The protesters don't have a serious political programme. Other than staying in the streets, they don't even know what's next. When pressed on this issue, many opposition demonstrators admit they need the army to get involved. I don't see that happening (but I could be wrong). I don't think there is anywhere for them to go.

There are some quite serious anti-democratic tendencies in the opposition. In my personal view, i think they need to build some more support in poor communities and wait until the next elections. Without a coup (something which anyone who believes in democracy would abhor) there is simply no where for the protests to go at this point.

wakawaka8015 karma

Is the opposition in Venezuela fragmented? Could they unite to form a strong governement in the case of the fall of Maduro?

ChrisArsenaultAJE17 karma

The opposition is indeed divided. Capriles has been the main electoral candidate but the earliest possible new election won't happen until 2016, if the opposition can force a recall referendum. This means more radical voices, including Leopoldo Lopez, have gotten into the spotlight.

Maduro will not simply fall without another coup. As of now, the government falling in the near-term is not a serious possibility. The ideological tendencies who make-up the opposition essentially governed the country for decades before Chavez and the socialists. And they didn't do a particularly good job either. The only way Maduro could fall now is if the military got involved - and my sources in the security forces say this isn't a serious possibility in the short-term.

buleball4 karma

Is there a chance for a US sponsored coup to work in Venezuela? Or are the protests going to turn into civil war?

ChrisArsenaultAJE6 karma

In short, yes. Some opposition supporters I have met in the student movement are actively calling for CIA involvement. The National Endowment for Democracy has been supporting opposition groups here - this is a fact. And the US certainly worked with the opposition during the 2002 coup. I don't think the US will try another coup now.

I was working in one of the barrios last year when an older gentleman asked if I thought the situation here could become like Syria. I don't think that will happen anytime soon. But there is seething anger on both sides, and everyone has guns. I really hope all sides exercise restraint. I don't see a civil conflict happening now, but both sides believe it could happen.

homeless_wedding3 karma

Thank you for doing this! I am an American who used to live in Venezuela. Could you comment on the disparity between the government anti-imperialist (anti-american) rhetoric versus the reality amongst the people, many of whom in the upper class have family in Miami or other parts of the US, and the lower classes who most likely haven't had much exposure to Americans outside of popular culture? It is hard to know how much influence the US has on the happenings of Venezuela (the US gov is notorious for meddling), but what is the popular sentiment?

ChrisArsenaultAJE5 karma

As you noted, many people in the upper or middle classes have spent more time in South Beach than they have in the barrios. I am always amazed doing interviews with people in Caracas who have never been to January 23 or Petare. I have been working with an American reporter and a Brit. Neither of them have encountered any seriously negative reactions from the poorer classes while filming. In my own experience, many average Mexicans, for example, have a lot more distrust for Americans as individuals than Venezuelans.

TuncaCeleste3 karma

Hello Chris,

I'm from El Salvador and the second round of elections are due this Sunday on a highly polarized political environment. The Venezuela case is an important factor in the election campaign for both parties, since the current party in power (FMLN) is aligned with the Maduro government and ALBA has been investing heavily in the country. The opposition party ARENA is clearly not happy about this.

ARENA has issued aggressive TV spots in which they accuse FMLN of wanting to implement a government "like Maduro's, in which there will be shortages of foodm basic goods" among other problems that are being seen in the media.

I think the national media does not give a clear picture of the on-going events, either, especially since it is a highly sensitive topic with elections coming on

I'd like to know how likely is this to happen in El Salvador, from your point of view as a specialist in Latin America.

Thanks for your time.

ChrisArsenaultAJE3 karma


It's a very interesting question. Unfortunately, I have never been to El Salvador and I don't have political contacts there to get information which isn't coming out in the media. So, I don't think I could provide any insights on this.

emman19933 karma

How worse or bad is the situation right now?

ChrisArsenaultAJE15 karma


It really depends who you ask and where you go. There are really two separate worlds in this country. I was at carnival celebrations yesterday in the capital, and things were entirely normal - live music, kids wearing costumes and all the rest. In certain pro-opposition areas, the barricades are up and normal life isn't continuing. In Tachira and other areas near the Colombian border, the situation is very serious and quite bad. Parts of Valencia were also not very good; but life goes on and in the barrios, people aren't really paying attention to the protests.

Kavalicious3 karma

What is a good link for anybody wanting a general understanding of the unrest in Venezuela at the moment? I'm somewhat clueless and can only find very specific update links about the issues going on. Thanks for your time and may your work be safe.

ChrisArsenaultAJE2 karma

There isn't really one single link that sums up the situation. Of all the books on the subject Rory Carroll's "Comandante" is my favourite. In terms of obvious self-promotion, I have covered the situation for several years (but I am hardly a credible source to recommend my own work) http://www.aljazeera.com/profile/chris-arsenault.html

Moutarde_De_Dijon3 karma

It has been noted, through recent events in the Crimea, that geopolitics holds complexities beyond the scope of the media, and that often areas are overlooked at the expense of US focus on China and the Middle East. Do you feel Venezuela is being overlooked as a geopolitical power, and what events do you feel would be sufficient to thrust it onto the global stage?

ChrisArsenaultAJE7 karma

venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves. If Venezuela wants to be at the centre of world affairs (or at least regional affairs) it would need to start developing oil from the Orinoco belt. Personally, I am against exploiting this sort of heavy oil - it's the same geological formation as the tar sands in my country and the environmental costs are simply appalling. Geopolitics (as i am sure you well know) as about power, and political power largely derives from economic power. Venezuela's oil production has fallen significantly in the last few years; if they want more clout, they would need to export more.

Thompson_S_Sweetback3 karma

In the past, America and American corporations have used economic coercion to restrict resources and cause unrest and encourage a revolution or coup. Is there any evidence of this happening now, or of any US funded propaganda campaigns?

ChrisArsenaultAJE12 karma

The US has a history of backing the opposition, there is no doubt about that. But I think the current economic problems are a result of old-fashioned mismanagement, rather than a foreign plot. I have seen no serious evidence that the current economic problems are being caused by foreign coercion.

emman19933 karma

Hello there Chris, I have two questions here:

  • Are you a sole Al Jazeera reporter in Venezuela right now?
  • If given the chance to interview Venezuela President Maduro, What's the question you really want to ask?

ChrisArsenaultAJE14 karma


No Al Jazeera has a large team here - 2 TV correspondents from Al Jazeera english, a correspondent from Arabic and some from Al Jazeera Americas came in just a couple days ago. I am the only correspondent for online, but I don't think I am handsome enough for a full TV slot.

Anyhow, onto the more important part (our network has requested interviews with Maduro and other senior government people, so hopefully someone will get a chance to ask this sometime)

President Maduro: Since your government was first elected in 1998, oil prices have increased roughly 1000% from less than $10 per barrel in 1998 to about $100 today. Do you think life for the average Venezuelan has gotten 1000% better?"

wakawaka8013 karma

Do you face any obstacles in reporting from Caracas? Were you ever threatened or a anything similar?

What about the local press? How free are they to objectively report on the current events?

ChrisArsenaultAJE14 karma

Venezuela has a free press. This is important to remember. The majority of newspapers support the opposition - television is a different matter due the nexus of ownership, informal censorship and businessmen wanting to be close to the government (a situation almost comparable to Turkey on the TV side). But generally I have found the climate here as a working journalist pretty good.

The biggest obstacle to reporting here is the general security situation. But that effects everyone - big capitalists to small street vendors - and reporters are no different.

Average people are usually very open to talk to reporters - a situation you won't always find in say northern Mexico or - more acutely - the oil-rich states of the Gulf.

For me personally, I find reporting here to be one of the best assignments anywhere in the world.

wakawaka8013 karma

Thank you for this AMA. Hopefully more and more journalists will decide to answer questions on Reddit. It's just so much better than watching news.

Are you encouraged by your network to take part in this AMA or did you decide to do it yourself?

ChrisArsenaultAJE4 karma

It was my idea and my colleagues in Doha have been awesome about putting it altogether. For someone who works on the web, I am no particularly tech savy.

wakawaka8012 karma

Is the US State Departement making any differences between the oppositon? Who from the opposition receives most of US funding and how open are they about receiveing this aid?

ChrisArsenaultAJE2 karma

This is an important question. Unfortunately I simply don't have reliable information to answer it.

BrutallyHonestDude2 karma


ChrisArsenaultAJE10 karma

It's freezing there! And I don't speak the language in Ukraine.

For all it's faults, I absolutely love working in Venezuela. Politics is a full contact sport here. Everyone has an opinion. And people vote and act along their basic class interests. It's a big difference from my native Canada. Voter turnout is usually around 85% in national elections. It's pretty remarkable.

iamgreggy2 karma

Do you find that since you write for al jazeera you have to create some sort of bias that the company wants or do you find that you are given the freedom to report it how you wish?

ChrisArsenaultAJE10 karma

I run my stories as I see fit as a journalist. The moment Al Jazeera (or any outlet I work for) tries to censor my stories is the day I pack my bags. We have really tried to be balanced covering this story (giving equal column inches to both sides) as the country is so divided. Our readers can judge how effective we have been in this task.

wakawaka8012 karma

Are there any other supporters of the protests apart from the obvious support of the US? Do the neighbouring countries want to see a change in Venezuela? And how far are they willing to go to see that happen?

ChrisArsenaultAJE6 karma

Colombia is not happy with the situation in venezuela - although I must say given the rhetorical attacks Maduro has been making on the Colombian government, their response has been reasonably measure.

Military rivalries between Colombia and Venezuela go back before Chavez. A friend was at a conference one time, translating for a Colombian general who outlined plans to attack venezuela (please note that militaries everywhere have bizarre contingency plans like this and it's hardly surprising). The funny part is that after his presentation the General says "But we won't attack Maracy, my daughter lives there". I don't think Colombia will go too far to trying to push a regime change in Venezuela. The vast majority of South American countries are actively backing the elected government.

roysrolls2 karma

any evidence of outside agitation, from maybe some country north of there.

ChrisArsenaultAJE3 karma

Countries to have north (I like how you put this) have engaged in agitation before in Venezuela. What they are doing on the ground as we speak, I really don't know.

Jkid7 karma

There is evidence and activity of agitation from Colombia, where there is evidence that paramilitaries and mercs from the country are prepared to escalate the civil insurrection. Already the FANB has caught some of the mercs.

ChrisArsenaultAJE5 karma

Hi, I have anecdotal evidence of this, but nothing confirmed. Members of armed pro-government collectives say they regularly battle Colombian backed criminals or paramilitary style groups in rural areas and in some of the barrios. But they have every reason to try and stir up these sorts of allegations. In short, I think it's likely that such groups are operating in Venezuela, but to what extent, I really don't know.

kaspis292 karma

Do you think that Maduro will come to any kind of sense, try to resolve it or is it already to far out of his hands and the "chavistas" will carry on for the clashes until some kind of breakthrough happens?

ChrisArsenaultAJE12 karma

Maduro keeps changing his line. He calls for dialogue one moment, and then calls the opposition fascists the next. I actually think his peace conference last week was a good idea. The CEO of Polar, one of the biggest tycoons in the country, attended, and the company slammed the government for economic mismanagement. This kinds of discussions need to happen.

The opposition is also responsible for clashes. They are not simply innocent students being repression (although there is indeed quite serious repression sometimes). I think both sides need to recognise that they have to live in the same country and that the differences must be settled at the ballot box. As such, there needs to be a better attempt at dialogue. the burden of responsibility here (or in any country) falls to the government as they hold the levers of power. Maduro has tried to have a dialogue, but he should tone down the rhetoric (as should the far-right of the opposition) and they should talk. This is the only way forward.

asiveseenontv1 karma

How long do you think these protests will go on before the government falls, or the opposition gives up?

ChrisArsenaultAJE6 karma

I think they will continue for awhile but it will be hard for them to keep getting bigger. At some point, people will have to go back to work. In terms of providing a concrete number of how many days, weeks, or months, I really don't know.

MurrayPhilbman1 karma

Do you consider a hamburger to be a type of sandwich, or an entity of its own?

ChrisArsenaultAJE9 karma

A hamburger is it's own thing. I think considering it a sandwich is part of a joint Cuban-CIA plot!

jboboshanty20 karma

Do you think there will be any spill over of this to the Caribbean, mainly the neighboring island of Trinidad and TObago? IE Refugees etc

ChrisArsenaultAJE5 karma

I very much doubt it.