The last day of May marked two months of uninterrupted protests by Venezuelans against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The tally of these two months of confrontation shows the state's deplorably disproportionate response to these demonstrations: one death a day, 2,977 arrests, 355 civilians illegally hauled before military tribunals, and more shameful numbers.

But beyond the statistics, tear gas and outrageous images of injured protesters, one can see the deeper significance of these protests. As the Venezuelan civil rights NGO Provea observes, this is the country's first popular rebellion of the 21st century. It is also one of the most intense, prolonged and innovative mass actions of our age, comparable to the wave of anti-systemic protests in some European countries and the Arab Spring revolts.

The vast majority of marchers have not been professional politicians from opposition parties, as claimed by the government and its partisans. They are young people backed by their parents and grandparents, native shamans, street musicians and ordinary members of the public exasperated by the dearth of basic goods and household products, and stifled by a regime that is closing the most elemental channels of democratic participation, such as the regional elections Maduro ordered postponed indefinitely last October.

But as the discontent is particularly marked by the millennial generation, its principal media mouthpieces are digital: with marches coordinated through Whatsapp, memes going viral on Facebook, and real-time reporting of protesters being arrested on Twitter.

Maduro has confirmed the demise of democracy

There is a sad irony perhaps that the most formidable challenge to the Bolivarian revolution should come from a 21st-century rebellion. Because the initial promise made by "21st-Century Socialism," as its founder the late president Hugo Chávez called it, was to deepen democracy and include the same sectors as those protesting on the streets today. It was the promise of the 1999 constitution, which Chávez managed to impose at the cost of a coup attempt against him.

But long before his death, Chávez had opted to favor social inclusion at the expense of democracy and political inclusion. Maduro has confirmed the demise of that democratic promise, with his current cocktail of social and political exclusion enforced through the militarization of the Venezuelan state. It is a policy we can see manifest in the Defense Ministry's involvement in boosting food production (Plan Zamora) and the perpetuation of the state of emergency.

Provea, for its part, concluded when the October polls were suspended that Venezuela had entered a state of dictatorship: a 21st-century dictatorship, maintaining the minimal forms of the rule of law (parliament, judiciary etc.. ) but fully controlled by the executive branch and armed forces.

The past two months confirm such a conclusion: as protesters take their claims to the streets, the Government pursues its plans to dismantle the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 through procedures that are themselves a violation of that text.

Today it is these rebels of the 21st century left to defend democracy and human rights against the self-proclaimed heirs of 21st-Century Socialism who have made their choice clear.

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