By Federico Fuentes | Green Left Weekly | March 5, 2014
Below, Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network activist Federico Fuentes, provides answers to common questions about recent events in Venezuela. Key facts are referenced, largely from media outlets that could not be identified as pro-government.
Is recent unrest in Venezuela due to government repression against peaceful protests?
No. This version of events, widely disseminated by the media, ignores the fact that security forces only acted after groups within the protests initiated violent actions. In the case of the first of the current round of protests that gained media attention, in Tachira on February 6, police only moved in after small groups of protesters attacked local governorship offices and home of the local governor.http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140206/maduro-quieren-apl…
When protests took place in Merida the next day, security forces intervened only after armed protesters had carried out actions such as hijacking trucks carrying food and medicine.http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140207/herido-estudiante-…
During protests in Caracas on February 12, which gained international media attention due to deaths on the day, there is clear evidence security forces only moved into action after a small group of protesters had them, destroyed the attorney-general’s office and burned five police trucks.http://www.elsoldemargarita.com.ve/posts/post/id:128117
None of this is to deny there were incidents of heavy-handed action by security forces, or to excuse the death of protesters. One fact the media has studious ignored is that 11 members of Venezuela’s security forces and three Bolivarian National Guard soldiers have been arrested and charged after evidence of wrongdoing.
In relation to the two deaths on February 12 (an opposition student and government supporter), eight SEBIN (intelligence) officers who violated strict orders to not confront protesters were arrested. The head of SEBIN has been replaced.http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/sucesos/ocho-funci…
The pattern is clear: small groups of protesters have consciously tried to incite violence and provoke security forces.
The pattern is all the more obvious when we look at the death toll.
As of March 5, there had been 19 deaths that could be directly attributed to the protests. Of these, three have been attributed to state security forces (including that of a government supporter). http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/venezuela-who-are-…
In comparison, opposition protesters have shot death two National Guard soldiers and a brother of a national assembly deputy.
A further six have been killed as a result of the opposition road blockades (including two motorbike riders nearly decapitated by barbed wire strung across roadways by protesters).
At least 30 people have indirectly died due to the roadblocks blocking access to emergency medical treatment or other vital services.
It is important to recall that far-right opposition force have continuous used violence against pro-government supporters. In the wake of presidential elections in April last year, 11 people — all government supporters — were killed during days of violent protest. None received the media coverage we see today.
Are these protests in response to legitimate grievances?
Not even President Nicolas Maduro’s government denies Venezuela faces crucial challenges regarding crime and the economy. But it is clear these protests have been organised by right-wing forces who, unable to defeat socialist candidates in elections, are seeking to depose the government via violent means.
Just two months before the recent unrest began, pro-government candidates won 54% of the vote in nation-wide municipal elections recognised as legitimate by the opposition. http://www.americaeconomia.com/analisis-opinion/elecciones-municipales-e…
That is why key opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo Lopez from the Popular Will party, have said repeatedly that the only way to get rid of Maduro’s government is via the streets. http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140124/dirigentes-invitan…
On February 2, four days before the student protests began in Tachira, Lopez and the opposition-aligned student federation president at the Central University of Venezuela held a public rally.
Lopez called for opposition supporters to take to the streets of Caracas on February 12, National Youth Day, by saying: “The problem is not just Maduro, it is the heads of all the public powers … all of the have to go”. http://www.laverdad.com/politica/45606-la-oposicion-retoma-las-calles-co…
With this in mind, student leaders aligned with Popular Will instigated protests on February 4 in Tachira. They provoked confrontations with police and used images of “repression” to build momentum for the February 12 rally.
Far from being spontaneous protests over social or economic issues, these protests represented a bid by opposition forces to by-pass the democratic process to bring down the elected government.
Who is Leopoldo Lopez?
Lopez is a former mayor of Chacao, a municipality that covers some of the wealthiest suburbs of Caracas and where most of the recent protests have taken place. As mayor, he actively supported the 2002 military coup that briefly ousted president Hugo Chavez and led the arrest of then-interior minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/20/280207441/5-things-to-kno…
Lopez was found guilty of charges of corruption dating back to his time as an employee of the state oil company PDVSA, when he siphoned money towards starting up a new political party.
Despite this, it is clear Lopez and other opposition figures have received financial support from the US to help their campaign to get rid of first Chavez and now Maduro.
US embassy cables made public by WikiLeaks describe Lopez as “a divisive figure within the opposition … He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry …” http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=09CARACAS1408&q=leopoldo-lopez
Nevertheless, the cables reveal a concerted campaign by Washington to promote and maintain unity among opposition spokespeople, including Lopez. http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10388
Embassy cables also reveal US government funding of opposition parties, including Lopez’s. Just this year, the US government earmarked a further US$5 million towards opposition groups. http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04CARACAS2224_a.html
Does the Venezuela government control all the media?
No. More than 70% of the media in Venezuela is privately owned, with 25% being in community hands and only about 5% being controlled by the state. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19368807
Moreover, 40% of households have cable TV — giving access to Fox and CNN en Espanol.
Almost all private media have shown bias towards the opposition. A study of the three main private TV stations conducted by the Carter Centre during the 2013 presidential elections, found they dedicated 79% of their election coverage to opposition candidate Capriles.https://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/venezuela-070313.html
These same media outlets have ran constant coverage of the recent protests and statements made by opposition leaders.http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/does-venezuelan-te…
There have been many cases of media outlets deliberately misreporting what is occurring in Venezuela. One example is the continued misrepresentation of media ownership in Venezuela. http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/02/27/nyt-corrects-venezuela-tv-falsehood/
The more brazen example is the continued claim by media outlets in Venezuela and internationally (such as El Universal and the New York Times , to give two examples) that a young man was killed as a result of police actions in Tachira.
This is despite video evidence showing that he had fallen off a building. No correction has been issued by any of these outlets.http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10410
But is the Maduro government a dictatorship? How is it possible to bring him down if not via street protests?
Maduro is democratically elected. The political movement he represents has won 17 out of 18 national elections since Chavez was first elected in 1998.
Despite some opposition claims, Venezuela’s electoral system has been described by former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Cater Center observes elections in many countries, as “the best in the world”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBwQ40TtCFA
Since October 2012 alone, Venezuelans have gone to the polls four times. Each time the election results have been verified by numerous international election observer teams.
Opposition forces claimed fraud after Maduro narrowly won elections last April, but no actual evidence of fraud was ever presented. A recount demonstrated the results were accurate. Moreover, opposition candidates made no complaints when the same voting system was used in the December municipal council elections.
What elections have repeatedly shown is that the “Chavista” movement remains the largest political force in the country.
It is precisely because the right-wing opposition has failed to win elections that they have turned towards violence, just as they did in 2002 with the failed coup against Chavez.
Protests to bring down an illegitimate government is one thing. Violent protests aimed at imposing a government against the will of the majority are another.
How serious is the economic crisis facing the country?
Few, least of all the Maduro government, deny Venezuela is facing some serious economic problems. However, they are nothing like what the private media portrays.
For example, despite problems with inflation and shortages, Venezuela registered a decline in its poverty rate (from 21.6% in 2012 to 19.6% last year) and unemployment rate (from 5.9% to 5.6%). http://www.ciudadccs.info/?p=521684
Last June, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization praised Venezuela for making great strides in lowering malnutrition. Venezuela’s daily rate of calories consumption per person is almost 60% above the FAO’s proposed minimum intake (3182 calories per day in Venezuela, as compared to 1800 calories). http://www.rlc.fao.org/es/paises/venezuela/noticias/venezuela-sera-recon…
Last year, inflation was a very high 56, compared with 23.4% average during the time of Chavez’s presidency (1999-2012). But inflation is not a new problem in Venezuela.
Media outlets have not noted that in the decade prior to Chavez’s elections, the average inflation rate was 52%, with peaks of 81% (1989) and 103% (1996). http://www.elmundo.com.ve/firmas/blagdimir-labrador/la-inflacion-en-vene…
These and many other figures indicate that the picture is far more complex than media portrayals suggest.
Rather than shed light on the situation, the media prefers to highlight selective facts and blame the government for problems. This enables the media to accomplish two things.
First, it conceals the real role that Venezuela’s rich elites are playing in provoking economic problems. In November last year, the Venezuelan government carried out an audit of thousands of private-owned stores and found almost all of them were involved in marking-up prices by 500%-10,000%.
Since then, the government has enacted a new law that would set a 15%-30% limit on profit margins. This law came into effect around the same time the recent unrest began.
Second, the media’s role is to reinforce the idea that any attempt to change the status quo will result in disaster.
From his first days in office, Chavez was vilified by the media and opposed by the elite. They rejected his proposal that the Venezuelan state should control the country’s oil riches and redistribute its wealth n order to more equitably.
Such policies led to a dramatic fall in poverty and contributed to record economic growth rates. It funded a huge expansion of free, accessible public services (health, education, etc) and community empowerment via funding for grassroots neighbourhood committees.
This is why the Maduro government continues to enjoy popular support — as shown in elections and large pro-government demonstrations.
This is also why the rich elites, and the media outlets they own, are continuously working to bring down the government. Part of this campaign involves discrediting the very idea that people’s needs could take priority over the market.
That is also why it’s not a question of defending a government versus protesters. It’s about defending a political movement of the poor against the violent reaction of the old elites.
On the night of February 22nd, a bizarre incident took place in the Venezuela media-sphere. At around 4:00 pm Venezuela time, a number of the country’s private media outlets posted a release from a protest group identified only as the “student movement.” The rhetoric and tone of the statement matches the positions often expressed by extreme rightwing factions within Venezuela’s opposition over the last 14 years. Venezuela, it alleges, is in the grip of Cuban communists:
Foreign forces have laid a military siege on Venezuela. Their mercenaries attack us in a vile and savage manner. Their goal is to enslave us and be the masters of our existence, dishonoring the flags that we have held up in the street and that we will defend with our lives.
We want our Freedom. To protect it it’s vital to defend the Sovereignty of the Nation, expelling the Cuban communists that are here usurping the government and the Armed Forces.
The release demands that “the usurper [Venezuelan president] Nicolas Maduro and all of his cabinet be deposed” and states that the protests will continue until this and other demands are met. The statement also calls for defensive action against state security:
The regime has declared war on any civilian who doesn’t accept its marxist ideology. Our call is for defense: to not allow the invaders profane your street, your avenue, your property. Prevent their access so that they don’t shoot up your neighborhood, don’t destroy your properties, don’t hurt your loved ones and, above all, so that they know that here there are battle-seasoned Venezuelans, who won’t allow themselves to be enslaved through the use of force.
The rhetoric found in this release is reminiscent of the language used by the promoters of the “guarimba” protests in 2004 which – similarly to many of the protests that have been occurring in Venezuela over the last two weeks – involved protesters blocking major roads and with bonfires and barricades and damaging public property. The explicit goal of the 2004 guarimba protests was to create enormous chaos in city streets thereby forcing the government to either step down or engage in mass repression. Or, in the words of Luis Alonso, the main promoter of the guarimba ten years ago:
THE ONLY objective of “THE GUARIMBA” (…) is to create anarchistic chaos on the national level with the help of all citizens and in the main cities of Venezuela, so as to force the CASTRO-COMMUNIST regime of Venezuela to order “PLAN AVILA [a military contingency plan to enforce public order that was used during the 1989 Caracazo protests and that left thousands dead].”
If mass repression occurred, the guarimberos believed that elements of the military opposed to the “Castro-communist” project would rebel and oust the government.
Needless to say, the terminology and goals of the students’ release probably doesn’t reflect the point of view of most Venezuelan opposition supporters and it certainly doesn’t reinforce the common portrayal of the young protesters as peaceful and reasonable.
But then, as if by magic, the original release of the unnamed “students’ movement” was removed from many sites and in a few cases replaced with a much less polemical text. Here is a link to the early version of an El Nacional article on the student movement release that contains the text of the original statement. Later that evening the editors quietly replaced the original statement with the second one, as you can see in this updated version of the same article. El Nacional, one of the largest newspapers in the country, and other outlets that made the switch, never informed their readers of having done so. Here’s a translation of a few key excerpts from the second release:
[Venezuela's] youth can’t stay silent in the face of the profound pain in all Venezuelans’ hearts resulting from the hate and division that is being sowed. Our consciences remain clear in protesting those who wish to establish violence, ignore the country’s most urgent problems and trample human rights.
The exacerbation of insecurity, the deterioration of the quality of life of Venezuelans, the economic crisis, the repression and criminalization of citizens’ protests cause us to raise our voices. We want reconciliation and respect for democratic principles and the Constitution.
(…) We dream of a Venezuela where inclusion, peace and prosperity are possible.
No more talk of “Cuban communists” that have taken over the government and army or of the need to remove the “usurper” Nicolás Maduro. Instead, we see a series of demands that, while based at times on highly questionable premises, appear to be more reasonable, e.g., “liberty for all of the detained young people, (…) the disarming of violent groups, (…) the end of media censorship [regarding the claim of censorship, I recommend reading Mark Weisbrot’s latest post on the Venezuelan media].”
However, one demand from the re-worked release is similar to the main demand of the original release: the second release calls for “the renovation and re-legitimizing of public powers.” Though this language may seem innocuous at full glance, the basic meaning is clear: those in power are not legitimate and should be removed. In the most charitable interpretation, this can be read as a call for immediate elections, despite the fact that Maduro was elected less than a year ago and that his popular legitimacy was reaffirmed in municipal elections last December in which pro-government parties won the total vote by a ten-point margin.
It is also interesting to note that, unlike most recent youth protest movements like the 2011-2013 Chilean movement, the 2012 Quebec student protests or even the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, the demands of the Venezuelan students who have taken to the streets focus neither on social justice issues nor on the government’s education policies. It is telling that the University of Chile Student Federation which was instrumental in ending the Pinochet dictatorship and played a key role in the 2011-2013 protests, released a statement which had the following to say about the Venezuelan student movement:
We reject any attempt at destabilization, hoarding of food and of coup-mongering that aims to bypass the sovereign decisions of the people of Venezuela (…) Similarly, we don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that have taken the side of the defense of the old order and are opposed to the path that the people have defined.
Mérida – According to authorities and press reports a total of ten people have now died in connection with violent protests in Venezuela. The government and the opposition blame each other for the situation.
Summary of the deaths
Of the ten deaths recorded in connection with the violence so far, five occurred in the Caracas area. Three of these deaths resulted from violent clashes on 12 February between opposition activists, security forces and in a few cases, Chavistas. A Venezuelan intelligence service officer has been arrested in connection with one of the deaths. Authorities report that investigations into the events are “almost complete” and the results will be presented to the country soon.
On Tuesday Genesis Carmona, a student and former beauty queen, was shot during an opposition march in Valencia. According to national newspaper Ultimas Noticias, witnesses said an armed pro-government group attacked the march. However authorities say ballistic investigations show the woman was shot from behind “from within opposition ranks”, and claim that witnesses on the scene have confirmed this.
Five of the deaths occurred on the barricades that hard-line opposition supporters have erected in several Venezuelan cities to block the flow of traffic and pressure President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation.
On Tuesday a 17 year old student was run over by a car while trying to block a road as part of protests. The man accused of running him over has been arrested.
Meanwhile on Wednesday a public attorney, Julio Eduardo González, died when he crashed his car trying to drive around a barricade in Valencia. Yesterday a woman, Delia Elena Lobo, died after crashing her motorbike into a barbed wire street barricade in Mérida.
The ninth to die is Arturo Alexis Martinez, the brother of a socialist party parliamentary deputy, Francisco Martínez. He was shot dead in Barquisimeto while trying to clear away the burning remains of an opposition road barricade. An investigation has been launched into the incident.
A tenth person was confirmed dead this evening. Elvis Rafael Durán died in the Sucre municipality of Caracas after riding his motorbike into an unseen barbed wire barricade.
Venezuelan press initially reported a another death following a shooting attack against a pro-government “march for peace” in Bolivar state on Wednesday, in which industrial workers from the region participated. However it later resulted that the worker in question had not died, but was seriously wounded. Nine were wounded in the incident, and sixteen have been arrested. A video taken of the shooting appears to show hooded figures firing at the march from a nearby building.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said today that a total of 137 people have been wounded as a result of the violence, of which 37 are members of security forces and 100 are civilians. Twenty-four people are currently being held by authorities to be charged for specific “violent acts”.
Venezuela has experienced a wave of opposition protests over the past few weeks. The demonstrations, led by pro-opposition students, began after hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called on supporters to go onto the streets and seek the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro. Demonstrators also mention food shortages, crime and corruption as reasons for discontent.
While many protests have been peaceful, others have descended into violent clashes with security forces, and on occasion, Chavistas. Meanwhile a violent element within the opposition has embarked on a strategy of burning street barricades, rioting and attacking property and civilians.
On Tuesday Lopez handed himself in to authorities, to be charged with incitement of criminal acts, among other offenses.
The government squarely blames the right-wing opposition for causing the violence, and accuses them of trying to create the conditions for a “state coup”.
“Venezuela is victim of an attack by the extreme-right to destabilise us, to take us into civil war,” said Maduro tonight. The president also alleged that the opposition has paid youths from “criminal gangs” to participate in the violent street actions.
However the opposition says the violence is being perpetrated by security forces and pro-government “paramilitaries”.
“State security forces, accompanied by paramilitary groups, have cruelly attacked peaceful and defenceless protesters…leaving a lamentable tally of citizens assassinated, seriously wounded, tortured and disappeared,” claimed the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition in a statement today.
President Maduro repeated his stance tonight that armed opposition groups, armed pro-government groups, and state security forces that fire weapons during protests will not be tolerated. “I won’t protect anyone in this country who fires during protests,” he said.
Maduro appeared to refer to an incident on 12 February in Caracas, with video evidence suggesting that several intelligence service (SEBIN) officers fired at a group of opposition protesters. All SEBIN officers were under presidential orders to remain indoors that day.
“I asked that no one go out onto the street, less so with guns. And they went out with guns. Ah, it looks a lot like the format of the state coup [of April 2002]. I’m investigating all of this, and if elements [of an inside plot] appeared I’d say it to my country…that there are plotters inside the government or that an officer has been bought. I’d say it with all of the willpower I have,” he stated.
The president also mentioned an audio recording, allegedly of a conversation between two opposition figures, which suggested that a plot was in place to create a “massacre” on 12 February.
The recording is claimed to be of a conversation on 11 February between former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, Fernando Gerbasi, and the head of the presidential guard during the Carlos Andres Perez presidency, Iván Carratú Molina. In the audio, the voice that is claimed to be Gerbasi, is heard saying, “Look, they inform me that [there will be] something very similar to 11 April …tomorrow”.
In light of the situation in the country, the government has repeated that it supports “social peace” and that it is open to “dialogue” with the opposition.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles today accused the government of “manufacturing another 11 April”, and demanded “proof” of an opposition coup plot. He also argued for opposition protests to have greater “orientation”, criticising the “exit” strategy as being an “alleyway without an exit”.
There is fresh controversy over media reporting in Venezuela after President Maduro argued that CNN is trying to “justify a civil war in Venezuela for a military intervention”.
Saying that the channel’s reporting represents “war propaganda”, he warned that CNN would be prohibited from transmitting in Venezuela if it didn’t “rectify”.
“Twenty-four hours a day their programming is about war. They want to show the world there’s a civil war in Venezuela,” he said last night.
CNN has since confirmed that seven of its reporters have had their press accreditation removed.
“CNN has reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela, even with very limited access to government officials. We hope the government will reconsider its decision [to revoke the credentials]. Meanwhile, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in the fair, accurate and balanced manner that we are known for,” said CNN Español in a statement.
Maduro’s warning comes after the government removed Colombian channel NTN24 from Venezuelan cable services on 12 February, accusing it’s manner of covering the violent events as promoting “ a state coup like April 2002”. The channel said the move was an attack on freedom of expression.
Maduro has been a fierce critic of international media coverage of Venezuela during the on-going protests. “In the world, we’re confronting the most brutal manipulation [of information] that the Bolivarian revolution has faced since the state coup of 2002,” he said tonight.
Unlike What the Media Says or Implies, the Violence in Venezuela Is Being Perpetrated by the Opposition
The slant of the Venezuelan private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence. In the first place government-ordered gunmen are shooting at pacific demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces. But there is considerable evidence that shows that the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against the demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:
1. Violent actions have been carried out by the opposition since the time of the 2002 coup. The “guarimba” which means urban violence (or “foquismo”) was publicly advocated by opposition leaders in 2003-2004 as the only way to prevent the establishment of a dictatorial regime in Venezuela.
2. On April 11, 2002, the day Chávez was overthrown, the Venezuelan and international media and the White House used juxtaposition of images of Chavistas shooting pistols in downtown Caracas, on the one hand, and peaceful anti-government demonstrators, on the other to justify the coup. However the Irish-produced documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and other documentaries demonstrated by the flow of the camera that the demonstrators were far away from the Chavistas and that they were shooting in response to sniper fire against them. If snipers were responsible for the 15-20 killings (of opposition demonstrators along with Chavistas) that justified the coup of April 2002, is there any reason to doubt that the unidentified individuals who are attacking demonstrators are not acting on behalf of sectors of the opposition?
3. The violence that has rocked Venezuela during the last two weeks has targeted public buildings, such as the headquarters of the Fiscalía General (Attorney General), the public television channel (Channel 8), the state-owned Banco de Venezuela, the house of the Chavista governor of Tachira, trucks of the state grocery store chain PDVAL, and dozens of metro buses in Caracas.
4. None of the opposition leaders have explicitly condemned the opposition-promoted violence. Opposition mayors in Caracas and elsewhere have refrained from using their police force to contain the violence.
5. The so-called “peaceful” demonstrators engage in disruptions by closing key avenues in an attempt to paralyze transportation. Where I live, on the main drag between the twin cities of Barcleona and Puerto La Cruz, the demonstrators occupy two of the three lanes on both sides and as a result traffic backs up for miles. A number of tragedies have been reported of people in a state of emergency who were unable to make it to a hospital or clinic on time.
6. The term “salida,” which has become a main slogan of the protesters, implies regime change. Obviously the opposition is not calling for a constitutional solution in which Maduro resigns and is replaced by the president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, as the constitution stipulates. Regime change is a radical slogan that implies radical tactics.
7. Political scientist and Venezuelan specialist David Smilde of the University of Georgia, who is not pro-Chavista but rather evenhanded in his analyses, has stated that the Venezuelan government has nothing to gain by the violence.
8. The government has nothing to gain by the violence because the media is largely on the side of the opposition and present a picture of the violence which directly and indirectly blames the government. Consider the following front page article titled “Capital City Suffers Night Violence” of El Universal (February 20), one of Venezuela’s major newspapers:
“Anoche la Guardia Nacional Bolivariana y la Policía Nacional Bolivariana arremetieron casi simultáneamente contra las diferentes manifestaciones que se producían en distintos puntos de la ciudad capital, mientras el presidente Nicolás Maduro hablaba en cadena nacional de radio y televisión. En los enfrentamientos hubo perdigones, bombas lacrimógenas mientras las cacerolas sonaban desde las ventanas.”
Translation: “Last night, the National Guard and National Police attacked almost simultaneously different demonstrations that were taking place in distinct areas of the capital city,,, In the confrontations there was gunshot [and] tear gas while people banged on pots and pans from their windows (in protest of the government).”
9. The Venezuelan government has shown great restraint in the context of opposition- promoted violence and disruption. In nearly any other country in the world, the disruption of traffic in major cities throughout the country would have resulted in mass arrests.
10. Governments, particularly undemocratic ones, which lack active popular support and completely control the media effectively use repression against dissidents. This is not the case in Venezuela. None of the non-state channels and newspapers (that the vast majority of Venezuelans get their news from) supports the government and most of them are ardently anti-government. Furthermore, unlike governments that use massive repression (such as Egypt under Mubarak), the Chavista government and movement has a greater mobilization capacity, particularly among the popular sectors of the population, than the opposition. As Smilde says, the use of violence by the government makes absolutely no sense.
Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern, and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez, and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then – as now – the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections. An important difference this time of course is that Venezuela has its first post-Chávez president, and a key part of the opposition’s strategy overall has been to depict Nicolás Maduro as a pale imitation of his predecessor and a president ill-equipped to deal with the country’s problems (many of which are exaggerated in the Venezuelan private media, which is still largely opposition-owned, as well as the international media).
Following Maduro’s electoral victory in April last year (with much of the opposition crying “fraud” despite there being no reasonable doubts about the validity of the results), the opposition looked to the December municipal elections as a referendum on Maduro’s government, vowing to defeat governing party PSUV and allied candidates. The outcome, which left the pro-Maduro parties with a 10 point margin of victory, was a stunning defeat for the opposition, and this time they did not even bother claiming the elections were rigged. According to the opposition’s own pre-election analysis, support for Maduro had apparently grown over the months preceding the election. As we have pointed out, this may be due in part to the large reduction in poverty in 2012 and other economic and social gains that preceded the more recent economic problems.
Defeated at the polls, the anti-democratic faction of the opposition prepared for a new attempt at destabilizing the elected government, and promoted relatively small, but often violent student protests in early February. They then called for a massive protest on February 12, Venezuela’s Youth Day in the center of Caracas. The demonstrations have been accompanied by a social media campaign that has spread misinformation in an attempt to depict the Maduro administration as a violent dictatorship instead of a popular elected government. Images of police violence from other countries and past protests – some several years old – have been presented on social media as having occurred in recent days in Venezuela. A YouTube video that has been watched by almost 2 million viewers presents a one-sided portrayal of the situation and falsely states that the Venezuelan government controls all radio and television in the country, among other distortions. Similar disinformation occurred in April 2002 and in other past incidents in Venezuela, most notably when manipulated video footage was used to provide political justification for the coup d’etat.
While some in Washington foreign policy circles may attempt to portray the leaders of this new wave of protests as persecuted pro-democracy heroes, they in fact have histories of supporting anti-democratic and unconstitutional efforts to oust the government. Both Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado supported the 2002 coup; in López’s case he participated in it by supervising the arrest of then-Minister of Justice and the Interior Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, when López was mayor of Chacao. Police dragged Rodríguez Chacín out of the building where he had sought refuge into an angry mob, who physically attacked him. Corina Machado notably was present when the coup government of Pedro Carmona was sworn in, and signed the infamous “Carmona decree” dissolving the congress, the constitution and the Supreme Court. The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday:
the opposition has a touchy protest history in Venezuela. Early on in former President Hugo Chavez’s administration, the opposition was consistently on the streets calling for an end to his presidency. In 2002, they organized a coup that briefly unseated the president. Though the opposition leadership is not calling for a coup, the reputation the group made for itself barely a decade ago may be haunting it as it vocally pushes back against Maduro’s administration.
Venezuela’s opposition receives funding from U.S. “democracy promotion” groups including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and core grantees such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NED, which the Washington Post noted was set up to conduct activities “much of” which “[t]he CIA used to fund covertly” has made a number of grants directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, and USAID has also given money to IRI, NDI and other groups for Venezuela programs. These organizations have a history of destabilizing elected governments and working to unify and strengthen political opposition to left-wing parties and governments. IRI notably played a key role in destabilizing Haiti ahead of the 2004 coup there, and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, to name a few. In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 coup, and IRI spokespersons infamously praised the coup after it happened.
The Haiti example is instructive. The parallels are numerous: notably, a key part of the strategy was to exaggerate and fabricate killings and other human rights abuses, which were blamed on the elected government (while truly horrific atrocities committed by the armed wing of the opposition were generally ignored). Researchers – including some from the U.N. — have since debunked the most widely-circulated accounts of rights violations, but of course the democratically-elected president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) had long since been forced from office by then.
The U.S.-funded destabilization of Haiti in the early 2000s also offers lessons as to the endgame of this strategy. As the New York Times reported and as scholars such as Peter Hallward and Jeb Sprague have documented, the IRI counseled its Haitian partners not to accept any compromises from the Aristide government (which made many concessions, including agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement), but to continue to press further.
But the Maduro government is of course in a much stronger position than Haiti’s government ten years ago. A key factor is that while Aristide was relatively isolated politically, Latin American governments, through UNASUR and MERCOSUR, have condemned the violent protests and the opposition’s calls for Maduro to leave office and have expressed support for the Venezuelan government. In this case, when the Obama administration continues to signal that it sides with the violent protests, it is an outlier in the region.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told media that an aircraft carrying President Nicolas Maduro was denied a path over Puerto Rico’s airspace.
President Maduro’s flight, which was to depart for China, was forced to find an alternate flight path according to Jaua, who denounced the act as “an act of aggression.”
“We have received the information from American officials that we have been denied travel over its airspace,” Jaua said, speaking to reporters during an official meeting with his South African counterpart.
“We denounce this as yet another aggression on the part of North American imperialism against the government of the Bolivarian Republic,” he added.
“No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit.”
There is “no valid argument” for denying travel through American airspace, Jaua said, adding that he expected the US to rectify the situation.
President Maduro was due to arrive in Beijing this weekend for bilateral talks with the Chinese government. Jaua was adamant that the Venezuelan leader would reach his destination, regardless of any perceived interference.
Though the US has yet to issue an official response, the latest incident will likely add to already strained relations between the two countries.
In July, the Venezuelan president announced that his government was halting attempts to improve relations with the US. The move was in response to comments made by the newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who told a Senate committee that her new role would include challenging the “crackdown on civil society” abroad, including in Venezuela.
Relations under former President Chavez had been acrimonious, as he had long held suspicions that the US had actively intervened on behalf of an attempted coup in 2002. Since his election in April, President Maduro has often made pointed criticisms at alleged US interference in Venezuelan affairs.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose own plane was grounded this summer allegedly due to suspicions by US authorities that the aircraft was transporting whistleblower Edward Snowden, said that ALBA bloc nations should consider a boycott of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York as a response.
“We cannot accept that the US carries on with politics of intimidation and the prohibition of flights by presidents,” said Morales, adding that the latest incident “demonstrates the country’s predisposition to humiliate other governments” and commit crimes against other nations.
Dispute over visas ahead of UN summit
The Venezuelan President also spoke of attempts by the US to set “conditions” on a visa issued to General Wilmer Barrientos, one of Maduro’s ministers who is slated to attend meetings during the UN General Assembly next week.
“They want to put conditions, if we decide to go to New York… They don’t want to give a visa to my minister,” said Maduro. “Do we want to go as tourists? We’re going to the United Nations. You’re obligated to give visas to all the delegation.”
Appearing via the television network TeleSUR on Thursday, Maduro indicated that he had directed his foreign minister, Elías Jaua, and Venezuela’s Ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, to “activate all mechanisms” in reference to the visa dispute.
“US, you are not the UN’s owner. The UN will have to move out of New York,” remarked Maduro.
He warned that if he has to take “measures” against the government of the US, he would be prepared to take “the most drastic measures necessary” to ensure Venezuelan sovereignty.
President Maduro at the Teresa Carreno Theatre in Caracas launching the Children’s and Youth Theatre Movement (Prensa Presidencial)
Merida – Yesterday the school program titled the “Cesar Rengifo” Children’s and Youth Theatre Movement was kicked off, as students returned to class for the new school year.
The program is being run initially in 135 Bolivarian schools in Caracas, and will gradually be expanded around the rest of the country.
Classes include body language, literature, oral narration, musical appreciation, acting, lighting, and theatre music.
“The idea is to awaken sensitivity, responsibility, and critical and creative thought in children, through theatre,” said the program’s coordinator, Pedro Lander.
Lander explained that actors, directors, theatrical designers, voice teachers, and playwrights have been called on to teach in the schools. He said that Cesar Rengifo’s plays will be used, as well as other local and international ones.
Cesar Rengifo, a playwright, poet, painter, and journalist, was born in Caracas on 14 May 1915, and died on 2 November 1980. He founded the theatre group Mascaras (Masks), was director of Cultural Extension of the University of the Andes, and he won a range of national prizes for his plays. His plays and paintings focused on life in Venezuela, petroleum, and the oppression of marginalised people and the working class.
Children will watch plays in the Teresa Carreño Theatre as part of their initiation into the subject.
“Today a movement is being started which will make history and will contribute to…achieving a peaceful country. A country of peace is a country which takes on the culture of life, the values of life, the love of life, and respect, as its fundamental values,” President Nicolas Maduro said at the official launch of the program yesterday in Caracas.
- Venezuelan School Year Begins with Free Books and Laptops (venezuelanalysis.com)
Telesur | August 16, 2013
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced today that he will withdraw the country’s ambassador from Egypt because of the conflict there and confrontations between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the defacto government, which has seen over 700 people killed.
“We have witnessed a blood bath in Egypt…We warned that the coup against Morsi was unconstitutional. Morsi was kidnapped and the responsible party for what is occuring in Egypt is the empire, which has its hands in it,” said the head of state.
He assured that, “The United States doesn’t have friends, it has interests, and what it wants is to control the planet”.
Maduro reiterated that, “We are against a blood bath in Egypt, it is a set-back that is going to cost a lot to our brothers, the Arabic people”.
He called on the Venezuelan people to be alert. “We can’t allow the hands of imperialism to enter Venezuela, we have to be the guarantee of independence,” he stressed.
The original article has been abridged. Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com
Venezuela is at a critical moment in its Bolivarian revolution, dealing with serious economic issues due to its transitional economy that is under siege by local oligarchs. At the same time, President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to welcome Edward Snowden, if he opts for political asylum in Venezuela, means that the Obama administration is escalating its hostility towards his government.
Venezuela faces a situation analogous to that of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973 when, as is well documented, the CIA and the local business class conspired to destabilize the economy, overthrow the democratically elected socialist government, and impose the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
It is in this context that we find it ill timed at best that Clif Ross has assailed the Venezuelan government with one-sided and flimsy arguments (e.g., criticizing Chávez for choosing to divert electrical power from basic industry to the populace when natural droughts curtailed hydroelectric production) in recent articles at Dissident Voice and CounterPunch Weekend Edition.
A former Chávista, Ross now takes what he describes as an “agnostic” view of the Bolivarian movement. His agnosticism extends to the US-backed opposition, which Ross argued in his talk in Berkeley could be even better for Venezuela if it were to come to power.
As solidarity activists, the Task Force on the Americas is not afflicted with agnostic angst; we support the social justice movements against imperialist intervention. Our responsibility is to allow the Venezuelans to resolve the contradictions within their movement without the interference of the US government.
A class analysis is needed of what is happening in Venezuela. The many problems with the Bolivarian revolution are inherent in trying to create socialism on the foundations of capitalism. Within Chávismo there is an acute awareness of problems, and President Maduro is working on them. We support the overall Bolivarian struggle against outside interference, because the alternative of the opposition in power would mean no opportunity for a people’s agenda.
Ross is concerned about the contagion of state power. None of the 21st century socialist governments in Latin America pass his muster. All are corrupt, authoritarian, and going in the wrong direction in his view.
But it was through state power that the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela distributed land to 300,000 families, halved the poverty rate, reduced extreme poverty by two-thirds, went from being among one of the most economically unequal nations in the Latin America to being the among the most equal, reduced child malnutrition by 40%, increased social expenditures by 60%, built 700,000 homes, and returned 1 million hectares to Indigenous communities.
This same government has promoted community councils and other instruments of participatory democracy. Not surprisingly, according to the annual World Happiness poll, Venezuela is the second happiest country in the world.
A mere decade and a half ago, most analysts would have ranked Venezuela as least likely to stand up on its own two feet to challenge the Empire, to be recognized as sovereign and equal. It was arguably the most sycophantically Americanized nation in South America. In a mere 14 years of the Bolivarian revolution, there has been a blossoming of home grown culture. A sense of national identity and pride has become universal, even among the Miami jet-setting opposition elements.
Today, 32-year old musical wunderkind and avowed Chavista Gustavo Dudamel is not only the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in Caracas but of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles. Culture is still being imported, but the shipping lanes are going both ways now.
The Bolivarian revolution is considered a major threat by the US empire. The US has a stated policy of regime change for Venezuela, spending millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” to demonize and destabilize the Bolivarian movement. With the US as the sole super power having an uncontested military superiority, the Bolivarian revolution is all the more of a threat because it is a “threat of a good example.”
In 2008, when the US financial crisis precipitated a world recession, the capitalist solution was to impose austerity measures on working people with increased unemployment and economic insecurity. In contrast, the Venezuelan government reduced the gap between rich and poor by elevating the poor.
As James Petras has pointed out, US policy toward Venezuela has taken many tactical turns. But the enduring objective has been the same: oust the Chavistas, reverse the nationalization of big businesses, abolish the mass community and worker based councils, and revert the country into a client-state. These are the salient issues the solidarity movement needs to address.
Roger D. Harris is President of the Task Force on the Americas, a 29-year-old human rights organization based in Marin County, which works in solidarity with the social justice movements in Latin America and in opposition to US interference with their self-determination. Visit Roger’s website.
- Venezuela ends normalization of US relations (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Venezuela arrests Colombian paramilitaries plotting instability (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Venezuela says it has ended the process of normalizing relations with the United States over remarks by Washington’s ambassador-designate to the UN.
During her confirmation hearing before a US Senate committee on July 17, Samantha Power claimed Venezuela, along with several other countries, was conducting a “crackdown on civil society.”
“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela hereby ends the process … of finally normalizing our diplomatic relations” that started in early June, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement.
The statement added that Caracas is opposed to the “interventionist agenda” presented by Power.
On Thursday, the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced Power’s remarks as “outrageous,” and demanded “an immediate correction by the US government.”
“Power says she’ll fight repression in Venezuela? What repression? There is repression in the United States, where they kill African-Americans with impunity, and where they hunt the youngster Edward Snowden just for telling the truth,” he added, referring to the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Venezuela has offered asylum to Snowden, an American former technical contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of Washington’s secret surveillance programs.
Maduro was the first foreign leader to state openly that he was offering sanctuary to Snowden.
Venezuela and the US have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. However, in June US Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua agreed on the sidelines of a regional summit in Guatemala that officials would “soon” meet for talks that could lead to an exchange of envoys.
In March, Caracas expelled two US military attaches over allegations of trying to foment instability in Venezuela.
Washington also angered Caracas by supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who disputed the results of the April presidential election, in which Maduro won the race with 50.7 percent of the vote against 49.1 percent for Capriles.
Mérida – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described comments made by US President Barack Obama’s nominee for envoy to the United Nations as “despicable”, and demanded an apology.
Yesterday Maduro criticised the nominee Samantha Power’s testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. During the speech, Power called for a “contesting” of what she described as a “crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”
“Power says she’ll fight repression in Venezuela? What repression?” Maduro responded on Venezuelan television.
“There is repression in the United States, where they kill African-Americans with impunity, and where they hunt the youngster Edward Snowden just for telling the truth,” he stated. His comments come in the wake of a Florida jury acquitting George Zimmerman on 13 July for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
He also called for an “immediate correction by the US government”.
“And the U.S. government says they want to have good relations? What tremendous relations they want,” Maduro stated.
Following his victory in the 14 April presidential elections, Maduro called for closer relations with the US. In June, his foreign minister Elias Jaua met US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry described the meeting as the “beginning of a good, respectful relationship”.
After the talks, Jaua told Telesur that the Maduro administration is open to a more positive relationship “based on the premise of mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs and the proper treatment of disagreements”.
“If this is respected then we can move forward in relations with US,” Jaua stated. Today, Jaua announced that the government had issued a letter of protest to the US embassy in Caracas. According to Jaua, the letter asked if there is still “willingness” in Washington to improve relations, “as expressed by the Secretary of State John Kerry”.
Since then, Maduro has criticised the US for its pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden, to whom he has offered asylum.
Yesterday, he stated that Power’s comments were being applauded by the “fascist right” in Venezuela. Power’s speech also received positive feedback from a number of committee members, including some Republicans.
Along with calling for more “efficiency and a greater focus on promoting freedom”, Power stated that the UN needs US “leadership” and fairness.
“There cannot be one standard for one country and another standard for all others,” she stated, before criticising the General Assembly and Human Rights Council for passing “one-sided resolutions” against Israel.
“Just as I have done the last four years as President Obama’s UN adviser at the White House, I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it,” she said.