Merida – The Venezuelan government has condemned the United States for threatening to impose sanctions, and accused Washington of encouraging “extremist sectors”.
In a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Maduro government accused the US of “meddling in … internal affairs” and “ignoring our democratic process”.
Yesterday, US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson warned that sanctions against Venezuela could become an “important tool” to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to negotiate with opposition parties. However, Maduro has repeatedly called on opposition parties to join peace talks since last month.
Yesterday the head of the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) Ramon Guillermo Aveledo stated he would be prepared for “respectful dialogue”, despite previously boycotting talks. The MUD had issued a series of preconditions on talks, including reductions in crime and scarcity, an international arbiter to oversee negotiations, access to a presidential national broadcast and the release of all opposition supporters, including jailed far right leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Earlier today a Venezuelan court rejected an appeal for Lopez’s release. Lopez was arrested last month, and faces charges related to violent protests. The court stated the appeal for his release as “without merit”.
The opposition figure’s wife, Lilian Tintori described the court’s decision an “injustice”.
However, Maduro has accepted the precondition of an international arbiter, with a Vatican City representative being a possible candidate favoured by opposition groups.
“All the initiatives at dialogue that have emerged in recent months are the result of the will of the national government after conversing with all sectors of society to find solutions to the various problems we face today, while fully respecting our constitutional order,” the Foreign Ministry statement read.
“However, the statements of Ms. Jacobson constitute an incentive for the small extremist sectors, who for weeks have been sowing violence and terror throughout the population, to continue their practices in a way that completely violates the constitution and respect for the rights of all Venezuelans,” the statement read.
Amid recent peaceful opposition protests there has been a wave of anti-government vandalism and political violence, despite recent calls for peace from the government and some opposition parties.
37 people have been killed in relation to violent protests since February, Venezuela’s attorney general Luisa Ortega told state broadcaster VTV today. According to Ortega, eight of the casualties have been members of state security forces. 168 people are also being detained, mostly in relation to vandalism.
The attorney general also stated that 81 investigations into possible human rights abuses are currently being undertaken, including 75 cases of possible maltreatment by security forces.
“We’re going to punish … those who appear to be responsible for such incidents,” Ortega told VTV.
The Venezuelan government also accused the US of “hindering” bilateral relations. Diplomatic ties between the two countries have been frosty since the US backed a short lived coup against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez in 2002. Ambassadors haven’t been exchanged since 2010.
The latest round of diplomatic tit-for-tats has included a decision from the US embassy in Caracas to cease issuing tourist visas to first time applicants.
“[W]e have reiterated on several occasions our desire to resume diplomatic dialogue with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect, but the constant threat of sanctions, the manipulation of the facts and disrespect for our laws and democratic processes are merely hindering the understanding between the two governments,” the Venezuelan government stated.
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim | Correo del Orinoco | March 22, 2014
Venezuelan ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez has accused international organizations of misrepresenting human rights conditions in Venezuela.
“A few NGOs have forged reports against our institution with false information,” Ramirez tweeted on Monday.
Since last month Venezuela has come under renewed criticism from international human rights monitors.
On 21 February, the United States based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Venezuelan security forces of using excessive force, while claiming it couldn’t find evidence of “anti-government protesters carrying firearms or using lethal force against security forces or third parties”.
Since February at least 29 people have been killed amid anti-government demonstrations and opposition violence. Among the dead are security forces and civilians who have been killed by firearms during clashes with the opposition.
The day before the HRW report was released, the brother of a socialist party (PSUV) deputy, Arturo Alexis Martinez was shot dead by a sniper. He was trying to clear an opposition barricade in Lara state when he was killed. On 24 February, motorbike taxi worker Antonio Jose Valbuena was shot by a masked individual in Maracaibo while clearing another opposition barricade. The alleged assailant reportedly demanded Valbuena desist from the attempt to clear the barricade. Since then assailants have shot at least two more civilians trying to clear opposition barricades.
Three national guard soldiers have also been shot dead during clashes with the opposition, including Giovanni Pantoja in Carabobo on 28 February, Acner Isaac Lopez Leon on 6 March in Caracas, Ramzor Bracho in Carabobo on 12 March and Jose Guillen Araque on 17 March.
According to Ramirez, misrepresentations of Venezuela by non-government organizations (NGOs) comes amid an anti-government social media campaign of misinformation.
Since February, photographs have circulated on social media websites including Twitter and Facebook of alleged cases of human rights violations by Venezuelan security forces. However, many of the photographs appear to be taken in countries as diverse as Syria, Chile and Egypt, but with inaccurate captions indicating they were taken in Venezuela.
HRW’s own report is accompanied by a photograph of what is claimed to be “a tank in San Cristobal”. The “tank”, was a statue that had been moved into the middle of the road and vandalized by opposition protesters.
Ramirez accused NGOs of being backed by the US State Department, which has also attacked Venezuela. In a report last month, the department leveled accusations against the Maduro government similar to those issued by HRW, while Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened possible “sanctions”.
Kerry’s comments have since been condemned by the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), along with the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
“The Miami lobby is taking measures to sanction Venezuela, but I tell you, you’ll be going down a road without return,” Maduro stated in response to Kerry.
Venezuela’s opposition is sending a few mixed messages about violence and freedom. Unlike the moderate opposition (which is laden with its own hypocrisies), the extremist opposition groups are a minority within the wider anti-Maduro movement. Despite an overwhelming majority of the population opposing their violence, the barricaders and other aggressive opposition elements somehow maintain the support of much of the private press, and established opposition parties. They draw sympathy from human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, which pretends the violent opposition aren’t armed. The State Department likewise appears to have nothing less than unconditional support for violent opposition groups.
It’s hard to believe the opposition protesters oppose violence when they start shooting at people on the street. They want a free media, but they try to lynch journalists. They demand to be let into the political process, but refuse to join peace talks, while exacerbating the scarcity they’re protesting against.
Of the many imaginative ways the opposition has proved itself hopelessly hypocritical, here are the top eight shameless contradictions.
1. Protests against scarcity by blocking supplies
The opposition doesn’t seem to have figured out that there is a very close correlation between the number of delivery trucks they torch, and the number of deliveries that aren’t made.
Just a few hours before writing this article, I passed one such torched truck in Merida, near one of the city’s largest supermarkets. There was a banner hanging off the burned skeleton of the vehicle, with a complaint about food scarcity. Anyone who things it makes sense to protest food scarcity after destroying a delivery truck outside a supermarket probably needs to spend some time in a quiet corner contemplating the dictionary definition of cogent.
Meanwhile in reality, scarcity levels remain high in Venezuela, with many basic consumer products ranging from flour to milk being difficult to reliably obtain. Unsurprisingly, however, blocking roads only makes a bad situation worse. In the opposition stronghold of Merida, even cooking gas deliveries became intermittent in February, as the city’s main thoroughfares are semi-permanently blocked by opposition groups.
2. Protests violence…with more violence
Occasionally, barricades are adorned with posters demanding “no más violencia”. Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere, so it’s no surprise security is a major issue in public discourse. But smashing over US$1 million in public property isn’t exactly a sure-fire way to make people feel safer. Nor is hanging barbed wire over roads to decapitate motorcyclists. In fact, now that there are groups of masked opposition thugs wandering around with guns, explosives and traps like home-made caltrops, it’s harder than ever to feel safe. The MUD has set a reduction in crime as a precondition for peace talks – something which might be difficult to achieve while their supporters keep shooting at people in the streets.
3. Defending media freedom by attacking journalists
Despite the fact that the majority of Venezuela’s media remains privately owned and anti-government in terms of editorial lines, one of the opposition’s favourite complaints is that they have no voice in the mass media. Henrique Capriles himself cited a lack of access to media as his reason for creating his humbly titled online show, CaprilesTV. On 4 March, the opposition held a march demanding “greater media freedom”. The next day, they attacked three journalists from private media outlets. It takes something really special to claim you defend journalists one day, and beat one with a lead pipe the next.
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of this self-satirising iceberg. The opposition groups have repeatedly lashed out at the media. The majority of attacks have targeted public media outlets such as VTV, which was under a semi-permanent state of siege throughout February 2014. Community media outlets have been vandalised, and Venezuelanalysis journalists have also been attacked. One VA writer had rocks thrown at him when he tried to approach a group, while another was held at gunpoint after she photographed a group attacking public transport.
4. Wants to be listened to, but doesn’t want to listen
The opposition has justified going to the streets by claiming they have been largely ignored by the government. Yet when the Maduro actually invites them to attend peace talks, they boycott them. Perhaps it’s not Maduro that’s doing the ignoring.
5. Opposes the killing of peaceful protesters…by killing more peaceful protesters
Attend any opposition rally and it isn’t hard to find someone out to slam the government for the deaths of opposition protesters. Every death is indeed a tragedy, unless they can’t be martyred. Trying to find anyone at an opposition rally condemning the shooting of Gisela Rubilar isn’t easy. To be fair, though, I have seen one person with a placard condemning her death; but they had the wrong face glued on. Moreover, they didn’t seem interested in entertaining the idea that the opposition group that had fired at people clearing barricades in the area the night before may have been involved in Rubilar’s shooting.
6. Opposes corruption by demanding bribes
One of the opposition’s most salient complaints of the Venezuelan government is its failure to deal with corruption. It’s a reasonable criticism, given that Venezuela scores an abysmal 20/100 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. However, the opposition hasn’t exactly shown itself to be anything near a credible alternative. Opposition groups are increasingly demanding tolls for anyone to pass their barricades. People who feel emotions generally refer to these tolls as bribes.
Worse still, the opposition’s organisational structure is murkier than a bowl of mondongo on Monday afternoon. Their nationwide campaign of violence is well organised, with logistical support and at least hundreds of people coordinating across the country. However, nobody seems to know who is running barricades, and how. They clearly receive some funding, but nobody knows from where. Corruption festers where there is a lack of democracy and public criticism – and the opposition on the street is open to neither.
7. Calls Maduro a dictator, while acting like a dictatorship
Since February the opposition protests have defined life in Merida. Checking where they are attacking people has become as habitual as watching the weather forecast. It’s hard to believe opposition groups really oppose authoritarianism when they force you to pay tolls to pass their barricades, decide where you can to walk, decide when you can turn your light on in your own home, decide if supplies can reach your neighbourhood and decide you when you’re able to go to work. While the protests were at their worst, businesses figured out that the barricaders like to sleep in; so they started opening in the mornings, and closing before lunchtime. In other words, shops were forced to change their opening hours to suit the sleep patterns of these thugs. If everyone wasn’t being forced to change their routines to accommodate the whims of the barricaders, maybe their claims that they support freedom would carry some weight.
8. Complains Chavismo has ruined Venezuela…demands US intervention
Anyone who signs this petition needs to have a long conversation with someone from Iraq or Afghanistan. Simple.
Merida – On the weekend civilians marched with National Bolivarian Guard (GNB) soldiers, and today the government declared part of Caracas “free” from violent protests. The march came as private media heightened its false statements about GNB actions.
On Saturday in Caracas there was a large civic-military march in support of “peace and life” and the GNB soldiers.
In his speech to those present President Nicolas Maduro accused the “government of the United States” of trying to “implement a plan to assassinate [him]”. He said in such a case, “the people should stay in the streets, making the revolution, united with the armed forces”.
Since 12 February, he said, over 20,000 GNB soldiers have been in the street, carrying out “some 16,000 operations to re-establish order and avoid confrontations, on average almost 500 operations per day. However, of the 29 deaths [since 12 February], there is only one under investigation attributed to a GNB soldier, [but] the opposition has carried out a campaign… writing them [the GNB] off as killers”.
The majority of deaths have been caused by violent barricades, two of them were allegedly caused by SEBIN (the national intelligence service) agents, and one by the Chacao police. Chacao police take orders from the opposition Chacao mayor.
Maduro himself is Commander in Chief of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. He stressed that there had never been any orders to repress. “If the national guard or the national police had gone out in a repressive blind rage or with a an order to repress, in the face of [almost 500] violent actions per day [by the opposition], the death statistics would be different,” he said.
According to a recent survey by private firm, Hinterlaces, of 1200 Venezuelans, 87% reject the violent barricades “as an instrument of protest”, and 11% support their continuation. 79% express “doubt” that the violence could improve the situation in the country.
GNB death, Chacao operation
Sunday night, Aragua governor Tareck El Aissami reported that a GNB captain was injured in Maracay by “criminal groups”. El Aissami said the captain was shot in the head. He explained that when a “violent group” tried to close Avenue Jose Casanova Godoy and the GNB arrived, the GNB were shot at.
Yesterday Maracay also held a Peace Conference, as part of a national government initiative being held in various states around the country.
This morning El Aissami reported that Captain Jose Guillen Araque had died from the injury. This is the second GNB captain killed in less than a week. Captain Ramzor Bracho, was killed last Wednesday in Valencia, allegedly by opposition groups.
Meanwhile, the government announced today that the upper class area of Chacao had been made a “peace zone”. Over the last five weeks the area has been one of many zones around the country subject to constant road blockades, rubbish burning, destruction of public property, harassment, aggression, and vandalism, by violent groups calling for Maduro’s resignation.
Last Monday GNB soldiers dismantled a clandestine storage area in Chacao used by the violent groups. They confiscated guns, knives, C4 explosives, drugs, and fuel.
In his speech on Saturday, Maduro said the government was willing to use “force” to “restore peace” to Chacao. “We’ll capture all the violent people, the terrorists, the murderers, we’ll do it…respecting all human rights. The first human right we’ll respect is the right to free transit, the right of the children to go to school,” he said.
That night, VTV reported that the violent groups “voluntarily withdrew” from Altamira plaza in Chacao.
Early this morning the minister for internal affairs, Miguel Rodriguez Torres announced the “liberation and pacifying” of the area, a few hours after 661 GNB soldiers were deployed there. He said the guards will patrol 24 hours a day “in order to guarantee citizen safety”.
Rodriguez Torres said that authorities were waiting on the mayor of the area, Ramon Muchacho, in order to “hand over control and that he take charge of maintaining the area”.
Resident of Chacao, Susana Saavedra told Correo del Orinoco that she congratulated the GNB, “for taking this initiative, because it was lawless here”. She accused local opposition authorities of “collaborating with the barricaders… we couldn’t leave our houses or send our children to school”.
While the number of violent barricades around the country has been reduced, both voluntarily and because of the GNB, in Merida this morning the science museum was attacked for a second time, high school Fray Juan Ramos de Lora was attacked, and a main city intersection was blocked by a burning truck.
Manipulation by Venezuelan private media
Venezuelan private media however, have blamed much of the violence on the GNB. El Nacional headlined on 15 March, “GNB and collectives attack universities around the country”. Though colectivos is a term used in Venezuela for a range of social and productive organisations, the private media in February began using it to denote supposedly armed, pro-government groups. The El Nacional article accused the GNB and “collectives” of “repressing student protests”.
In Carora, Lara state on Friday, the media reported “repression by GNB and collectives”. Opposition state governor, Henri Falcon said “anarchic groups supported by the GNB caused damage, panic, and commotion” in the National Poli-technical Experimental University (Unexpo).
Video footage of the event however shows the violence by the opposition groups, the GNB cleaning up the area, verbal abuse by groups towards the GNB, and the GNB responding politely. The GNB then sat the groups down and gave them a workshop on human rights, then let them all go, the footage shows.
Further, today El Nacional quoted opposition leader Maria Corina Machado accusing the GNB of “creating the chaos in Altamira to justify militarisation”.
Machado also called for a march against so called “Cuban interference” on Sunday. According to AFP, only “hundreds” turned up to the march. The AFP article stated that “protests… against the government of Nicolas Maduro… have seen a total of 28 deaths”, implying that the deaths were all opposition “protestors”.
La Patilla and social networks have also circulated a photo, which they claim was GNB soldiers “repressing, beating, and arresting a special youth”. However, on Saturday, Alejandro Cegarra, an AP photographer who has been critical of the government claimed to have taken the photo and stated the “GN official was helping the protestor to breathe… the guy started to faint and was choking”.
Further, the AP caption for the photo described the National Guard helping the man to breathe, but according to Cegarra, those who reposted the photo “decided to ignore the caption”. A video by photographer, Cristian Dubo also makes it clear the GNB were trying to help the man. While he was not beaten, it does appear he was taken to hospital, and also detained and is awaiting trial, after being involved in confrontations in Altamira.
Other press went further, using a different photo to claim the man had Down syndrome, and he was “brutally beaten by the GNB”. However the man in this second photo, according to RT, was beaten by Miami police last year. The man photographed by Dubo did not have Down syndrome.
The GNB forms part of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. It is responsible for public order. President Hugo Chavez, over his three terms, aimed to transform the GNB from what was previously a repressive institution into one geared towards promoting development. He increased the role of the GNB in civil affairs, including involving soldiers in implementing social programs such as the Mercal food program. The majority of GNB soldiers come from the poorer sectors of Venezuela, and Chavez often referred to the Armed Forces as “the people in arms”.
Since February 23, CEPR has been keeping track of those who have died during the last month of protests in Venezuela. Below is the most recent available information on the location, causes and status of investigations into the deaths. This list will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. As of March 13, the list contains 29 individuals; however in some cases press reports indicate that the death was not directly associated with the protests. Never the less, as they have often been reported as such, they are included below.
There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum. In some cases, members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement. At least 10 individuals have reportedly been killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades. Three members of the National Guard have been killed.
- Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, an opposition demonstrator was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed in Caracas during the opposition protest that took place on February 12.
- Juan Montoya, a pro-government community activist, was reportedly shot in both the head and chest and died. Montoya’s body was found a short distance from the body of Da Costa. On February 26, the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, announced that 8 officers from SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, had been arrested for their role in the killing of Da Costa and Montoya. As of March 11, 6 SEBIN officers remain in jail. President Maduro has also removed the head of SEBIN.
- On February 12, Roberto Redman, another opposition demonstrator was also shot, reportedly in the head, and killed. The killing took place in a neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Witnesses attributed his death to armed civilians. There has been no update on the status of any investigation.
- On February 18 José Ernesto Méndez, a 17-year-old student who was participating in a demonstration in the Sucre department, was hit by a truck and later died. The Attorney General stated that the driver of the truck has been apprehended and charged with homicide.
- On the same day Genesis Carmona, a student and beauty queen was shot and killed in the state of Carabobo. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the she was shot from behind, potentially from within the group she was protesting with, though others contest that version of events. The government has pledged a full investigation. There have been no further updates on the status of the investigation.
- On February 19, Julio Gonzalez, a member of the public ministry in Carabobo reportedly died after crashing his vehicle while attempting to avoid a roadblock put up by protesters.
- On February 20, Arturo Alexis Martínez, the brother of a ruling party legislator, was reportedly shot in the chest as he attempted to clear a path for his car amidst the debris left by a barricade following an opposition protest in Lara state. Witnesses allege that the shot that killed him was fired from a nearby building. On March 6, the AG announced that an individual has been charged for their involvement in the death.
- On February 20, Asdrúbal Rodríguez was reportedly arrested for attempting to steal a motorcycle and then was found dead the next day. The arrest and killing occurred in Chacao. Two members of the Chacao police have been arrested and remain in jail.
- On the night of February 21, Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa was beheaded by a wire strung across the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas while driving a moto. The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening.
- On February 21 that a 37-year-old woman named Delia Elena Lobo had died the previous evening in the city of Mérida in similar circumstances to De La Rosa. The woman was heading home on a motorbike and ran into barbed wire stretched across a street. Nobody has been arrested for the deaths of Lobo or De La Rosa. Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention.
- On the evening of February 21, Jose Alejandro Márquez died due to injuries to the head suffered in clashes with the National Guard. Seven members of the National Guard are being investigated for the death.
- On February 22nd, Geraldine Moreno, a 23-year-old protester who had been injured by bird shot during a protest in Carabobo state a few days earlier reportedly died from head injuries. There has been no update on the status of the investigation.
- On February 23 in San Cristobal Danny Melgarejo, a local student, was stabbed to death. The mayor said that the killing was related to a robbery, and not the student’s participation in protests.
- On February 24 Antonio José Valbuena Morales was shot and killed, reportedly while trying to remove barricades that had been set up by protesters.
- On February 24 Wilmer Carballo was killed by a shot to the head in Sucre state. Reports suggest he was shot by individuals on motos. On February 25, the AG announced an investigation into the killing.
- On February 24, Jimmy Vargas died after falling from a second story building. Press reports continue to state that he was killed “after being hit by a tear gas canister and falling from a balcony,” despite video evidence to the contrary.
- On February 25, Eduardo Ramón Anzona Carmona died after crashing his moto into a barricade. The accident occurred in Valencia in the state of Carabobo
- Also on February 25, in El Límon, Jhoan Gabriel Quintero Carrasco was shot and killed near a supermarket where looting was taking place.
- Giovanny José Hernández Pantoja, a member of the GNB, was shot and killed in Valencia on February 28. News reports indicate he was removing a barricade when he was shot. At least three individuals have been detained for their alleged involvement.
- On March 3 in Chacao, Deivis José Useche died after crashing his moto. Press reports indicate that a manhole cover had been removed during earlier protests, which caused the crash.
- On Tuesday, March 4 Luis Gutiérrez Camargo crashed into a barricade and died in the state of Tachira.
- On March 6, a National Guardsman, Acner López Lyon, was shot and killed during an altercation in Los Ruices, a neighborhood in Caracas. News reports indicate that the National Guard was removing a barricade that was blocking a main avenue.
- In the same altercation that took the life of Lyon, a mototaxista, José Gregorio Amaris Castillo, was shot and killed. The AG announced an investigation into the deaths.
- On March 7, Johan Alfonso Pineda Morales died after he lost control of his moto on an oil slick, allegedly intentionally created by protesters.
- On the night of March 10, a student protester, Daniel Tinoco was shot and killed in San Cristobal. It is unclear who was responsible, though press reports indicate that the killing occurred after a day of clashes between the National Guard which was trying to remove barricades in San Cristobal. The mayor indicated that it was armed civilians that shot Tinoco. The AG announced an investigation into the killing.
- On March 12, university student Jesús Enrique Acosta was shot and killed in La Isabelica in the department of Carabobo. Family members told the press that Acosta was outside his house when armed civilians began firing. Reuters reports that “the state governor said the shot came from snipers among the protesters.”
- On March 12, the Governor of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach reported that a captain of the National Guard, Ramso Ernesto Bracho Bravo was shot and killed during an altercation in the municipality of Naguanagua.
- Also on March 12 in La Isabelica, Guillermo Alfonso Sánchez was shot and killed. The circumstances remain unclear. The AG has announced an investigation into the three killings of March 12.
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.