Venezuela Descends Into Chaos

Originally published at the Huffington Post

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National protests were called in Venezuela on 12 February under the hashtag #LaSalida meaning “the exit”. This hashtag was not a strategy, it was a call for mobilisation. They are two very different things and explain why the student protests are not a manifestation of opposition desire to overthrow the government through a right-wing led coup nor are they a calculated plan for regime change, despite some efforts to push this absurd rhetoric. The protests are palpable signs of mass discontent.

The protests began mainly in opposition dominated,  middle-class areas i.e. Altamira, San Cristobal and Valencia. They have since engulfed more Chavista areas such as Catia and Antimano. This changes the dynamics of the protests since it is a tangible sign of discontent from bases that would have been otherwise considered non-engaged with and opposed to the student protests.

There is no longer a need for speculation on violence that is occurring. There is hard evidence of government colectivos and the National Guard firing at civilianscolectivos firing at protestors and National Guardsmen shooting tear gas canisters into residential buildings, as well as footage of the National Opposition Building being raided by unknown, armed men. The government must begin investigations into these as soon as possible. The government ought to also stop politicising citizen demands by labelling anybody who protests as a “fascist” , as this does ease the dichotomous schisms that consume Venezuela.

It is important to remember that these protests do not negate the presence of democratic processes and mechanisms, the government has a mandate and was democratically elected in April 13. It is better to view democracy as a process and not a point of arrival. In this sense, Venezuela has been in the process of establishing a protagonist, participatory democracy since 1999 and the current setbacks do not cancel these achievements out. The students are protesting against criminalisation of protest and current economic downturns. They are not battling a tyrannical dictatorship- to claim this is to do injustice to the democratic developments of the last fifteen years.

Venezuela is not Egypt. Nor is it Ukraine. I am not comfortable with the notion of a “Venezuelan Spring” or with comparisons of Venezuela to draconian states that have violated human rights on a mass-scale. That is not to say that the government’s National Guard have not committed crimes in Venezuela, there is now explicit evidence of this that not even Maduro can deny. However the government is not forcing virginity tests on women or hiring snipers to go on killing missions, both of which have happened in Egypt and Ukraine amidst citizen protests.

This is not to excuse the government since the way in which they have mismanaged these protests is unacceptable. Yet, the Venezuelan government is not arbitrarily killing its citizens. If the colectivos or tupamaros decide to take it upon themselves to be “defenders of the revolution” that is not directly relatable to the Maduro; it is a by-product of his administrative actions. The government can do better to deal with these protests, but that does not make render them blood-thirty murderers as is being portrayed by some extreme-oppos.

Leopoldo Lopez is not only going to see a surge in attention and interest, but he could potentially emerge as a leading figure for the opposition. The government issuing an arrest warrant and subsequently attempting to charge him with conspiracy to murder, street destruction and terrorism makes the government look weak, paranoid and repressive. Lopez was never much of a threat to Maduro’s leadership until Maduro turned him into one.

Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and the rest of MUD have not helped their case. By calling for these protests in the first place, they are viewed as the instigators of violence. While I do not agree that they are responsible for what happens on the streets following their issue for demonstrations, I do believe that they have a responsibly to alleviate violence and stop calling people out on to the streets after it clearly turned into a deadly situation- they failed at this and now they have to seek ways to redeem themselves.

There are over 30 different parties within the opposition and they are majorly fractured. If they want present themselves as a viable alternative, they must aim at floating and alienated voters and disgruntled chavistasOnly – and only then– will we see any hope for the opposition. They are not going to cause drastic internal change within the country through these demonstrations- they may rattle a few cages and gain brief international coverage – but this does not translate into institutional change at a top-level.

The MUD must seek peaceful recourse, issue a public apology for the deaths of civilians from the student protests (even though they were not directly responsible for these deaths, an apology would serve as a respectable move to all the families and friends of those murdered) and strategically plan for the 2016 recall referendum window, otherwise recent events will be as fleeting as those of 2002-4.

There are reports that the government has taken down the internet in the opposition state Tachira and Maduro has warned that “If I have to decree a state of exception for Tachira and send in the tanks, I am ready to do it”. Maduro is making a big, big mistake in threatening this. Is he looking for an all out war? First the arrest of Lopez, then SEBIN debacle where the intelligence police force shot and killed Bassil Dacosta. Maduro has since removed the head of SEBIN, but sending in tanks? This would prove to be a disastrous move. Maduro’s mismanagement of the economy is a major driver of these protests and instead of giving two-hour long speeches on television, he should strive deal with one of the world’s highest inflation rates, the highest homocide rate in Latin America (above Mexico) and forecasts of a looming economic recession all happening in Venezuela today.

The president needs to realise that the biggest dagger to his government won’t come from “fascists” on the street, it will come from a failure to stabilise inflation and the exchange rate. The practice of state-led development is very simple, do not bite off more than you can chew, lest we forget over nintey-per cent of Venezuela’s revenues come from oil and there is no use talking about a Bolivarian Revolution that can no longer be sponsored by a state that is headed for bankruptcy. 

Fransico Toro is absolutely right to talk of a game change. Everything changes from here on out. There is now clear evidence of the government officials violently repressing the protests and international media has been negligent of this. Let’s see how the next few weeks unfold. My prediction is that the situation will only further polarise an already devastatingly polarised country and violence will only escalate. Time to step up Maduro.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. msteinross says:

    Reblogged this on Fino Cambur and commented:
    Well reasoned recap of current events. It’s refreshing to read an account that appears to be from a more distant perspective, i.e. not inundated with so much emotion.

  2. Orlando says:

    Interesting analysis; however this does not make sense whatsoever:

    “The MUD must seek peaceful recourse, issue a public apology for the deaths of civilians from the student protests and strategically plan for the 2016 recall referendum window, otherwise recent events will be as fleeting as those of 2002-4.”

    How in the world is the MUD going to issue a public apology for the deaths of civilians from the protests? Did they shoot the protesters? Did they order their killing? You need to get your facts straight:. THE BOLIVARIAN REGIME is behind those killings through the “colllectivos” that are armed gangs trained and supported by the regime.

    Also, you give way too much credit to Maduro. Time to step up? They had 15 years and the result is that the country with the largest oil reserves in the world is in ruins.

    If Maduro keeps this path of not listening to the people, the regime will fall and the revolution will be no more.

    1. Thank you for your views. I have made the relevant changes to my piece given your comments. Also, I feel that this is a time for Maduro to act as a president which he has not done since he came into power. I don’t believe that he will succeed in quelling the violence, but he should at least try and step up to the role that he took on.

  3. Meridian Hutchins says:

    No mention here of the government responsibility for the economic conditions, which is the underlying cause of the unrest. You can’t blame MUD for calling protests of these extreme economic conditions and not mention that it is entirely a socialistic government’s fault for the problems.

    1. Thank you for your comment Meridian. I have made some changes to my piece, please read the updated version.

  4. manmade1988 says:

    I’ve read a lot of drivel on the internet, which I don’t bother commenting on. But I find it dangerous when someone as intelligent and articulated as you (I know that because I follow your blog) uses words without considering their full implication.

    Therefore, I mean the following as constructive criticism only. Take it or leave it as you want.

    Knowing the history of the country (and continent), the narrative/angle that the protests are, or look like, a coup in forming is not “absurd rhetoric,” it is a very likely scenario. And that one BBC article you link to, which I think is a great article, the likes of which will never be seen in Canada’s mainstream media, is certainly not the only one circulating on the net.

    The protests that have moved to other Chavista areas have, for the most part, according to some of the research I’ve done, been peaceful demonstrations against the anti-government protestors. I’m sure some people may be violent (from both sides), but that’s certainly not what they are going out there for. (Kind of like the exact same argument about the anti-government ones, no?) In any case, none of that means that the anti-government sentiment or the protests have “engulfed” these areas — that’s a loaded term; much less that they are changing the “dynamics of the protests.” It’s not a “tangible sign of discontent,” they are certainly not “bases …considered non-engaged” and certainly are more representative of students than the anti-government ones.

    You are not really analyzing the facts. This so called non-engaged based is very much engaged, and many — that is, the majority of the student population which belongs to the working class, which reaches over 60% — support the government. They’ve always been engaged; that they don’t go out to protest, or do it in response to the other side, are other arguments…But that isn’t, and has never been, a “non-engaged” sector.

    And “hard and irrefutable evidence”??? Please. Every single link you have there, except for the “raid” one (3rd paragraph), takes you to a Youtube video, shot on a phone. These aren’t reliable. In fact, this is, I believe, the quintessential problem with the journalism industry today: that so-called citizen-journalism, while helpful, isn’t always reliable; not even well-established outlets are always reliable, such as CNN, CBC, BCC, Etc., much less videos shot on people’s phones, people who have their own agendas, and who don’t analyze the facts they see, hear or read, facts which many times, MANY VENEZUELANS WILL TELL YOU, are nothing more than rumours.

    Take the last one, for instance, which shows national guardsmen shooting into buildings: if you actually watch the video, which I’m sure you did, it only shows what can be seen as people on motorcycles shooting into something into buildings; it’s the narrator, who’s holding the phone, who’s also describing them as “over 30” members of the National Guard and then speaks alarmingly about them shooting tear gas into the buildings. If it turns out to be true, after an investigation, then those guilty will be punished, as has been occurring. But You-tube Videos must be verified. There is a reason why major news outlets, as corrupt or given to distortion of facts as they may be, for the most part are weary of using these unless they have a few half-serious reliable sources. There’s also many other photos of the other side saying they’ve caught “peaceful opposition protestors” holding bags of Molotov cocktails and other weapons. But until verified, one should be careful about what’s labeled “irrefutable evidence.”

    You’re right that there must be investigations, but firstly into the authenticity and veracity of the content in those videos.

    Furthermore, the government doesn’t label anyone who protests as a “fascist,” but those who incite violence and take part in it, as well as those who mislead people or distort the facts. It may be an exaggeration of the word to some; I can see that. But it isn’t a label for those who merely protest, because there are also plenty of pro-government demonstrations and protests against the opposition’s violence, and I doubt the government is also labeling them fascists. Those who have called themselves Chavistas and been discovered to been siphoning from community funds or inciting violence have been called the same and punished. Our choice of wording when reporting events is of the utmost importance.

    This is the same reason why Maduro has blocked CNN, or is ready to do it, something with which many who know the history of CNN and of other news outlets across South America, agree. If you speak Spanish, please read/watch this: http://www.andes.info.ec/es/noticias/cnn-alia-profugos-justicia-ecuatoriana-eeuu-desprestigiar-presidente-rafael-correa.html. This simply means that analysis is needed before dismissing something as muzzling media (I don’t think you used that term, but just an example).

    There are other things.

    When you talk about the “defenders of the revolution” that take it upon themselves to do so as a by-product of the administration, you don’t explain why, or what exactly a by-product means. The same could be said of why the government has arrested Leopoldo: because as a leader, you are responsible for the actions that are caused when you call on people to protest; not to mention that there is evidence of the US is backing (financially and otherwise) the opposition now, in the last coup, and in other countries.

    Even one of the people who commented above, and who demand you “get your facts straight” asks how could Leopolodo/MUD be responsible for the shooters? “Did they shoot the protesters?” he or she asks. Did Maduro shoot protestors? If So, if Maduro must be held responsible for what the National Guard do, even if the National Guard act without his orders, should Leopoldo be held responsible for “peaceful protestors” who’ve acted violently? (And there is even talk that the shooters, who are shooting people from both sides, are paramilitaries sent from Colombia to incite violence, which, again, knowing the history, isn’t farfetched; but are they facts? no. not yet.)

    You say that an investigation is needed, but then later you assert that the MUD/oppo. “were not directly responsible for these deaths.” I’ve heard and even read otherwise, including from Venezuelans themselves. So which assertions are true? But you were correct at first: investigations are needed.

    The events of 2002 – 2004 were not “fleeting”; they were illegal in many respects, including the foreign involvement by the US. To use the word fleeting is not only insulting, but the furthest thing away from the truth. They are very much a permanent part of history, in fact, what shapes much of what is happening now. Not fleeting at all.

    And that Caracas Chronicles article you cite at the end?? It’s ripe with the exact same type of loaded language (“panicked people told their stories”; “shooting anyone who seemed to be protesting” — if this were so, there would certainly be more than 8 people dead).

    In any event, I don’t mean to attack, even if that’s what all of this sounds like. I just think you have to be very careful with the words and “facts” you choose.

    Cheers!

  5. manmade1988 says:

    Sorry, at the beginning of this harangue, I meant “that Guardian Article” not that “bb” article!

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