Tag Archives: Coup d’État

Coups, Media and Stalemates: What Violent Protests Mean for Venezuela

Coups, Media and Stalemates: What Violent Protests Mean for Venezuela

Venezuelanalysis.com’s staff writers offer their concise insights on three different angles of the violent protests that have been occurring in the country: the opposition’s strategy, how the media have reacted, and the implications of the protests for the Bolivarian Revolution.

#1: An Opposition Coup Against The Opposition

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

The Venezuelan opposition has launched a coup against itself, not against the government. Two strains of the opposition movement are vying for dominance over each other, though they both share the same overarching strategy.

The current opposition strategy is to pressure Nicolas Maduro into resigning from office, and prompt another presidential election. They intend to win the next election by terrorising swing voters into capitulating to the opposition.

For now, this is the only real option available to the opposition. The military is firmly aligned with Chavismo, ruling out a repeat of the April 2002 coup attempt. However, a possible recall referendum is still two years away, plus the far right is short sighted and generally apathetic towards democracy anyway.

Maduro’s slim electoral victory last April illustrated that a sizable chunk of the electorate can quickly swing from Chavismo to the opposition if enough pressure is applied. In April 2013, all the opposition needed was a simple carrot and stick. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ well choreographed electoral campaign promising a squeaky clean Chavez-lite was backed by a convenient spike in scarcity. And he almost won.

In the lead up to the 12 February violence, Venezuelans have faced more demoralising scarcity than last April. Along with daily queues outside supermarkets, in places like Merida there has been a steady stream of violence from opposition groups in recent weeks. Now, they’re upping the ante.

Although the vast majority of the opposition appear to back the forced resignation strategy, there are two distinct camps. The moderate majority of the opposition movement have advocated for peaceful demonstrations against Maduro, against a backdrop of growing hostility between the government and the private sector.

In recent weeks Capriles has become something of a poster child of the moderates. He had drifted away from extremism, and expressed willingness to work with the Maduro administration. Yet he has remained firmly on the right, and critical of the government. In the long term, this kind of moderate figure is exactly what the opposition movement needs if it wants to win power. Fringe extremists like lawmaker Maria Machado, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Voluntad Popular’s Leopoldo Lopez should know they will increasingly become irrelevant as the opposition movement tries to win the centre. Their insurrectionist tactics and uncompromising fanaticism are relics of the last decade, and unappealing to both the moderate opposition and the wavering Chavistas they need.

Like the moderates, the extremist minority is pushing for Maduro to resign. However, they differ from the majority opposition in two respects.

Firstly, they are terrorists. The extremist fringe is willing to employ as much violence and chaos as possible to blackmail Maduro into surrender and terrorise the public. They’re armed, fanatical and they’re trying to provoke a bloodbath. For them, violence is just an additional lever to stall the revolution, along with applying pressure to middle ground voters. After all, if the government can’t maintain basic security on the streets, how can they possibly deal with the economy; let along deepen the revolution?

If they fail in their ultimate goal and Maduro doesn’t break, then the least they can do is continue obstructing the government.

Secondly, the fringe right-wing knows the sun is setting on them, and the current violence is an eleventh hour attempt to cling to political relevance and radicalise the moderates. So far, the vast majority of the opposition movement has failed to condemn the aggression of the extremists. Hence, if we are witnessing an attempted coup, it’s against Capriles and the moderate opposition strain he represents. Power hungry extremists like Machado, Ledezma and Lopez aspire to seize the reigns of the opposition movement. To them, Capriles has become meek and weighed down by two failed presidential bids. If they can provoke the bloodbath they desperately desire, they could replace the moderates as the dominant opposition force.

#2: What the Media Said, and Didn’t Say

Ewan Robertson

There have been mixed responses from both national and international media following Wednesday’s violence in Venezuela, which left three dead and several dozen wounded. In particular, there have been contradictory accounts of exactly what happened in the surrounds of the Attorney General’s office in Caracas, when an opposition activist, Bassil Alejandro Dacosta (24), and a Chavista social activist, Juan Montoya (40), were both killed by gunshots as armed groups emerged on the scene toward the end of the opposition’s march in the area.

Venezuelan media

Both state owned and independent pro-government outlets alleged that Wednesday’s violence, including the two murders which occurred near the Attorney General’s office, was planned by right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and perpetrated by radical armed opposition groups. In a report titled “Right-Wing Shock Group Causes Death and Chaos”, Caracas-based newspaper Ciudad CCS further said that according to unofficial reports, Juan Montoya was shot from a nearby building, suggesting a premeditated attack. It also mentioned the presence of “violent motorbike riders” who “threw stones and large objects at the police and National Guard”.

Venezuelan media also reported Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz’s statement, which said that “political operators” and “50 hooded people” had appeared at the end of the opposition march and engaged in acts of violence against those present. Ortega said that the nature of the violence appeared “planned” by “fascists”, which suggests that she suspects that radical opposition groups were behind the crimes.

Several politically-neutral private Venezuelan media sources, such as newspaperUltimas Noticias and website Noticias 24, chose not to comment in detail on the events surrounding the violence. They reported the government’s and opposition’s reactions to the events, without attempting to attribute the violence to either side.

Some pro-opposition media outlets accused security forces and pro-government groups called colectivos of perpetrating violent acts and the murders yesterday. Conservative newspaper El Universal said that Montoya and Dacosta died from “shots by colectivos and SEBIN (the national intelligence service)”. National opposition newspapers El Nacional and Tal Cual made similar accusations, in editorials titled “Brutal Attack” and “Absurd Violence”, in which they claimed that police forces or colectivos (depending on the version) opened fire on anti-government protesters.

International media

Perhaps due to conflicting reports of Wednesday’s violence and with the official investigation just beginning, many international media outlets did not take a strong partisan line in their coverage. CNN Español wrote a rather neutral reportwhich didn’t document the violent events in detail, however mentioned both the government’s and radical opposition’s interpretations of the day. Meanwhile Spanish-language network Telesur, which is favourable to the Venezuelan government, led with a piece arguing that police involvement in yesterday’s killings was ruled out, however it also did not offer a conclusion as to who the assassins were. The article further lamented that, “The events yesterday reflect that the opposition has once again chosen the path of destabilisation”.

In English-language media, Reuters news agency wrote a fairly straightforwardarticle which despite having journalists on the scene, could only report that the two murders occurred in “chaotic scenes” during post-protest violence. The agency also mentioned the current division within the opposition between moderates and hardliners, and that violent hardliners have been blocking roads and creating unrest (although it didn’t mention that these groups are sometimes armed and attack civilians) as part of a strategy to try and force President Maduro from office.

Other international outlets took a more interpretive angle on yesterday’s violence, either tacitly or openly nodding to the opposition’s line of “authorities cracking down on peaceful student protesters”. Britain’s Sky News led its article with hard-line opposition leader Maria Corina Machado’s claim that two student protestors had been killed for “raising their voices” against the government. Associated Press’ (AP) piece, re-printed in a variety of sources such as Fox News, hinted the same line, leading with, “Armed vigilantes on motorcycles attacked anti-government demonstrators in Venezuela”. AP said the attackers were “unidentified”. The BBC meanwhile seems to have simply borrowed its article from Associated Press. The article de-contextualised yesterday’s events by omitting to explain the hard-line opposition’s “exit” strategy to force Maduro’s resignation, or the presence and actions of armed opposition radicals at protests in recent weeks. Al-Jazeera went further, stating what some other international media have implied but have not said due to lack of evidence, by writing of Wednesday’s violence, “Armed members of a pro-government vigilante group arrived on motorcycles and began firing at more than 100 anti-Maduro student protesters”.

Conclusion

As Venezuelan authorities begin to investigate those responsible for Wednesday’s violence, international media have suddenly turned their attention to events in the country. However these reports have often failed to explain the context of yesterday’s protests, such as the hard-line opposition’s “exit” strategy to try and force the government’s resignation, or the violent actions of radical opposition groups on city streets over the past week and a half building up to yesterday’s protests. Some reports also failed to mention the peaceful pro-government demonstrations that occurred on the same day.

Perhaps eager to brand the Venezuelan government with the “repressive” tag, at least a few international outlets have even suggested that Wednesday’s violence and deaths were due to “pro-government vigilantes” at a time when such a conclusion is far from clear, as the debate within Venezuela over the events highlights. In several of the articles the radical opposition’s violent actions, both on Wednesday and in recent days, have been whitewashed from the story. The BBC was a case in point. These outlets should be more responsible in their reporting so as not to mislead the global public on what is currently happening in Venezuela. As the radical wing of the opposition once again attempts to force the government’s “exit” through street actions and violence rather than more democratic mechanisms, accurate reporting will be key for international observers to understand this crucial political juncture for the country.

#3: A Complex Psychological War, and What This Means for the Bolivarian Revolution

Tamara Pearson

Over the past six weeks, since the opposition lost the municipal elections, and then after the Christmas and New Year period that followed, things have gotten worse here. Prices have skyrocketed, with shops charging the black market exchange rate rather than the official one, despite most of them buying products at the official rate. The usual products are scarce (hard to find, if not impossible: milk, oil, sugar, margarine, cornmeal) and a few more have been added to the list: mayonnaise, and most soaps. Metronidazol, for common gastric infections has also become scarce. There are alternatives to Metronidozal, and the reality is you can wash most things with cheap shampoo; you don’t need all the different dish and clothes soaps and so on. Most people also have most of the scarce products like sugar and margarine stocked up at home. In some barrios gas, for cooking, has been harder to get. The economic reality is a little bit tough, but what is tougher is the psychological effect all of this has on people. That feeling of insecurity, of not being sure you will be able to get the product you need, or be able to afford it. This causes people to form huge queues when a product does arrive, which in turn deepens the psychological impact. At the same time, the black market rate – not at all based on the real value of the bolivar – continues to climb, and there’s a ‘what if’ if one’s head… what if they manage hyperinflation?

On top of this, we have the media constantly lying about what is going on here and about what the government does, as well as the verbal abuse towards Chavistas on social networks. Then, over the last few weeks, in some parts of Venezuela, the most violent sectors of the opposition have been active. Here in Merida it started off with a few “students” blocking the main road; burning tires and garbage on it, and throwing rocks at anyone who tried to get close. They had no placards. From last Friday those protests escalated, both in terms of violence, people involved, and roads closed. It has been hard to get to school, work, and the hospital, and the frustration, inconvenience, and fear that comes with these sorts of actions combines with the aforementioned economic insecurity. The cacerolas (pot banging protests) that started last night in my barrio and in a few others here and in other cities also cause anxiety.

Sometimes, the extent to which these sorts of war of attrition strategies affect people depends on where you live or work. Many workplaces, for example, have access to Mercal food products. Other barrios are much calmer, and other parts of the country are peaceful.

Now, the government has made mistakes, but purchasing power has basically continuously risen until mid last year, and inflation has also been around the 15-30% mark until mid last year. The worsening of above measures since then are clearly intentional, both for their political aims and the fact that they drastically increase the wealthy sector’s profits. They came at a time when, with Chavez gone, the revolution was perceived to be more vulnerable. They are destructive measures that aim to wear people down and for collective fear and anxiety; three solid ingredients for paving the way for conservative forces. The political opposition may have lost all except one election in the last fifteen years, but the economic opposition is in a stronger position. And the hard thing about that opposition is they are less visible, and also seemingly less divided than the political opposition.

One consequence of this three pronged attack (economic, media, and violence) on the Bolivarian revolution is that the national government has been forced to go on the defensive; constantly trying to counter the price speculation, the media attacks and so on. Though the government has also tried to get on with things; with science programs, housing, cultural programs, the street government, and so on, too much of its effort has had to go into trying to just stay above water. Maduro emphasised in his address tonight (13 February) the importance of ruling by law – fair enough – yet it is hard to imagine this Law of Prices and the 30% profit limit being enforced in the thousands of shops in each city. If the grassroots were more organised to defend our rights, perhaps we could.

Maduro also said, “The most important thing is to keep governing, to keep working”. Most movement activists, mission workers, and public sector workers have been doing just that, despite the climate. At the alternative school where I teach for example, we’ve had all sorts of activists over the last few weeks coming and wanting to do workshops, mural painting, and help out. A group started a rehabilitation program, and the state foundation for science and technology met with us and provided us with a worker for our computing and internet room. However, in this sort of climate it is still harder to deepen revolutionary organisation in the way that we’d like.

The question is how this will work out in the long term. While perhaps a few Chavistas, affected by the real drop in purchasing power, might tire and change sides, most people are firm in their convictions, with government supporters largely (but often with constructive criticism) believing the public press, and opposition supporters believing (and being manipulated by) the private media. It seems unlikely that the far right, violent sector of the opposition will achieve its goal of forcing Maduro to resign, yet it is also hard for the revolution to move forward. At worse, it could be seen as a kind of checkmate, and at best, a determined revolution that is being slowed down, but little by little is actually building the communes and worker run production units, and so on, that it would like. On the one hand, the level of organisation of the bases here is incredible, but organisations tend to work (very hard) in their own trinchera – trench, and there is a lack of real regional and national articulation between the bases. As we’ve seen in 2002/3, situations like this don’t have to make things worse, they can be the crisis that pushes grassroots and national politics to radicalise, however this lack of broader articulation makes that difficult, if not impossible.

Venezuela: Right-Wing Provokes Violence in Time-Worn Practice by Steve Hellner

Venezuela: Right-Wing Provokes Violence in Time-Worn Practice by Steve Hellner

History repeats itself. The time-worn tactic of the dominant class that controls the diffusion of information is to provoke violence and then blame it on the enemy, usually those who struggle for change.

Nero did it when he burned down much of Rome and blamed it on the Christians. Similarly, US newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst used the sinking of theUSS Maine in 1898 to create war fervor that led to war with Spain.

Hitler ordered the burning of the Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. He also had Germans dressed as Poles attack German troops in order to justify the invasion that began World War II.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident played out a similar scenario to justify US escalating its war on Vietnam. And George Bush Sr. used the same tactic to justify the invasion of Panama in 1989.

In Venezuela this tactic has been used umpteen times throughout these past 15 years. The most infamous incident was on April 11, 2002 when shootings by snipers on demonstrators justified the US-backed coup against then-president Hugo Chavez.

But the opposition in Venezuela has used this trick over and over again. During the general strike of 2002-3, a woman physically attacked a National Guardsman and then the opposition showed (out of context) the part where the guard pushed the woman to the ground.

In another incident, a woman protester in Caracas approached National Guard members and spat on one of them. The private media then just showed the reaction of one of the guardsmen who pushed the instigator to the ground, again taking the incident out of context.

It turned out that the instigator was a city councilperson belonging to the right-wing opposition.

Today the same thing is happening and the private media is promoting the same deceit. Opposition demonstrators have created havoc in the centre of Caracas and elsewhere, burning public buildings, using firearms after having attacked the house of the governor in the state of Tachira.

The announced intention of Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader who has organised these protests, is to overthrow the government. He says it publicly.

And yet the media is making it seem as if the violence is the work of motorcyclists supposedly on behalf of the Chavista government of Nicolas Maduro! (These same Chavista “hordes” were blamed for the violence at the time of the 2002 coup, in fact opposition newspaper El Nacional called the Chavistas “lumpen”.)

Common sense tells you that the government has nothing to gain by promoting random violence. Furthermore there is tons of footage showing the violence perpetrated by the opposition protesters.

But the media, true to form, both here in Venezuela and abroad use all their ingenuity to convince people, sometimes in subtle ways, that Chavista “hordes” are behind the violence. Sometimes all it takes is common sense to know what is going on.

[Professor Steve Ellner has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, since 1977. He is the author of many books on Venezuelan politics.]

Venezuela’s Maduro Holds Mass Rally to Reject Violence as Protests Continue (+video)

Venezuela’s Maduro Holds Mass Rally to Reject Violence as Protests Continue (+video)

Mérida, 16th February 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Thousands of government supporters gathered yesterday in Caracas to call for “peace” after violent clashes left three dead on Wednesday. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles today called supporters to gather for a national march “against paramilitaries and violence”.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro held the mass rally to reject the violent incidents at some opposition protests in recent weeks. The worst of the violence occurred in Caracas on Wednesday, when clashes left three dead and several dozen wounded. There are conflicting accounts as to exactly what happened.

Maduro used yesterday’s gathering to attack what he called a “coup plot” by the far right opposition, and to promote his “national pacification plan” to reduce crime and tackle political violence. He told supporters that to construct peace in Venezuela, political differences should be settled through a battle of ideas, not arms.

“We call on all Venezuela to combat in the streets with ideas, with values, in high quality debate, with respect for people’s rights, without violence,” Maduro declared.

The Venezuelan president also warned extremist groups within Chavismo that violent acts would not be tolerated. The opposition has accused such groups of involvement in Wednesday’s deadly clashes.

“I want to say clearly: someone puts on a red t-shirt with Chavez’s face and takes out a pistol to attack, isn’t a Chavista or a revolutionary. I don’t accept violent groups within the camp of Chavismo and the Bolivarian revolution,” Maduro stated.

“If you want to have arms to fight…get out of Chavismo,” the president warned, stating that security forces are the only organisations that should possess guns in Venezuela.

Maduro also said that violent opposition members had perpetrated attacks on the Attorney General’s office on Wednesday, and said those responsible for the day’s violent acts would be brought to justice.

“The people want justice, justice against fascism and violence. There’s going to be justice…fascism is fought with the law, justice and severe punishment,” he said.

Venezuela’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, has said that investigations into Wednesday’s violence and murders are underway, and that “no one can be accused until the results of the investigation are obtained”.

Authorities are still searching for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who they want to charge for his alleged involvement in Wednesday’s violence. Lopez had been leading a campaign called “the exit” to force President Maduro’s resignation, and is reportedly still in the country.

Protests continue

Student-led opposition protests continue in Venezuela, although with reduced numbers and intensity compared to Wednesday. Opposition supporters complain about issues such as crime, inflation and shortages, and many have demanded the president’s resignation.

Violent sectors of the opposition have also committed a variety of violent acts at some protests in recent weeks. In the city of Mérida, a focal point of recent protests, Venezuelanalysis.com observed them setting up burning barricades, throwing stones, and threatening civilians at gunpoint.

Peaceful opposition protests took place in several Venezuelan cities yesterday, including Mérida, San Cristobal, Maturin and Puerto Ordaz. However, a protest in the Chacao area of Caracas last night turned violent, with some 500 stone-throwing rioters causing damages to a state-owned bank, a government bus and a Supreme Court office. The opposition leader of the municipality, Ramon Muchacho, condemned the “violence and vandalism” of those involved.

According to local press reports the National Guard used tear gas and pellets to contain the rioters, leaving a toll of 17 wounded and 2 arrested.

Venezuela’s internal affairs minister, Miguel Rodriguez, said in a statement today that of 120 people arrested during recent protests, only 14 remain in custody, to be charged with specific acts of vandalism and violence.

“We have always acted in respect of human rights…when protests have been peaceful and within the law, the PNB (National Bolivarian Police) have protected the safety of these youths,” the minister’s statement read.

Rodriguez also accused Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of Miranda state, of “passing the buck” and not acting to control violent street actions in his jurisdiction, leaving the task to the national government instead.

Capriles calls national march

In a press conference today, Henrique Capriles distanced himself from the actions of violent opposition groups, referring to them as “infiltrators”. “Let’s isolate the infiltrators…we reject violence wherever it comes from,” he said.

“Legitimate peaceful protest must be orientated. It must be given a focus,” the former presidential candidate added. Capriles then called for a national opposition march “against paramilitaries and violence”, saying he would announce the time and location soon. He added that he was in “solidarity” with Leopoldo Lopez, despite the differences they had about opposition strategy.

Finally, Capriles attacked what he called government “censorship” of recent protests, referring to the blocking of Colombian channel NTN24 from transmitting on Venezuelan cable services. Maduro said NTN24 was trying to promote “anxiety” in the population to promote a state coup “like April 2002”.

The Venezuelan opposition has also accused the government of blocking twitter users from seeing online images following Wednesday’s violence. Bloomberg reported yesterday that a twitter spokesperson had confirmed the claim.

However the government’s telecommunications company CANTV “emphatically and categorically” denied the accusation. It said the servers responsible for twitter are located outside of Venezuela, and a similar problem with loading online images on Wednesday had occurred in several countries.

A check by Venezuelanalysis.com of twitter within Venezuela encountered a problem loading accounts on Thursday evening, however it was not clear if this was an isolated incident or not. Checks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday have found twitter working as normal, with the accounts of far-right opposition figures active and images posted to those accounts loading without a problem.

Today information minister Delcy Rodriguez hit out at opposition social media activists for misusing and manipulating images which are then picked up by foreign media to mislead the public on events within Venezuela.

Examples given in her presentation included ABC’s use of a photo showing police attacking a protestor in Egypt, and claiming it was example of a protest in Venezuela. In another case, opposition social media activists used a photo of police dragging a student away during a protest in Chile, and claimed it was from Venezuela’s current protests.

Rodriguez also presented footage which showed attacks against the headquarters of state channel VTV by radical opposition activists for the previous four nights. The video showed people setting up burning barricades outside the station and throwing Molotov cocktails at the building.

Below is an interview with George Ciccariello-Maher on Al-Jazeera America about Saturday’s rally and the general political situation in Venezuela