[News] Violent Protests in Venezuela Fit a Pattern

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 20 13:39:58 EST 2014


*Violent Protests in Venezuela Fit a Pattern*

*http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2014/beeton190214.html*
by Dan Beeton

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 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TMOAoqNPqI> 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 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/media-bias-in-venezuela>, 
as well as the international media).

Following Maduro's electoral victory in April last year (with much of 
the opposition crying "fraud" 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/a-timeline-of-venezuelan-opposition-reactions-to-the-recent-elections> 
despite there being no reasonable doubts 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/a-statistical-note-on-the-april-14-venezuelan-presidential-election-and-audit-of-results> 
about the validity of the results), the opposition looked 
<http://www.noticias24.com/venezuela/noticia/171703/la-mud-esta-lista-para-las-elecciones-municipales-vamos-a-participar-con-todos-los-hierros/> 
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 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/long-awaited-apocalypse-not-likely-in-venezuela>, 
this may be due in part to the large reduction in poverty in 2012 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/venezuela-leads-region-in-poverty-reduction-in-2012-eclac-says> 
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 
<http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=180977> -- some several years 
old -- have been presented on social media as having occurred in recent 
days in Venezuela.  A YouTube video 
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFS6cP9auDc> 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 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etbEQcA7jUA> 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 
<http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2014/0218/What-s-going-on-in-Venezuela-video>/ 
reported yesterday:

    [T]he 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 
<http://ned.org/where-we-work/latin-america-and-caribbean/venezuela> 
directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, 
and USAID has also given money 
<http://www.foreignassistance.gov/web/Agency_USAID.aspx?budTab=tab_Bud_Impl> 
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 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/international/americas/29haiti.html?pagewanted=all> 
and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil's governing 
Workers' Party 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/why-washington-cares-about-haiti-honduras>, 
to name a few.  In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 
coup <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2004/11/coup-connection>, 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 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/bad-news-from-haiti-us-press-misses-the-story> 
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 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/international/americas/29haiti.html?pagewanted=all>/ 
reported and as scholars such as Peter Hallward 
<http://books.google.com/books?id=ikxwRQAACAAJ> and Jeb Sprague 
<http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb3003/> 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) and 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 
<http://www.unasursg.org/inicio/centro-de-noticias/archivo-de-noticias/comunicado-de-la-uni%C3%B3n-de-naciones-suramericanas-sobre-la-situaci%C3%B3n-en-la-rep%C3%BAblica-bolivariana-de-venezuela> 
and MERCOSUR 
<http://en.mercopress.com/2014/02/17/mercosur-condemns-violence-in-venezuela-and-calls-for-dialogue>, 
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 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/us-indicates-support-for-regime-change-in-venezuela-once-again-south-america-says-no>, 
it is an outlier in the region.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dan Beeton is International Communications Director for the Center for 
Economic and Policy Research.  Follow Beeton on Twitter @Dan_Beeton 
<https://twitter.com/Dan_Beeton>.  This article was first published in 
CEPR's /The Americas Blog/ 
<http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/violent-protests-in-venezuela-fit-a-pattern> 
on 19 February 2014 under a Creative Commons license.

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