[News] Standoff in Venezuela

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 23 18:23:59 EDT 2017


  Standoff in Venezuela

By Steve Ellner & Federico Fuentes –  May 22nd 2017

*When it comes to the current turmoil in Venezuela, the media have been 
unanimous in their version of events: the Maduro regime is on its last 
legs due to the overwhelming opposition it faces from the people, 
including among the poorest sectors that previously supported the 
government, and therefore its only recourse for survival is violent 
repression. How accurate is this media narrative?*

It’s hardly a far-gone conclusion.

There is no better indication of the deceptiveness of the mainstream 
media’s narrative than the spatial nature of the anti-government 
protests in early 2014 known as the “guarimba” and again this year.

The protests are centred in the middle and upper class areas whose 
mayors belong to the opposition. The strategy behind the protests is for 
the mass civil disobedience, confrontation with security forces and 
widespread destruction of public property to spread to the poorer areas.

Certainly, the popular sectors have a long tradition of street protests, 
particularly over deficient public services. But the popular sectors 
have remained largely passive, although with more exceptions now than in 
2014. Obviously the opposition is banking on greater active popular 
support than in 2015.

Along similar lines, the Chavista United Socialist Party of Venezuela 
(PSUV) has been more damaged by electoral abstention among disenchanted 
Chavistas than those who end up voting for the opposition. Such 
electoral behaviour is what explains the Chavista defeat in the December 
2014 elections for the National Assembly.

But the Chavista leaders still have an impressive degree of mobilisation 
capacity, as was demonstrated in two recent marches, one on Venezuelan 
Independence Day on April 19, and the other on May 1.

The nation’s precarious economic situation as well as the complete 
political turnaround in the hemisphere strengthens the opposition’s 
hand. Whereas in past political crises, such as the coup attempt in 2002 
and the general strike of 2002-2003, the Chavez government was able to 
count on backing from other Latin American nations including in some 
cases non-leftist ones.

Now Venezuela’s neighbouring governments, in spite of their considerable 
unpopularity and internal discontent, have explicitly taken up the cause 
of the Venezuelan opposition.

But at this point I would describe the political situation in Venezuela 
as a standoff, a far cry from saying that the government is on its last 
legs. Of course, given the political volatility over the recent past, 
predictions have to be at best tentative.

In an ultimate sense, the popular sectors have the last word. If they 
were to join the protests, then the statement that the Maduro government 
is, as you say, on its last legs, would be accurate. The situation would 
then be similar to that of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the miners 
began to march against the government, thus signalling the collapse of 
the regime.

*Even some former supporters of the government today speak of an 
authoritarian turn on the part of Maduro. Is there any truth to this 

To answer your question it has to be pointed out that Venezuela is not 
in a normal situation, with what political scientists call a “loyal 
opposition” that recognises the government’s legitimacy and plays by the 
rules of the game. Thus to talk about government actions without placing 
them in context – as the corporate media is prone to do – is misleading.

The opposition leaders of today are, for the most part, the same ones 
involved in the coup and general strike of 2002-2003, the same ones who 
refused to recognise the legitimacy of the electoral processes in 2004 
and 2005 and consistently questioned the legitimacy of the National 
Electoral Council except in those cases in which the government was 

They are also the same ones who refused to recognise Maduro’s triumph in 
the presidential election of 2013, resulting in about a dozen deaths, 
and then promoted the four months of protests in 2014 involving civil 
disobedience on a massive scale along with considerable violence, 
resulting in 43 deaths including six members of the national guard.

The current period commences with the opposition’s triumph in the 
National Assembly elections of 2015 when the president of that body, 
Henry Ramos Allup, immediately announced that regime change would be 
achieved within six months; subsequently the National Assembly turned 
down the executive’s budgetary allocations. All along the opposition has 
rejected the government’s call for a national dialogue, demanding 
concessions as a precondition for negotiations. The protests that have 
occurred in the last month are a repeat of the guarimba of 2014. 
Opposition leaders completely evade the issue of violence, other than 
declaring that they are opposed to it in an abstract sense.

Practically every day they call marches in the affluent eastern part of 
Caracas that attempt to reach the downtown area where the presidential 
palace is located. Government spokespeople have stated numerous times 
that downtown Caracas is off limits for the opposition marches; security 
forces commonly employ tear gas to prevent passage.

The reason for the government’s refusal is obvious. With a massive 
number of opposition people in the downtown area for an indefinite 
period of time, massive civil disobedience, the surrounding of the 
presidential palace and violence would all ensue, along with 
uncontrollable chaos.

The confrontations would be aggravated by the coverage of the 
international media, which has always spun their reports to favour the 
opposition. The fact that every day for the last several weeks the main 
leaders of the opposition have called for marches to reach downtown 
Caracas, even though they know full well that confrontations will occur, 
would suggest that their strategy for gaining power envisions street 
disruptions and combat.

The spatial nature of the protests is key. You may say that the 
government is justified in avoiding the protests from reaching the 
centre of Caracas. But the question may be asked, would the Chavistas 
tolerate peaceful marches originating from the affluent eastern half of 
the city marching though Chavista strongholds in the popular sectors?

The question is clouded by the fact that the opposition marches almost 
invariably involve civil disobedience and violence.

*Would you say that both the Chavistas and the opposition are assuming 
intransigent positions?*

Both sides are playing hard ball, but a description of the political 
setting is indispensible in order to appreciate what is at stake. The 
fact is that the democratic nature of some of the government’s decisions 
is questionable, two in particular.

A month ago, ex-presidential candidate (on two occasions), and governor 
of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles was stripped of his right to 
participate in elections due to charges of corruption.

In the second place, the gubernatorial and municipal elections [sic]* 
which were slated for December 2016 have been delayed on grounds that 
other proposed electoral processes have pushed them into the future. 
Although Maduro has indicated that his party is ready to participate in 
those elections, a date has still not been set. If elections were held 
today, the Chavistas would very possibly suffer losses.

The hardliners in the Chavista movement headed by National Assembly 
deputy Diosdado Cabello are obviously calling the shots and they support 
an aggressive line toward the opposition. The most visible voice for the 
“soft-line” is former vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, who favours 
gestures that would encourage negotiations and buttress those in the 
opposition who reject street confrontation.

Likewise, the radicals in the opposition are firmly in control. They 
have made clear that once in power, they would jail the Chavista leaders 
on grounds of corruption and violation of human rights. Their call for 
“No to Impunity” is a coded slogan. It means in effect a witch hunt 
against the Chavista movement and repression that would pave the way for 
the imposition of unpopular neoliberal policies.

Indeed, neoliberalism characterised Capriles’ platform in the two 
presidential elections of 2012 and 2013. There is a definite 
relationship between the radical tactics and intolerance displayed by 
the opposition, on the one hand, and the neoliberal program which would 
be imposed should the opposition return to power, on the other hand.

To sum up, the narrative that calls the Maduro government 
“authoritarian” is a blatant misrepresentation of what is happening. On 
the other hand, the Chavista leaders have on occasion distanced 
themselves from democratic principles. Their actions, however, need to 
be contextualised.

*What has been the impact of interference by the US government and the 
Organization of American States, along with the changing attitude of 
certain governments in the region?*

The foreign actors you refer to have failed to place themselves above 
Venezuela’s internal politics in order to promote a peaceful resolution 
to a conflict that could well degenerate into civil war. The statements 
issued by the White House as well as Luis Almagro, the OAS’ secretary 
general, coincide in their entirety with the opposition’s narrative and 

Rather than taking sides in Venezuela’s internal conflict, the OAS 
should have called for a national dialogue and named a nonpartisan 
committee to investigate disputed events. The decision of the Maduro 
government to withdraw from the OAS was a reaction to the organisation’s 
partisanship, which has served only to exacerbate the political 

The OAS and other international actors reinforce the Venezuelan 
opposition’s narrative that conflates pressing economic problems and the 
alleged authoritarianism of the Maduro government. This line 
inadvertently strengthens the hand of the hardliners within the opposition.

The only way to justify regime change by non-electoral means and the 
intervention of foreign actors, such as the OAS, is to attempt to 
demonstrate that the nation is headed toward a dictatorship and 
systematically violates human rights.

But the moderates within the opposition – although at this point they 
have no visible national leader – favour emphasising economic issues in 
order to reach out to the popular sectors of the population, attract 
some of the disenchanted Chavistas, and at the same time accept dialogue 
with government representatives. The moderates therefore place an accent 
mark on economic issues more than political ones.

In this sense, the intromission of foreign actors who question the 
Venezuelan government’s democratic credentials only serves to bolster 
the position of the radicals in the opposition and to further polarise 
the nation.

*In terms of the current economic problems: how serious are the shortages?*

The problem of shortages of basic products is undeniable, even while 
media outlets like the /Wall Street Journal/ claim that the nation is on 
the verge of mass starvation. Hunger is a scourge that afflicts the 
lower strata in other, if not all, Latin American nations. But the key 
index from social and political viewpoints is the contrast with 
standards in Venezuela in previous years. The deterioration has 
certainly been sharp with regard to the period prior to the sharp 
decline in oil prices in mid-2015.

*What do you foresee happening in the immediate future? Is the Maduro 
government doomed? What do you think of the proposed Constituent Assembly?*

Maduro’s proposal for a constituent assembly is a mixed bag with regard 
to the possibility of achieving greater stability.

On the one hand it is an initiative – something new – that is designed 
to break the deadlock the nation finds itself stuck in. A favourable 
scenario would be that the Chavistas are able to activate their base as 
well as that of social movements and achieve an important degree of 
electoral participation.

Furthermore, in the best-case scenario, constituent assembly delegates 
would formulate viable proposals to deal with pressing issues, such as 
corruption, and the Chavistas in power would demonstrate genuine 
receptivity to them. In short, a constituent assembly based on bottom-up 
participation could be a game changer.

In the case of the alternative scenario, the constituent assembly 
proposal will be viewed as a ploy to buy time and sidetrack the 
electoral process.

/* Venezuelanaysis Editor's note: here Professor Ellner appears to make 
an error in suggesting that municipal elections were postponed last 
year, when in fact these elections are scheduled for 2017. /

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