Venezuela – the real significance of the student protests

Venezuela – the real significance of the student protests

Published on: Thu Feb 20, 2014
Author: Dr Julia Buxton*
Source: LAB

As the March 5th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s death approaches, there is turmoil in Venezuela. Students have been protesting against the government in nation-wide demonstrations characterised by disorder and violence that have led to the death of three people. Initially organised to protest against economic shortages and insecurity, these demonstrations have been calling for ‘la salida’ – the exit of President Nicolás Maduro.    They have been supported by sections of the opposition alliance, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), led by Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado.

For many commentators – and for the government itself – these events mark a rerun of earlier events, when the opposition pushed for the removal of Chávez through a failed coup in 2002, a private sector lock-out in 2002-3 and a recall referendum against Chávez in 2004. Maria Corina Machado, a signatory to the 2002 ‘Carmona Decree’ that temporarily dissolved the Chávez government, was a key protagonist of the recall referendum. Her ‘civil society’ organisation, Súmate, received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, where she was feted by President George Bush in May 2005.

Lessons All Round

The Chavistas learned a number of lessons from the events of 2002-2004:  the importance of consolidating grassroots support (hence, the launch of the social policy initiative, the Missions); the need to build regional solidarity (hence, the acceleration of regional integration initiatives such as the ALBA); the capacity of the private sector to paralyse economic activity (hence, the deepening of the state’s role in the economy); and the urgency of countering false reporting on the country (hence, the funding of community and public media and new regulatory codes for broadcasting). It was this period that was the catalyst for the transformation of an initially centrist Third Way project into Socialism of the Twenty First Century.

The opposition similarly absorbed lessons, after anti-government unions, business associations and the local Roman Catholic Church failed to galvanise public opinion behind regime change in 2002. It adopted an electoral path as the balance of power swung to moderate factions, and radicals associated with unconstitutional tactics were pushed to the margins. This reaped dividends in national and regional elections after 2008 as the MUD focused on bread-and-butter voter concerns and wooed Chavistas alienated by the government’s statist lurch with soothing language of reconciliation and promises to improve, rather than remove, the benefits delivered by the Missions.  At the same time, the protagonist role of the private sector media was gradually tempered by introduction of European-style broadcast regulations.

Protesting studentsUS-based lobbies antagonistic toward the advance of Chávez’s socialism (and sympathetic to marginalised radicals) no longer saw these elements of ‘civil society’ as an effective oppositional vehicle and jettisoned them, deciding that a new tool for regime displacement had to be nurtured.  Students in private sector universities became the new vanguard of ‘democracy promotion’.

 

Rise of the Student Opposition

In 2008, the US-based Cato Institute awarded the US$500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to student leader Yon Goicoechea for his role in mobilising protests against the suspension of private broadcaster RCTV’s licence. At the same time, a sizeable amount of the US$45 million in funding provided annually by US institutions to Venezuelan opposition groups was channelled to ‘youth outreach’ programmes.

With financial support and media training, Venezuela’s student and opposition-aligned Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida (JAVU) became vociferous and mobilised, focusing after 2010 on the alleged censorship by the state of private sector broadcasters[1] and on government legislation intended to democratise the administration of the universities. The latter was portrayed as a threat to university autonomy and some public institutions, such as the Universidad Central de Venezuela, were driven into the opposition camp.[2]

In 2011 JAVU activists staged a hunger strike in support of ‘political prisoners’[3] and demanded that the Organisation of American States should intervene. Protests in 2012 focused on underfunding in the higher education sector and in 2013 demonstrations were organised outside the Cuban Embassy, first to demand the return of Chávez from chemotherapy in Havana and then to challenge the result of the April presidential election.[4]

Given this history of protest, why have the current protests gained such significance?

A Problematic Turn

The current protests are important on two counts. First, they mark a coming together of the student movement and radical elements of the MUD. López and Machado have been organising with the student leadership,[5] in particular in relation to the February 12th demonstrations on Venezuela’s Day of the Youth, which commemorates the role of young people in the 1814 independence battle of la Victoria.

Frustrated by the slow dividends of the electoral route, López and Machado are challenging the position of Henrique Capriles as MUD leader, even though he defeated them both in the MUD’s 2012 primaries. As Capriles in recent weeks has nudged closer toward dialogue with President Maduro on the issue of public security, following January’s murder of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, the uncompromising López and Machado have sought to open a chasm between Capriles and grassroots anti-government sentiment.

In turn, the student movement has embraced the ‘salida’ demand of López and Machado, threatening to stay on the streets until Maduro leaves office. This is against a backdrop of  growing tension, with ongoing raids by security forces on private sector warehouse facilities, where food and goods are allegedly being hoarded to create artificial shortages, and with the interception of a recorded conversation between a former Venezuelan ambassador and a vice-admiral where plans for violence and ‘something similar to April 11th’ were being discussed.[6]

Huge demonstrationsThe second distinctive aspect relates to the role of social media. Although mobilisations and related violence have been on-going, with two student deaths in 2010, they have not received the same level of attention as the protests earlier this month. One indication of an orchestrated campaign has been the frenzied activity by opposition youth on Twitter, which seems to be substituting for the once vociferous but now calmer private sector media[7] that could traditionally be relied upon to galvanise international attention.

Despite claims that social media ‘democratises’ the media, it is clear that in Venezuela it has had the opposite effect, exacerbating  the trend towards disinformation and misrepresentation, with overseas media groups and bloggers reproducing – without verification – opposition claims and images of student injuries allegedly caused by police brutality and attacks by government supporters. In its reporting, the Guardian newspaper[8] cited tweets by opposition activists claiming pro-government gangs had been let loose on protestors. No evidence to substantiate this extremely serious allegation was provided. It also reported on the arrest of 30 students on 12th February, following serious disorder, including barricade building, tyre burning and Molotov cocktail attacks, as if it were an egregious assault on human rights. The report was subsequently tweeted by Machado. By way of context, 153 students were arrested in the UK during the 2010 protests against tuition fees.           

The images disseminated, for example, to a Green Movement activist in Iran and then circulated to her thousands of followers with the tag line ‘pray for Venezuela’s students’, and to other democracy movements around the world show Egyptian and not Venezuelan police beating demonstrators. This same image was carried by the Spanish newspaper ABC.[9] Photographs and video clips of Chilean, Argentinian and Bulgarian police suppressing demonstrators and carrying out arrests (in their home countries) have been circulated and published as of they were assaults in Venezuela,[10] and one widely reproduced image shows Venezuela’s Policia Metropolitana corralling student protestors. The Policia Metropolitana was disbanded in 2011. Twitter has additionally been used to harangue commentators, including this author, who checked the accounts of her abusive critics to find most had only been tweeting for a day and in that space of time had accumulated around 40,000 followers.[11]

Lessons Not Learned

Capriles has been steering the opposition down the electoral path in recognition of the fact that ordinary voters are alienated by violent protest and disorder. It has been widely acknowledged that such a strategy will take time to produce results, but it allows the MUD to build an electoral base and credibility as a political alternative. This hard work will be undone by a return to unconstitutional activities. The students and MUD radicals offer no governance plan, with ‘salida’ serving as a hash tag, not a strategy, according to one opposition blogger.

Just as in 2002, radicals have forgotten that the people they must convince are Venezuelan voters, not international opinion. There can be no short cut to replacing a movement and government that is genuinely popular. Attempting to induce regime overthrow is unnecessary when the option of a recall referendum is available, and it is irresponsible when the outcome of violent change will only be a cycle of violent revenge. Finally, journalists have yet to learn that authoritative reporting requires fact-based accounts, not recycled and unchecked tweets from Twitter – a mechanism that can be used to promote delusion as well as democracy.

 

  

  



[1] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2010/0126/Venezuelan-students-protest-Chavez-s-TV-censorship; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/05/venezuelan-police-break-u_n_450824.html; http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5104

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12071995

[3] http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6021

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/venezuela-protests-studen_n_3087449.html

[5] http://www.ventevenezuela.org/maria-corina-leopoldo-lopez-estudiantes-sindicalistas-sociedad-civil-lasalida/

[6] http://multimedia.telesurtv.net/web/telesur/#!en/video/descubren-planes-violentos-de-la-oposicion-venezolana

[7] http://globovision.com/articulo/comunicado-de-globovision-a-la-opinion-publica-8

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/14/venezuela-violent-clashes-chavistas-opposition?CMP=twt_gu

[9]http://multimedia.telesurtv.net/web/telesur/#!en/video/prueba-delcy-rodriguez-que-medios-manipulan-realidad-venezolana

[10] http://drdawgsblawg.ca/2014/02/constructing-venezuela-protests-a-photo-gallery.shtml#disqus_thread and http://www.tumblr.com/search/venezuela

[11] http://www.keywebdata.com/?p=525; http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/1-10-twitter-accounts-fake-say-researchers-2D11655362

*Dr Julia Buxton is currrently Professor of Comparative Politics in the School of Public Policy, CEU, Budapest.

Comments (12)

  1. Rebecca Jarman:
    Feb 20, 2014 at 06:31 AM

    Julia, you right to be concerned about the dissemination of false information online from both 'sides', as it were. There are instances of hysterical opposition students contributing to a virtual atmosphere of terror... There are also instances of police, security agents and non-uniformed, armed collectives creating very real reasons to be scared. The videos and photos of police violence and shoot-outs being distributed online are mainly (though not exclusively) amateur, though of course the media of a repressive state is hardly going to provide coverage of its own misdeeds. On a national level, private media is gradually being shut down, whether through a denial of access to funding or materials (paper for newspapers, for example), or simply and instantaneously taken off the airwaves by the universal regulating body. Such is the case for the past week or so - this factor, conveniently bypassed in the article, is something that must be addressed, especially in difficult times like these. The death toll now stands confirmed at five, including a student in Carúpano and another in Carabobo. This number does not factor in the victims from last night's wave of violence.

    I worry that many left-leaning UK academics are all too willing to turn a blind eye to state abuses in the name of 21st century socialism. In his article, Héctor Abad Faciolince makes the point that such goings-on in Uribe's Colombia, especially linked with paramilitary groups, would receive instant condemnation from worldwide academic circles (the link is at the bottom). An abusive government draped in marxist garb surely deserves no more sympathy than one that openly declares itself progressively neoliberal. Your insinuation that such aggressive (para)state behaviour towards its citizens is fabricated by US-supported right-wing students is, frankly, insulting to human rights and political dignity - something that LAB's sponsors, Oxfam, might contend. Your comparison of the week's manifestations with student demos in Britain is also somewhat absurd. While a distressing number of student protestors are arrested in the UK, they are unlikely - to my knowledge - to be shot at, beaten, or killed by members of our police force. For my part, I'm taking the videoed and photographed accusations of violent state repression pretty seriously. I'll be happy if I'm proved wrong.

    http://www.elespectador.com/opinion/quien-el-fascista-columna-475272

  2. Julia:
    Feb 20, 2014 at 04:05 PM

    Dear Rebecca, thank you for the comments. I have previously written on the appalling state of violence and insecurity in Venezuela and on the urgency of this and other human rights issues - most recently LGBT (http://www.alternet.org/world/how-latin-america-became-haven-gay-rights) that must be addressed by the government.

    The tragedy of current events is that just at the point when the government was coming under intense scrutiny and pressure to engage with the MUD in a dialogue on national security, and as LGBT and other human rights priorities (particularly prisons) were inching forward, we are once again distracted by events ‘on the street’.

    Our exchange, and this article is evidence of that.

    These protests, and those sections of the MUD that have encouraged them, have eroded the authority of Capriles and they force those who voted for Maduro to once again come out and ‘defend’ their government. This is a desperate setback for dialogue on a national security strategy and for human rights in the country.

    A meaningful contribution to a ‘solution’ in Venezuela has to move beyond tit for tat arguments and the assumed political affiliations of ‘left-leaning’ academics. Whatever one’s interpretation of media freedoms in the country, the point made in this article is that it has served the student protesters no benefit to create or contribute to ‘a virtual atmosphere of terror’ or to circulate fabricated images. To do so deflects and distracts from serious abuses and oppression where these occur and which can be raised and addressed when we have verifiable information and evidence.

    The death of individuals of a variety of political persuasions in these protests is all the more tragic given that the opposition has the option of a pacific form of protest and political change – a recall referendum against Maduro. The time between that event and now provided the MUD with the opportunity to continue to incrementally build the confidence and support of voters, as they have done, with significant success, since 2008.

    The statement from the US State Department in relation to events in the country reads ‘We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters’. That no such similar concern was expressed for British students is not because ‘they are unlikely […] to be shot at, beaten, or killed by members of our police force’ (a concern that was not actually raised by the US) but because as clearly documented, the US State Department provides resources to the Venezuelan student movement as a mechanism for regime change. This external funding undermines the student movement – as it did the opposition in 2002-04, as it encourages them to look outside of Venezuela for support and credibility, and to internationalise their strategy when the focus must and always should have been Venezuelan voters.

  3. Rebecca Jarman:
    Feb 21, 2014 at 04:50 AM

    Julia,

    Thank you for your response. We are in agreement that the latest opposition strategy is highly questionable. Both López and Machado have undoubtedly acted irresponsibly in their calls to occupy the streets. Their promotion of #lasalida, in particular, has exacerbated tensions manipulated by the state. In this sense, the latest wave of violent consequences has not been unsurprising. It is clear that the 'solution' is dependent on collaboration and meaningful exchange; it would be interesting to see evidence that this was 'inching forward' prior to last week.

    However, the claim that this article denounces the student action which 'distracts from serious abuses', without addressing these, is somewhat paralogical. A number of independent local organisations are undertaking serious investigations into events that lead to three deaths on February 12th, one of which can be found here: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/actualidad/investigacion.aspx . National human rights watch group Provea has responded to initial findings here: http://www.derechos.org.ve/2014/02/19/provea-ratifica-que-deben-investigarse-denuncias-sobre-posibles-actos-de-tortura-o-malos-tratos-a-detenidos/ The initial findings of such reports suggest that this is less a case of the state's unofficial armed factions coming out in 'defense' of Maduro; rather, that these are acting, in conjunction with the police force and the national security agency, to terrorise members of the opposition.

  4. David Lehmann:
    Feb 22, 2014 at 02:20 PM

    $45 million to the student organisation and friends is quite shocking especially since it would seem counter-productive. Can someone explain what sort of private universities these are - are they expensive ones catering to the elite or less expensive ones mostly running night classes and catering to the people who cannot get admission to the leading universities - or both? Secondly, please clarify the quotes around the word censorship, since it is my understanding that the government has forced the closure of various media companies and also that journalists are forced to self-censor on others. Finally, I would rather put 'socialist' in quotes when referring to the Venezuelan government since it does not run a planned economy, seems to nationalise companies in order to punish the owners rather than as part of an economic strategy, and has left the major conglomerates, notably in beer, untouched.

  5. JC:
    Feb 24, 2014 at 09:09 AM

    the bottom line is people have no access to bare essentials in a country which has the highest natural gas reserves & the highest oil reserves in the region, meanwhile the Government officials sit on bank account with exuberant amounts of money which they have acquired since they took power. I am not a fan of US occupation or intervention in any country, not even in Venezuela the home of my Ancestors. There are some very brilliant Social Economic Policies being put into use but they are minute & only used to gather support from philanthropist and grass roots groups. There is a Veil and it is tightly wrapped around the eyes of the current government supporters. Venezuela has enough oil to provide abundance for all it's citizens, yet most cannot even find toilet paper, milk, cooking oil & so many other basic goods. The country is being bled to death of all its resources. I travel to Venezuela at least twice a year. 90 percent of my Family is still there. Crime is the worst in the continent & maybe the world. there is no tolerance for anyone who thinks differently than the current Goverment. We need a real leader to Unite the country instead of dividing it.

  6. Daniel Levine:
    Feb 25, 2014 at 09:50 AM

    This piece by Julia Buxton is deeply slanted. The author uses quotation marks to delegitimize arguments and elements which she dislikes. But facts are stubborn and they remain whether or not Professor Buxton likes them. There is censorship, both self censorship and banning of news sources that print inconvenient truths. There are political prisoners. There is continuing violence, violence perpetrated by those in control of the means of violence, the state, the Guardia Nacional, the army and the colectivos. There are consistent pressures and attacks on independent institutions, including the universities--the notion that what was at issue was a democratization of voting is absurd. There is an overwhelming concentration of power in the executive.

  7. Eduardo Gavotti:
    Feb 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    It is a shame that such a biased article is having so much echo on the media.

    First of all, Leopoldo López parted ways with the MUD during the presidential campaign of 2013. He has been working through his new political party "Voluntad Popular" (VP) and has made public its differences with the MUD, even though they face a common opponent: The Government and the "chavista" political regime.

    Second of all, why does the author link the CATO Institute award to Yon Goicoechea when he is no longer a student leader? He is not even an opposition leader anymore!! The student protests started in Táchira (south western state of Venezuela) after a female student was almost raped within the University of Los Andes (ULA). But this was not the main reason, this was only the "water drop that spilled the glass" (as we, Venezuelans, say). Students took the streets to protest against the highest rate of murder in the region, the highest rate of inflation, food and medicine shortages (you have to queue for 4 hours on average to find basic products, if and when you find them). Táchira students took the protest to the governor's house where they did throw rocks and because of that they were imprisoned. But the rapist and every other criminal are free as birds!! This is why protests then spread across the country. Yes, Leopoldo López and María Machado took the leadership and called the rest of the civilians to take the streets for the 12th of February, but this was a peaceful protest that ended violent because the Government allowed the intelligence division of the police (SEBIN) and the armed groups (Colectivos) to shoot at students, killing student Bassil Dacosta (protester) and Juan Montoya (leader of colectivos). It was only after this that the barricades appeared, and the government's response was more brutal repression instead of recognising their mistakes.

    Thirdly, and this is something you people of the "first world" do not understand, and I cannot blame you because you have not lived through this; this is NOT a matter of left wing vs right wing, nor Venezuela is a "socialist" country, nor the government is a "socialist" one. What in the world is more capitalist than an oil company?? And Venezuela relies entirely on PDVSA. The only thing that Chávez did differently than his predecessors was the use of propaganda. Every Venezuelan government has been paternalist since PDVSA is a state-run company. And Chávez-Maduro are not the exceptions! Why the author does not mention anything about the rampant corruption? I will give her some names: Alejandro Andrade and his wife Claudia Guillén, Walid Makled, Ricardo Fernandez Barruecos, Pedro Torres Ciliberto, Wilmer Ruperti, Diosdado Cabello, Manuel Barroso, Jose David Cabello, Guido Antonini Wilson, José Vicente Rangel. How much money have they stolen?? Where do the daughters of the late Hugo Chávez live? People from the first world do not understand that left and right are only words in Latin America. Poverty, inequality, corruption and power are the things that define our governments. You people honestly think that this is like in Britain, where you have a clear leftist Labour Party against a clear right wing Conservative??? You cannot be that blind.

    Fourth point, electoral process in Venezuela is anything but transparent. Check yourselves every electoral centre at the CNE website and you will see towns and villages with more voters than inhabitants. An election where the dead people vote, where the government uses its power by getting buses to pick up the people from the slums and take them to vote massively; people with multiple IDs voting for each of their IDs... Of course, then when the automated counting comes, it is the best and most transparent system in the world. Please!!!!! No election in the Venezuelan history since General Marcos Pérez Jimenez has been transparent!!!

    Sixth point, why the author does not refer to the footage of shooters, beatings by the national guard, use of large weapons, but only refers to those images that have been taken from other countries? One thing is true, there are some people who want to create more chaos, but this does not mean that repression has not existed. This shows a clear bias and the support of an agenda.

    Seventh and final point, the fact that the references cited at the bottom of the article confirm the bias, as 9 out of 11 support the government version of the story.

    If Dr. Julia Buxton agress, I propose a debate with real Venezuelans who know what is happening in the country, and let this debate be documented for future references.

  8. Julia:
    Feb 26, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    Dear Eduardo, I do not think a debate with 'real' Venezuelans is what is needed. For people to sit and argue assumed for or against issues and points has paralysed analysis and discussion of Venezuela for many years. More constructive is a process of discussion that looks to understanding and engaging with the multiplicity of perspectives on a way forward. We have to move beyond simple binaries of pro or anti government, and contested narratives. I have frequently set out that I am happy to be part of respectful and pluralist discussions, most recently at the 'What is happening in Venezuela' panel hosted at the LSE and available on the internet.

  9. Eduardo Gavotti:
    Feb 26, 2014 at 05:44 PM

    Dear Dr. Buxton,

    I thank you for taking the time to kindly reply to my comment, and I apologise if the tone of it seemed disrespectful. I did not mean it to be. I hope you understand that for a Venezuelan citizen this situation is very sensitive. Therefore, it is very difficult to hold a strictly academic debate after seeing your articles are being replied by websites and blogs supported by the Venezuelan Government.

    You are absolutely right when you say that it is more constructive a discussion towards a way forward. However, such discussions can take place only in a climate of respect and pluralism, as you rightly pointed out. This climate does not exist in Venezuela, and has not existed since several years. Sadly, government officials might have said they are open for a dialog, but then every person who dissents is not listened at all. You cannot also have a respectful discussion with someone who is willing to harm you after you speak your mind.

    I will not deny the arguments of US desires for intervention. It is clear for the world that the US has an agenda of "neo-imperialism", but this cannot and should not be used as an excuse for every single issue that my country has.

    My intention was not to take the debate to a pro-government vs anti-government. But there are things that are needed to be said in order to come with an objective analysis or conclusion. These things are not said by any analyst or academic that has taken the approach of the "soft-coup backed by the US". Venezuela is a very complex country and cannot/should not be analysed with simplistic arguments, linking distant events without taking into consideration the details that make the difference.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to come to the event at LSE. But I hope you can and would like to come to further events. In the mean time, I am glad to share information with you, if it is of your interest.

  10. Stan Squires:
    Feb 28, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    I am from vancouver,canada and i blames all this violence in Venezuela on the opposition parties supported by the imperialist U.S.gov.President Maduro and the venezuelan gov. needs to do what ever is necessary to get rid of these fascists.These fascists wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the support they gets from the reactionary U.S.gov.
    In Cuba during the early 1960s they had the same problem there.The Cuban army got rid of these groups and that was the end of the problem. The same thing need to be done in Venezuela.

  11. James Miles:
    Mar 01, 2014 at 07:20 AM

    Eduardo Gavotti said: "Such discussions can take place only in a climate of respect and pluralism, as you rightly pointed out. This climate does not exist in Venezuela, and has not existed since several years."

    I'm sorry but this is untrue. Venezuela is a successful democracy. The opposition is perfectly free to stand for election there, and has the support of a majority of the media - which, frankly, they mostly own.

    What is currently happening is that a section of the right-wing opposition has decided that it is unable to take power by constitutional, electoral means and is therefore fomenting street violence, with the explicit intention of "ousting" a democratically elected government that has a mandate from a majority of Venezuelan voters. People in Venezuela are free to protest. But when a tiny minority wants to overthrow a legitimate, elected government, that is something else. The violence is overwhelmingly on the opposition side. No serious commentator can dispute this without straying into mere propaganda. Much of the propaganda on supposed government reppression has been exposed as dishonest - see for example: http://drdawgsblawg.ca/2014/02/constructing-venezuela-protests-a-photo-gallery.shtml for some truly outrageous fakery.

    As for bias, almost everybody talking on this issue has a bias. The habit of accusing your opponent of bias while claiming to be objective oneself is a dead end in internet debate. Most of the Western media is heavily biased in favour of the opposition, to the point of spreading outright lies about what is happening. If Dr Buxton puts the other side, we should surely welcome this as, at the very least, a broadening of the debate. And in point of fact her analysis is better supported by the evidence.

    By the way, Venezuela is certainly a socialist country. Why should a socialist country not have an oil company? The PDVSA under the previous regime was a cash cow for the oligarchy and (quite literally) the CIA. It is now a cash cow for the state's social programmes instead. That seems to me an immense improvement.

  12. Eduardo Gavotti:
    Mar 01, 2014 at 05:31 PM

    James Miles said: "I'm sorry but this is untrue. Venezuela is a successful democracy. The opposition is perfectly free to stand for election there, and has the support of a majority of the media - which, frankly, they mostly own."

    In response to: "Such discussions can take place only in a climate of respect and pluralism, as you rightly pointed out. This climate does not exist in Venezuela, and has not existed since several years."

    Well, I am not sure if Mr. Miles is aware of how the electoral process goes in Venezuela:

    1. Both Chávez and Maduro have taken advantage of the financial resources of the Republic to finance their campaigns, as well as to pay for the logistic to movilise the people from the slums and most remote countryside villages. In many of these villages, there has been many more voters than inhabitants, and this can be seen on the CNE website.

    2. There has been many abnormalities in the register of voters over the years: Dead people who are not removed from the system, people with multiple ID numbers as well as the discretionary nationalisation of foreigners with the sole purpose of having more voting power, mainly Chinese and Cuban. In the state of Yaracuy (mid-west of the country) there are queues at the ID offices with signs in chinese language, with cuban officers working in the process. This I have seen it myself (believe it or not, completely irrelevant).

    3. Succesful democracy? How do you measure the success of a democracy? Only by the outcome of elections? To me, a successful democracy is one where regardless of the outcome, there is respect for the minorities and the government works for the common interest of those who voted for them, but thos who voted against them as well. Especially when the margin is only 1.5%. But not only that: What are the elements of a succesful democracy? A) Independence of powers: The Venezuelan government controls the Supreme Court, the Parliament (national assembly:There are more "MPs" from the government party even though they got less votes at the elections, because they changed the jurisdictions just before the last parliamentary elections - see "gerrymandering"), the CNE (national elections council), and even the Central Bank!!! B) Free elections: The Venezuelan Government threats every public employee with sacking them if they vote against the government (there are videos and testimonies of this), and after the referendum made to Chávez, one of the government MPs, Luis Tascón, created what was called "The Tascón List", whch they basically used to fire and to block the hiring of anyone who had signed against Chávez; thus, elections are NOT entirely free, and the government has been "smart" to manage the fear of the public employees (the government employs more than 50% of the formal workforce). C) Freedom of speech: There are some degrees of freedom of speech in Venezuela, indeed; anyone can speek out his mind freely on the streets, but the media is another story: The government has "sealed the deal" with businessmen such as Gustavo Cisneros (owner of Cisneros Organisation, which owns Venevisión) after the coup of 2002, and Raúl Gorrín, who has bought Globovisión (the only news channel which openly criticised the government) after a series of ridiculous fines which made impossible for globovisión to operate. I do accept that Globovisión acted as a political organisation rather than as a news channel, however it was the only voice of the oposition with nationwide coverage, and the change of its editorial line was not surprisingly radical. Several reporters and news anchors were "given the option to resign if they did not agree with the change of direction of the company", and now they are showing "Alice in Wonderland" whilst the country is falling in pieces.

    This leads me to the 4th point: Opposition owns most of the media? Right... Ask Gustavo Cisneros and Raúl Gorrin if they support the opposition, for example. And what about the public media? Have you seen "Venezolana de Televisión"? Have you listened to the radio stations controlled by the government? It is PROPAGANDA all the way, when they are supposed to serve ALL citizens, regardless of their political views. I guess the "Law on Social Responsibility on Radio and Television" does not apply to them...

    Mr Miles said: "What is currently happening is that a section of the right-wing opposition has decided that it is unable to take power by constitutional, electoral means and is therefore fomenting street violence, with the explicit intention of "ousting" a democratically elected government that has a mandate from a majority of Venezuelan voters. People in Venezuela are free to protest. But when a tiny minority wants to overthrow a legitimate, elected government, that is something else. The violence is overwhelmingly on the opposition side. No serious commentator can dispute this without straying into mere propaganda. Much of the propaganda on supposed government reppression has been exposed as dishonest - see for example: http://drdawgsblawg.ca/2014/02/constructing-venezuela-protests-a-photo-gallery.shtml for some truly outrageous fakery."

    Again Mr. Miles, you don't seem to understand that the right-left paradigm does not work in Venezuela the same way it might work in the "first world". I don't know if you understand what 56% of inflation means, nor long queues just to find basic products, or not finding at all medicines; I don't know if you understand what it means to live with fear of a bullet for no reason, and that bullets do not ask you if you are left-wing or right-wing. I really don't know if you understand this, because if you do, and you still think people shouldn't protest but instead they should "wait patiently until next election to excercise the vote democratically" on a corrupt system", then you just live in a world of fantasy. Inflation kills, shortages kill, bullets -of course- kill. There is people that CANNOT wait patiently until next elections, and there is people who although they might wait, they just don't want to be robbed again on those elections. The right to protest is stated in the constitution, therefore it is also a democratic institution (talk about a successful democracy again...huh?). But of course, it is always easy to blame every problem of Latin America on the United States... Brilliant.

    Outregeous fakery? Have a look at this, Mr Miles (you might need a spanish translator):
    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wslIITd4bLg
    2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmHEEO_MpII

    Finally, "By the way, Venezuela is certainly a socialist country. Why should a socialist country not have an oil company? The PDVSA under the previous regime was a cash cow for the oligarchy and (quite literally) the CIA. It is now a cash cow for the state's social programmes instead. That seems to me an immense improvement."

    Mr. Miles, with all due respect, what do you understand by socialism? Because all there has been in Venezuela under Chávez, under Maduro, and under every single president since the last dictatorship is paternalism and cinicism. Social programmes? Sure, oil prices with an average of $95, but the national budget has been calculated all these years at $60, and no one knows where the differential is. FONDEN (The National Development Fund)? The government has never showed the accounts. PDVSA's debt, as well as the Republic's has soared to the point that we owe China 1.5 times the international reserves... And precisely the gold from the international reserves has been traded for a structured product with, guess who, GOLDMAN SACHS UK (wow...that is socialism: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-11-25/what-is-goldman-sachs-doing-with-venezuela-s-gold-). Now, if socialism means people depending on the State to eat, whilst government officials are filthy rich, then yes, Venezuela is the most socialist country that has ever existed.

    Kind regards,


Comments are now closed

Stay in touch