I would like to point out a series of facts about the current situation in Venezuela that are just as valid for times to come. They are pillars on which we must base our political opinions and actions, as well as shields to protect ourselves from an avalanche of lies, deceit and manipulation, with which the media bombards us on a daily basis. Here are five facts and I will attempt to explain each one as clearly and directly as I can.
First Fact: There was a coup d’etat on April 11th.
To convince ourselves that this is true, we do not need to know the opinions of those directly involved in the events. Opinion polls aren’t necessary. We don’t have to listen to transcripts of parliamentary hearings or blindly trust the word of so and so. The only thing we have to do is to join three simple facts recognized as such by all parties implicated.
a) The President was deprived of his freedom by a group of military officers, who demanded his resignation.
b) His resignation never occurred but there was an attempt to make the country believe the contrary.
c) The same group of military officers decided to choose a new President.
Each of these three facts constitutes a blatantly illegal act violating basic principles of democracy. Let us see why.
In a democratic system, no military officer has under no circumstance even the slightest faculty to deprive the President of the Republic of his freedom. Listen up: under no circumstance. Even in the case of a President acting against the laws, there are legal procedures to detain and bring the Head of State to trial, which involve the response of competent organs, such as the National Assembly, the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ). Obviously, none of these procedures could envisions or permit a group of Generals to place the President under arrest, whenever they deem it convenient.
On the other hand, we could speculate a lot about whether Chavez Frias considered the possibility of resigning, or that he was on the verge of resigning, or told somebody or other that he had resigned. We can ask whether he drew up a document of resignation, or not, or what was the basis on which General Lucas Rincon Romero announced the President’s resignation. Etc. etc. etc. But nothing will change the fact that Chavez Frias did not resign. It does not matter what announcements he or his spokespersons may have made or to whom he made them. It does not matter if he had promised to resign or not or under what circumstances. Such discussions are nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the simple and clear fact that Chavez Frias’ resignation was never formalized according to procedure stipulated in the Constitution and therefore, such resignation never materialized. To be sure, if Chavez Frias had indeed signed a document of resignation, that document would not have been guarantee enough, since in those circumstances (with the President under arrest and incommunicado) there was always the doubt that he had been forced to sign under duress, in which case the document would have no legal value at all.
Finally, no democratic system in the world envisions the possibility of a group of Generals (even in the case of an authentic power vacuum) appointing as President the person they believe most suitable. If there had been a vacuum of power, it is to be assumed that the National Assembly _the only representative institution of popular will, apart from the Presidency_ would have taken control over the situation.
So, the only and inevitable conclusion that follows these three simple facts is that there was a coup d’etat in Venezuela on April 11. The power vacuum thesis is simply absurd. Those who defend it could only do so out of ignorance or to cover up their own participation in the coup.
Second Fact: we can be absolutely certain that at least three groups took part in the coup: a sector of the Armed Force (FAN), a sector of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Fedecamaras) and a sector of the Catholic Church.
To prove that this is true we do not need to know who exactly the coupsters were and what role each person played in the coup. It’s enough to know that these three sectors publicly validated the President’s supposed resignation and signed an act that dismantled the country’s democratic institutionality and installed Pedro Carmona Estanga as President. None of these acts could have been undertaken in good faith and with a clean conscience. The three sectors knew that Chavez Frias had not resigned, and yet they opted to lie to the country. All three knew that Carmona Estanga’s government would be unconstitutional and yet, they supported its installation.
Apart from these three groups (of which we have absolute certainty, I repeat, CERTAINTY of their participation in the coup), it’s worth mentioning others, whose behavior arouses our suspicion. For example, the despicable performance of mainstream print & broadcast media during those April days is irrefutable proof that media bosses were, to say the least, biased in favor of the coupsters, if they weren’t actively participating in the coup themselves. There is absolutely no excuse for the hermetic silence imposed by the media during April 13th. They claim that there were no guarantees to protect their reporters’ security that day. Hadn’t they, a day earlier, boasted about the courage of their reporters, who dared film the famous Llaguno Bridge images? Furthermore, there was no need to bring their reporters onto the streets on April 13th: It would have sufficed to transmit images captured by international news agencies. It would have been enough NOT to lie to the country trying to convince it that absolutely nothing was happening.
Finally, the performance of the main opposition parties leaves no doubt that these sectors were also favorably disposed towards the coup d’etat. To support this idea, it’s sufficient to remember how on April 12th, a few minutes after the coup, all Venezuelan political dinosaurs (who many people had thought dead or retired) suddenly reappeared. Those "venerable leaders" of Accion Democratica (AD) and Christian Socialist (COPEI), erstwhile champions of democracy, enthusiastically threw themselves into the task of literally kicking out and spitting on Chavist State Governors and Mayors, who had been democratically-elected by the people. They were busy placing themselves in office and the machinery of dishing out positions had once again started to roll. Like a kind of macabre symbol, Carlos Andres Perez (CAP) announced his speedy return to Venezuela.
We dispose of further proof that incriminates opposition parties. It concerns their performance within the framework of National Assembly (AN) hearings. The opposition, instead of seriously clarifying the strings that moved the coup attempt, has spent all its efforts to show that there was no coup d’etat in Venezuela _a thesis that, as we saw, holds no weight. It is difficult to imagine that behind this there is a different motive than to cover up the truth about their own possible participation in the coup.
Third Fact: The purpose of the coup d’etat was to guarantee the return to power of political and economic groups that bled the country during the more than forty years of AD-COPEI governments.
Many people insist that the coup leaders’ intentions were good, and that the only thing they wanted was to establish an authentic democracy in our country. Of course, anything can be said about intentions, which are invisible. Someone could propose, for example, that Pinochet, deep down inside, in his most hidden intentions, was always a great democrat. It’s just that he could not carry through his intentions because of the circumstances he had to confront. Certainly, in theory that would not be absolutely impossible. But would it be sane to believe it, especially in light of the actions the Pinochet dictatorship undertook?
Let us ask, then, what were the coupsters’ actions on April 11th? What intentions do these actions reveal to us?
Once again, we appeal to three simple facts, whose veracity has not been placed in doubt by any of the parties.
a) Carmona Estanga dissolved all the public powers of the Republic. In the twinkling of an eye, this great democrat dismantled the country’s whole democratic institutionality. Not satisfied by that, he decided to eliminate the existing Constitution, attributing himself with supra-constitutional powers, declaring himself the supreme and absolute authority throughout national territory.
b) Under the auspices of the Carmona Estanga government, as we have mentioned above, Chavist State Governors and Mayors, who had reached office in popular elections, were stripped of their positions, many in an aggressive manner.
c) State security forces under Carmona Estanga’s command, initiated a witch-hunt for politicians and public officials linked to the Chavez Frias’ government. Raids and arrests that failed to comply with legal procedures followed and were enforced by persons lacking authority to do so. Charges and allegations were many times absurd, as for example, accusing the Interior & Justice (MIJ) Minister of illegal possession of weapons.
Now I ask: Are dissolving all public powers, eliminating the Constitution, dismissing democratically-elected State Governors and Mayors, and imprisoning political adversaries acts of a democratic government or, at least, those of one whose intentions are democratic?
Evidently, then, the coupsters’ objective has very little to do with democracy. Its immediate object was very clear: to root out any vestige of Chavism in the country. That implied eliminating the Fifth Republic’s institutionality, including the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution and it also implied dismissing all Chavez Frias’ supporters from power and even removing the adjective "Bolivarian" from the country’s official title. In other words, the coupsters wanted to recede several years in time. They were searching for a Venezuela that existed before 1999, trying to liquidate in one swift blow all the changes that Venezuela had experienced in the last three years.
Now, then, why did Fedecamaras, a group of military officers, a sector of the Church, media bosses, and the traditional political parties want to turn the clock back in that manner? It seems a stupid question in view of the obvious answer. We are talking about groups that had benefited for fifty years from a dramatically unjust distribution of wealth, systematic alienation of public goods, and terrible exploitation of the most needy in favor of tiny privileged groups. Do we have to provide more reasons as to why these groups wanted to move back in time at whatever the cost, even at the risk of losing their mask as defenders of democracy?
Fourth Fact: The dictatorship that was being installed in Venezuela was going to be long-term.
Carmona Estanga announced that democratic elections would take a year to be organized. One could wonder why it is necessary to wait such a long time to carry out elections. In fact, under pressure from international organizations, Carmona Estanga changed his mind and reduced the period to a couple of months, which indicates that from the beginning it was feasible to have organized new elections within weeks. Once again, the question is: why did they want to let time pass before going to the polls?
It’s possible to imagine, with a good dose of certainty that, even in the case of Carmona Estanga’s coup having succeeded, a large sector of society would have maintained sympathy towards Chavez Frias and the Bolivarian Revolution for some time. It’s possible to imagine that elections organized too early and with the participation of candidates identified as "Chavists" could have endangered the coupsters’ objective of rooting out Chavism in Venezuela. That is why it was necessary to let time pass before calling new elections, time to allow for the elimination of Chavism as a legitimate political alternative. Many instruments were at hand to accomplish the task. Let us remember that, already on April 11th, an intense media campaign got underway aimed at discrediting Chavez Frias as an "assassin" who had ordered the massacre of defenseless citizens in cold blood. The smear campaign probably would have been accompanied by a series of trials to "show" that Chavist leaders had contacts with the Colombian guerrillas and narco-traffickers and furthermore, brought in arms from Cuba and were organizing armed groups to eliminate democracy in Venezuela. All of this was going to end possibly with the political disqualification of social leaders who had supported Chavez Frias and the banning of Chavism as an illegal, armed, subversive and terrorist movement. It would clear the way for elections in which Chavism would not only be completely discredited but also perhaps legally banned from participation.
Would a year have been enough to achieve the objective? Personally I very much doubt it. I believe that the coupsters would have needed far more time to undo the deep commitment that a large sector of the population had acquired with the Bolivarian project. Already on April 12th, we saw how many people were willing to risk their lives for the President’s return. We are talking about a sector that acquired a minimum of immunity to media manipulation and a strong dosage of distrust towards Chavez Frias’ adversaries. These are considerable obstacles for the brainwashing process needed to execute the uprooting of Chavism.
The coupsters would probably have seen the need to prolong for more than a year the waiting period for new elections. In the meantime, an autocratic system of government would be consolidating itself. Facing the impossibility of a rapid return to the long desired Fourth Republic, it would be necessary to increase levels of abuse and repression. Venezuela would be on the road towards a dictatorship of unpredictable length.
Fifth Fact: Under the present circumstances the alternative to Chavez Frias is the abyss.
I hope the reader can see clearly from what has been shown above that the problem facing Venezuela right now will not be solved by simply opening a dialogue between the government and the opposition. Forces opposed to Chavez Frias are not interested in a democratic dialogue or discussing public policies in a rational manner. If they had really been interested in dialoging, they would have made use a long time ago of democracy’s most appropriate scenarios for dialogue, namely Parliament and the media. Instead, they used these spaces to scream out that in Venezuela there are no scenarios for dialogue. Furthermore, if they really had been interested in dialogue they would have been very happy with Chavez Frias famous national broadcasts since they would have seen that the government was attempting to justify its actions to Venezuelan society, thereby exposing itself to criticism and political debate. The insistence on more dialogue, repetition of the spin that Chavez Frias does not dialogue, accusations about the government’s authoritarian character, are all part of a strategy in which a series of distorted democratic notions are used to destroy the opponent. Forces that enacted the coup in Venezuela are not interested in democracy. They are interested in getting rid of Chavez Frias by any means.
If that is the case, we must bear in mind that given the way things are going in Venezuela now, we only have two options on which to bet. One of them is the Constitutional permanence of Chavez Frias as Head of State and, in general, respect for the rules of the game, which Venezuelan approved in 1999. The other option is not even a quick return to the former social economic and political order of the Fourth Republic or the instalment of a new and different democratic institutionality. Based on everything argued above, we can see no other option but a prolonged right-wing dictatorship by those who lost their economic and political privileges with the arrival of Hugo Chavez Frias to the Presidency. This is the only real alternative that we have today vis-a-vis the Chavez Frias government. This is the alternative for which, like it or not, conscious or not, people rushed to participate in demonstrations organized by Fedecamaras, Confederation of Trade Unions (CTV), Primero Justicia (PJ) and Queremos Elegir. That is why I dare to say the alternative to Chavez Frias at the moment is the abyss.
How to beat the media?
Despite the fact that the facts we have just enumerated are simple and evident, it would seem that a large part of the population, especially the part that supposedly enjoys the highest cultural and educational levels, remains completely blind to the evidence. When we hear a typical middle class anti-Chavist talking, we get the impression that we are listening to a series of loose fragments, poorly repeated from radio and TV talk shows. There are a number of empty words that are being constantly repeated in the discourse: authoritarian, meritocracy, steamrolling, dollar-glutton, handpicked, governance, politization, disunity etc. etc. etc. Criticism towards the government becomes an infinite repetition of a rosary of expressions that nobody knows the meaning of any more but which silences thought very effectively.
It means, in a few words, that the media is leading us Venezuelans to the abyss. For that reason, there is no political action more urgent at the moment than countering the power of dominant media discourse over public opinion. I think there are two major lines of action. The first, in my opinion, is the easiest: the creation of alternative sources of information. It’s a great opportunity for community television and radios, which have started to proliferate throughout Venezuela. It’s necessary that these alternative media avoid limiting their range of interest to specific local community problems. What’s missing is a communications network where speeches and news blacked-out or twisted by the mainstream media can circulate, along with affairs of national interest. In that way, it would be possible to accomplish an informative coverage, at least, comparable with that of mainstream giants. It could be possible to unleash voices that up to now have not had the opportunity to express themselves. A first mechanism to further the articulation of a community network of this type would be the State TV channel: Venezolana de Television (VTV). Let us imagine, for example, a weekly slot on VTV dedicated to community stations, a space where ideas, opinions, projects could be exchanged and where material from some stations could be offered to the rest for transmission.
The other major line of action should aim at vaccinating the population against media manipulation. In a few words, it would revolve around a large scale educational project, which could use the alternative media as a vehicle and whose purpose would be to allow citizens to learn how to unmask the varied mechanisms of manipulation and deceit used by the dominant media. This task, more intense and demanding than the first, would require working out how to achieve such goal in a society that has suffered for decades a process of deep cultural and educational devastation. To be sure, our mission could not consist simply in offering an alternative "rosary" of resonant words and phrases (this time Chavists) that are nothing more than slogans. What is needed is the creation of a genuine political consciousness, a passionately inquisitive spirit questioning the existing social order we live in. How is it possible to promote that spirit with the urgency and speed demanded by current political circumstances? I do not know how to answer that question. The only thing I know is that national universities should be doing far more in this respect.
Translated by Patrick O’Donoghue and Anna Sedello
Roldan Tomasz Suárez is a professor at Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida, Venezuela. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org