FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Behind the Lies About Venezuela’s Protests

by GARRY LEECH

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently called on the Venezuelan government to end the “terror campaign against its own citizens.” Kerry’s words are just the latest in US and mainstream media efforts to portray the month-long protests in Venezuela as peaceful popular demonstrations against an authoritarian regime that has resorted to repression to quell the uprisings.  As a result, the Venezuelan government, as Kerry’s statement illustrates, is being blamed for most of the 28 deaths that have occurred. But is this portrayal accurate? A closer look at the reality on the ground paints a very different picture. From the beginning, the protesters have been armed, have conducted widespread arson and have been intent on achieving the unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically-elected government.

The protests in Venezuela have primarily occurred in middle and upper class neighborhoods in seven cities across the country. Most of these neighborhoods are governed by opposition mayors who support the protesters. In fact, protests of any sort have only occurred in 18 of the country’s 335 municipalities during the past month. This context is important because the media has created the impression that the protests constitute some sort of peaceful popular uprising against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. In reality, it is a relatively small number of people in opposition strongholds who have taken to the streets while the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans, particularly in the poorer barrios, continue to go about their daily lives unaffected by the disruptions.

From the first days of the protests in early February many of the demonstrators at the improvised street blockades in Merida and Tachira were armed with handguns. The first weekend of protests in Merida saw balaclava-clad protesters boarding buses and wielding guns as they forced passengers to disembark. Protesters were also observed throwing shrapnel at passing motorists. That same weekend, three protesters held a journalist at gunpoint and threatened to kill her. Meanwhile, protesters in Tachira beat another journalist with a lead pipe. Throughout the past month, protesters have also used petrol bombs against government targets. The principal targets have been government-run health clinics and food markets, resulting in more than $1.5 million in damage to these symbols of the revolution in the first two weeks of protests.

In one particularly heinous act of violence, 29-year-old motorcycle rider Santiago Enrique Pedroza was decapitated at a street blockade when he rode through a steel wire stretched across the road at neck height. This tactic was apparently inspired by the tweets of retired army general Angel Vivas, who is allied with the opposition.  Vivas promoted the use of wire at blockades to “neutralize” motorcyclists who were members of Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300community collectives that supported the government. The day before the decapitation, he tweeted, “In order to neutralize criminal hordes on motorbikes, one must place nylon string or galvanized wire across the street, at a height of 1.2 meters.” The general tweeted recommendations for other tactics, including “to render armored vehicles of the dictatorship useless, Molotov cocktails should be thrown under the motor, to burn belts and hoses, they become inoperative.” The government ordered the arrest of Vivas the day after the decapitation.

While it is clear that the opposition protesters have utilized violence from the beginning, the government’s response has not been above reproach. Five of the 28 protesters are believed to have been killed by state security forces. The government has responded by arresting 14 police and National Guard officers for alleged abuses and use of excessive force. Additionally, President Maduro has repeatedly taken to the airwaves calling on government supporters not to resort to violence in response to the protests. In one speech, Maduro stated, “I want to say clearly: someone who 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.”

Of the 28 people who have been died, nine were identified as opposition protesters, nine as government supporters or government workers, and the remaining ten were either innocent bystanders or of unknown political affiliation. Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by armed civilians allied with either the protesters or the government. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the 1,602 people arrested in connection to the protests have been released without being charged, in fact, only 92 remain in custody on violence-related charges. The government’s response to the crisis hardly constitutes a “terror campaign against its own citizens,” as Kerry alleged.

Despite the reality, the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition has repeatedly blamed the government for the violence, declaring that “State security forces, accompanied by paramilitary groups, have cruelly attacked peaceful and defenseless protesters…leaving a lamentable tally of citizens assassinated, seriously wounded, tortured and disappeared.” Delegitimizing the government is an essential component of the opposition’s strategy because the protests are not merely an exercise in free speech to criticize specific state policies but rather they are an orchestrated campaign to achieve the unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically-elected government by forcing what they have called “la salida” (the exit) of President Maduro.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently in jail for inciting violence in the early stages of the protests, has declared, “The ‘exit’ will only happen when people organize in the streets to make the dictatorship retreat.” He also asked protesters “not to leave the streets until Maduro is kicked out.” In other words, the opposition is trying to achieve through violence and propaganda what it has repeatedly failed to achieve through the ballot box in free and fair elections.

President Maduro has responded to the protests by calling on the National Assembly to establish a Truth Commission to investigate the violence and by announcing a National Peace Conference involving community groups, students, and business and religious leaders. The opposition coalition MUD has refused to participate in the talks to resolve the crisis with former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles explaining his boycott by stating, “This is a dying government. I’m not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic.” In other words, there is nothing to negotiate for the opposition other than the removal of the government from power.

On March 7, the 32 member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS) took up the issue of the protests in Venezuela. After two days of debate, a declaration was issued expressing solidarity and support for the Venezuelan government and calling for dialogue between the government and the opposition. The declaration also rejected any intervention or sanctions by member states. Twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the declaration, the three who opposed it were the United States, Canada and Panama.

The US vote against the OAS declaration is not surprising given that it has provided tens of millions of dollars in funding to Venezuelan opposition groups through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). According to a US embassy cable released by Wikileaks, the United States has worked with “local NGOs who work in Chavista strongholds and with Chavista leaders … with the desired effect of pulling them slowly away from Chavismo.” And it has spent millions of dollars funding university programs and workshops for youth, no doubt with the objective of also “pulling them slowly away from Chavismo.” The prominent role of university students in the current protests suggests that the US strategy may be paying dividends.

Ultimately, US officials such as Secretary of State John Kerry and the mainstream media have seriously distorted the reality of the protests in Venezuela. It is clear that the majority of Venezuelans do not support the opposition protesters in their effort to destabilize the country in order to achieve the unconstitutional overthrow of the country’s democratically-elected government. Faced with five more years of Maduro’s presidency, the opposition, with US backing, appears to have abandoned democratic politics and resorted to violence to achieve its goal of ending the Venezuelan revolution.

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). ). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University in Canada.

 

 

 

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including How I Became an American Socialist (Misfit Books, 2016), Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). ). He also teaches international politics at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Canada and Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. For more information about Garry’s work, visit garryleech.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail