Why Are There No Riots in the Barrios of Venezuela?

By Gustavo Borges, TeleSUR

The only ones who have both the number and fury to set fire to this country are working, organizing, discussing the call to a Constituent Assembly.

Closing streets, paralyzing the subway system, burning urban transport units, attacking public institutions, even some private ones, the looting of shops, schools and hospitals, terrorizing popular neighborhoods with hired gangs, mercenary style.

In eastern areas of Caracas, a minority sector goes to the opposition demonstrations where all of this takes place and daily life is a chaos in the middle of battles where this privileged little world rebelled against the poor. Wearing all sort of gas masks, journalists, photographers, camera people with helmets and bullet-proof vests, opposition leaders, members of the national assembly, mayors and governors of the counterrevolution stand there giving orders, Molotov cocktails keep coming and going, sometimes they collide with tear gas canisters in the air, youths wearing balaclavas and with shields that look like they are from the crusaders, using gloves to throw tear gas canisters back, barricades, cut down trees, fires, a constant battle against Bolivarian police and the national guards who are forbidden from using firearms and violence.

The cameras try to capture a picture showing that the country is at war.

This same scenario is repeated in specific places in different states of the country. But despite this theatrical set, something is not working for the terrorist agenda of the opposition. Thousands of neighborhoods, hills and low income areas throughout the entire country continue about their daily lives attentive to what happens in that upper-middle class, Hollywood type world and their declassed playing at absolute war that has already taken some 40 lives and wounded hundreds of other in the entire country. Here the murdered and wounded are not extras. They are real.

In the neighborhood of 23 de Enero, west of Caracas, about 200,000 inhabitants wake up everyday in the middle of that fascinating entanglement of popular sectors. There are no incendiary bombs or tear gas bombs here. Children go to school, kindergartens, youngsters in blue flannels and beige (school uniforms) take the streets to get to their high schools. Subway cars travel at full capacity as far as violence from the other side of the city allows them to get to. Small and medium size businesses start to open their doors. Queues begin to form in the hundreds of popular medical practices where people get free basic health care attention. A group of women from the communal councils fix on the walls handwritten posters announcing the nightly meeting to organize the community food delivery, which also posts the amount to be paid and an account number to deposit the payment.

Motorcycle riders go to work. Fruit and vegetable trucks offer their fresh merchandise through their speakers. Empanadas, arepas and juices, garages, hairdressers and local mom-and-pop stores, taxi cooperatives and trucks filled with workers, teachers, civil servants, students and others lead their way to the differents demonstrations of today, mothers with their children, or simply workers of all kind. Most are commenting on the drama of the day: in the east where the rich live, they are playing with shit.

The same situation repeats in other working class communities nearby: La Pastora, Catia, Lídice. And beyond downtown in San Agustín, Mamera, Petare, El Cementerio and in the other hundred and something boroughs and densely populated municipalities. About 6 million people in Caracas alone. This is what is not giving working in the opposition plans and their focused terrorist escalation. Millions of inhabitants of these neighborhoods are not singing along with their tune.

The same happens throughout the country. Instead of this in various sectors, people go out onto the streets to protect and defend their places as in this story of what happened in a neighborhood in the state of Barinas: “Here they will not come to loot, no way, here they will not come to make the disasters they did to the bakeries and hardware stores and pharmacies of La Cardenera.” The woman from Barinas, with a machete in hand, led a few hundred neighbors who were armed with sticks, tubes, machetes, bats, went out to confront the opposition ‘guarimberos’ (rioters) who had wiped out most of the neighborhood business in the past few weeks. The alarms had been going at night all around the neighborhood through pot-banging, text messages and calls of “here come the guarimberos.” Now they came for all the equipment of the public sports court, built by the Revolution to the Francisco de Miranda neighborhood and inaugurated by Chavez himself. Things get tense. The ‘guarimberos’, mostly upper-middle-class kids mixed with some from poorer areas and some thugs came in groups of 30 to lock streets and to loot and to set fire to the neighborhood’s sports court, begin to retreat. It is not easy for them because the people are in the streets, ready to fight to defend this sport facility that Chavez gave them. “You better get the fuck out, you’ll ’cause no trouble here,” “out, out, out, out.” Machetes, bats, sticks, pipes, spikes, move menacingly as my people scream at them – what a beatiful scene. The guarimberos retreat: “We are going to look for reinforcements to the Corozitos, no joke, we are gonna burn all this shit, you damn chavistas.” “Come, you squalid jerks, terrorists, here we wait, out, out, out, out with you.”

“That night no one slept. But they never came back,” says the old lady.

The only ones who have both the number and fury, balls and ovaries to set fire to this country are working, organizing, discussing the call to a Constituent Assembly. And defending in the street when necessary. A show of strength that goes unnoticed by the minds of those who want a great civilian confrontation, a war: to stay calm, not to come to interfere even knowing that the counterrevolution that is in the streets on the other side of the city but could not withstand the irruption of these neighborhoods at ther most violent. This is a titanic display of strength.

While the country’s wealthy opposition sectors are running their “I Want Freedom” drama, those with the true power are active. The barrio is active.

Original printed in Misión Verdad.

Standoff in Venezuela

May 12, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / Green Left Weekly — Venezuela has been rocked in recent weeks by almost daily protests and counter-protests, as right-wing opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro seek to bring down his government.

While the media portrays these events as a popular rebellion against an authoritarian government, supporters of the pro-poor Bolivarian revolution initiated by former president Hugo Chavez say the country is witnessing an escalation in what is an ongoing counter-revolutionary campaign seeking to restore Venezuela’s traditional elites in power and reverse the gains made by the poor majority under Chavez and Maduro.

Federico Fuentes interviewed Steve Ellner, a well-known analyst of Venezuelan and Latin American politics and a retired professor at Venezuela’s Universidad de Oriente, to get his views on recent events.

* * * * *

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 2014.

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 accusation?

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 defeated.

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 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 demands.

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 polarization.

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.

Steve Ellner is currently coordinating an issue on the class policies of progressive Latin American governments for Latin American Perspectives, a journal for which he is a participating editor. His “Implications of Marxist State Theories and How They Play Out in Venezuela” is slated to appear in the next issue of Historical Materialism.

Berta Cáceres’ Organization Expresses Solidarity with Bolivarian Revolution

Thousands of Venezuelan women marched Saturday chanting “No to violence, yes to peace and to life” to voice their support for the Bolivarian Revolution.

Introduction and translation by Jeanette Charles for Venezuelanalysis.com

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), founded by Lenca indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated March 2016, released a recent statement expressing their solidarity with Venezuelan women this week.The Women’s Coordinating Committee of COPINH condemned the opposition violence against Venezuelans and the opposition’s insistent invitation for US interference, recalling the effects of the US backed coup d’état in 2009 in their country.

Last Saturday, Caracas was the backdrop for a women’s march in support of the Bolivarian Revolution. Thousands of women poured onto the streets of the Venezuelan capital to demonstrate their commitment to women’s rights and liberation.

Undeniably, the Bolivarian Revolution has created unparalleled opportunities for women. Within the last 18 years of revolution, women have consolidated their access to education, healthcare and other social services with unprecedented numbers of women entering universities and professional fields throughout the country.

Likewise, grassroots movements have upheld women’s voices and political participation in their organizations, communes and other sectors. Social missions directly tailored to caregivers, mothers and elders have provided key economic resources to women across generations.

Recent violence in Venezuela has escalated as the number of deaths associated with opposition guarimba protests have reached 44.

The Lenca people’s statement also invites international reflection on the oppositon’s call for regime chage in Venezuela as their country is one of the most devasted by US intervention within the hemisphere especially since the 2009 coup d’état.

The June 28, 2009 coup d’état resulted in the forcible removal of President Manuel Zelaya and also marked the indefinite stall of the Honduran people’s call for a constitutional assembly.

As the 2009 coup d’état unfolded in Honduras resulting in widespread repression, Venezuelan grassroots movements expressed solidarity by demonstrating and sending humanitarian aid to the Central American nation.

In the weeks following the coup, thousands of Hondurans used their bodies to protect the Venezuelan embassy as coup supporters and the military attempted to attack the South American nation’s headquarters in the Central American nation’s capital.

The US backed coup in Honduras has left a devastating impact on civil society as grassroots movements continue to struggle against transnational corporate extraction and rampant violence particularly US funded and trained police and military violence.

COPINH’s statement comes as President Nicolás Maduro’s recent announcement of a constitutional assembly offers a unique opportunity to bridge together different sectors of Venezuelan society as well as to strengthen pre-existing institutional guarantees in defense of human rights and 21st Century Socialism.

Undoubtedly, Venezuela’s latest initiative is significant to the multitudes of Hondurans and COPINH’s base which have struggled since 2009 to defend their self-determination in ways that the Bolivarian process has made possible for millions of Venezuelan.

COPINH’s statement in solidarity with Venezuela is poetically necessary as they defend the Bolivarian Revolution as if it were their own.

COPINH in Solidarity with the Venezuelan Women’s Revolutionary Movement

Barrio Las Delicias, Intibucá, Intibucá; Honduras C.A, Tel: 2783-0817

Copinhonduras.blogspot.com; www.copinh.org,

Facebook. Copinh Intibucá; Twitter: @copinhhonduras

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) salutes the Venezuelan women on their day of mobilization and struggle in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution.

We know that the sisterly people of Venezuela have been suffering an imperialist onslaught, involving economic warfare, disinformation campaigns and disrepute. Knowing this, COPINH ratifies its solidarity with the Venezuelan people, as in 2009 when we gathered outside the Bolivarian embassy in Tegucigalpa to defend it against the Honduran golpistas (coup-supporters). Today we raise our voices, once again to accompany, not only the Bolivarian government but also the people, against new coup attempts, who respond to the same imperialist interests that seek to plunder and militarize Our America. We understand the difficult situation and we call for the unity of revolutionary forces and for the deep dialogue that will enable [Venezuela] to overcome the crisis.

As COPINH, we continue to defend our territories, and reaffirm that we firmly believe that this work is possible only with the active and proactive participation of women, who have not only had to face capitalist and racist violence, but also faces patriarchal violence. We believe in the fundamental participation of women to defend the achievements of the peoples of Our America and to confront those that ravage our territories. That is why today, accompanied by our Berta Cáceres, we salute with joy the mobilization of women in Caracas, against the coup and in defense of the Bolivarian revolution.

Berta Lives On, the Struggle Continues!

Berta did not die, she multiplied in all Latin American struggles!

With the ancestral strength of Berta, Lempira, Mota and Etempica, our voices are full of life, justice, dignity, freedom and peace!

Women’s Coordinating Committee of COPINH

La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras.

Steve Ellner on Venezuela’s withdrawal from the OAS

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez addressed the Organization of American States Permanent Council

Steve Ellner

The political polarization in Venezuela has reached new levels of intensity and could easily drag the nation into a veritable civil war. The problems the nation is facing have no easy solutions. While the government of Nicolás Maduro has committed its share of errors, the opposition has also assumed positions that do not reflect popular sentiment, which is in favor of national reconciliation and a focus on concrete economic solutions rather than political confrontation.

Unfortunately, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, among other foreign actors in the hemisphere, has failed to place himself above the nation’s internal politics and to facilitate a peaceful and constructive resolution of the conflict. Instead, his statements without exception have been explicitly in line with the opposition’s narrative and the demands it has formulated. Nevertheless, what is happening on the ground in Venezuela is not black and white and the true facts are hard to determine.

The opposition accuses the government of violent repression. The government, for its part, accuses the opposition of organizing protests that lead into actions carried out by small combat units involving barricades, fires, destruction of public property and attacks on security forces. Given this complexity, the OAS should have promoted a national dialogue and named a nonpartisan committee to investigate disputed events. Venezuela’s decision to withdraw from the OAS must be seen in the context of the organization’s partisanship, which has only exacerbated, rather than eased, polarization.

Originally published in the “Latin America Advisor” (publication of the Inter-American Dialogue).

Leader in Worker Controlled Company Killed in Venezuela

Rexol Acevedo (first on left) was killed by opposition protesters, according to reports from his family.

By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas

Caracas, May 8, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A respected labour activist at the nationalized worker-controlled factory Industrias Diana has been reportedly shot and killed by opposition protesters in Carabobo, Venezuela.

Rexol Acevedo, 32, was a leading voice of the workers’ control movement at the company, which produces products such as oil and margarine. He also served as the president of the ALBA-MERCOSUR Workers’ Commission.

According to press reports, Acevedo was driving to visit family members on May 2 when he came into contact with an opposition roadblock. The activist was subsequently shot dead when he resisted demonstrators’ alleged attempts to steal his car.

His body was found dumped on a nearby freeway next to his scorched car.

“Murdered by the irrationality of fascists our friend and worker comrade from Industrias Diana Rexol Acevedo. Honour and Glory. We will keep struggling,” tweeted Juan Barreto, the national spokesperson for the REDES leftist political party.

The murder of Acevedo comes as the country enters its sixth week of violent anti-government protests that have claimed 42 lives to date. Among the victims are fifteen people killed by opposition violence and five confirmed dead at the hands of authorities.

On May 4, Chavista student leader and Anzoategui Student Federation President Juan Lopez, 28, was gunned down during a student assembly in what appears to be a politically-motivated and targeted killing. According to eye witness reports, Lopez was approched by a participant in the assembly who opened fire on the student leader before fleeing on a motorbike. Another student was killed and another two injured in the incident.

Two Chavista leaders were also assassinated at the end of April.

US National Security Advisor: Quick, Peaceful Solution Needed in Venezuela

US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met with opposition leader Julio Borges last Saturday.

By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas

Caracas, May 8, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – United States National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster released an official statement Saturday expressing the need for a “quick and peaceful solution” to Venezuela’s “ongoing crisis”.

The press release was made public after McMaster met with Venezuelan opposition leader and current National Assembly President Julio Borges at the White House earlier that day.

It reads: “They [Borges and McMaster] discussed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and the need for the government to adhere to the Venezuelan Constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections.”

The statement has sparked alarm in Venezuela and amongst international movements in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. They have likened Saturday’s meeting to a series of similar encounters that took place between US officials and opposition figures just before a short-lived coup against former President Hugo Chavez Frias in 2002.

The meeting comes as Washington hardens its stance vis-a-vis the Maduro government. Last week, a bipartisan group of US senators presented a bill to Congress asking for sanctions on more Venezuelan officials in a bid to further isolate Caracas in the region.

Violent protests have rocked the South American country since the beginning of April when a stand-off between the leftist national government and the opposition-controlled National Assembly came to a head. So far, 42 people have lost their lives in the unrest, which has seen armed opposition protesters block roadsgun down government supporters, set fire to public institutions, and clash with security forces. At least 15 people have been killed by protesters, while a further five have died at the hands of authorities.

Despite the deadly unrest, opposition leaders have said that they will boycott a constituent assembly called by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a way out of the impasse and have continued to call for their supporters to take to the streets.

The situation was brought to the attention of the United Nations this past Saturday, after Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley, took aim at the Venezuelan government, accusing it of a “crackdown” on dissent in an official statement.

Anonymous sources have told Venezuelanalysis that the US is quietly pushing to table Venezuela as a discussion point at the UN Security Council but the move has so far been met with resistance from other nations.

The move to turn up the pressure on Venezuela comes as the United States escalates its military involvement in the region.

Over the weekend, the head of the Brazilian the armed forces, Theofilo de Oliveira, revealed that the US will also lead multinational military drilling exercises between Brazil, Colombia and Peru later this year as part of a 2015 NATO project.

A temporary military base will also be set up in the Brazilian town of Tabatinga on the Amazonian frontier between the three countries as part of the programme, confirmed the armed forces chief.

The military exercises have been described as “unprecedented” in the region.

In Detail: The Deaths So Far In Latest Wave of Opposition Violence

By Venezuela Analysis

Since April 4, 2017, violent anti-government protests have rocked Venezuela. Characterised by deadly clashes between state security forces and opposition demonstrators, vandalism and destruction of public institutions, and the assassination of Chavista supporters, the unrest has left 42 people dead to date (May 8). Hundreds more have been injured.

Despite the heavy press coverage, there is significant confusion over how these deaths occurred and at the hands of whom. In a bid for clarity, Venezuelanalysis provides readers with an in-depth and a complete account of the deaths so far below.

This table will be updated on a daily basis in accordance with the results of ongoing investigations as well as new incidents.

Readers will note that a number of deaths have still not been accounted for given that substantive criminal allegations have yet to surface regarding the circumstances and alleged party responsible for the killings. 

To view the latest version of the table visit Venezuela Analysis by clicking here

If Venezuela is becoming “authoritarian“ then what is the rest of the world?

By Joe Emersberger, ZNet

Any analysis of Venezuela’s violent protests which doesn’t highlight the April 2002 coup which briefly installed a dictator, Pedro Carmona, who abolished its democratic institutions entirely, facilitates a repeat of that coup. Human Rights Watch failed to denounce the 2002 coup. Washington was obviously pleased with the coup and funded groups involved in it before and after it took place. The New York Times editors were especially delighted with it and gushed over the “respected“ Pedro Carmona who they claimed had rescued democracy. Today the Venezuelan opposition is led by people who supported or even participated in the coup (Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Henry Ramos, Julio Borges, Maria Corina Machado among others).  There is no reason to suppose the US government, establishment-friendly NGOs like Human Rights Watch, and the international media have undergone any reform since 2002 either. The unprecedented defeat of a US-backed military coup in 2002 simply meant that the vilification campaign against the Venezuelan government continued for the next fifteen years.

So there is a really grave problem with emphasis in Gabriel Hetland’s piece entitled “Why is Venezuela Spiraling Out of Control? Opposition violence and the government’s increasing authoritarianism are both to blame.” Any measure of a government’s “authoritarian” tendencies that doesn’t properly factor in and emphasize the threat that it could be violently overthrown is seriously out to lunch.

Hetland made some remarks which I will quote at length below then respond to.

Yet, while previous claims of Venezuela’s authoritarianism have had little merit, this is no longer the case. A series of government actions since early 2016 has made it increasingly difficult to challenge claims that Venezuela is moving in an authoritarian direction. First, throughout 2016 the Supreme Court, which is clearly and even openly subordinate to the executive branch, blocked the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which won the legislative majority in December 2015, from passing any major legislation. In some cases, the legislature was attempting to act beyond its authority, for example, in seeking to grant amnesty to prisoners like Leopoldo López. Yet the Supreme Court’s systematic blockage of the National Assembly effectively rendered the opposition’s newly-captured legislative majority—and thus the December 2015 election results—null.

Problems with judicial independence are not at all unique to Venezuela. If Republicans dominate all major elections in the United States for the next eighteen years, as Chavistas have done in Venezuela in free and fair elections, then the Supreme Court would be lopsidedly Republican. An elected Supreme Court (in Venezuela, United States and many other countries) with fixed terms would be a major improvement.  One could seriously debate whether elected Supreme Court judges should have terms that are both longer and harder to cut short through recall than other elected officials, but if it is “authoritarian” to not have such a system in place then most countries around the word are also “authoritarian”. However, under no system will judges ever drop out of the sky to deliver politically neutral judgements.

Moreover, the opposition victory has absolutely not been rendered null. Its victory has allowed it to threaten foreign governments and businesses with whom Maduro’s government has attempted to negotiate economic deals. Henry Ramos, former head of the National Assembly, has openly boasted of having had a lot of success with this approach. It’s also a total contradiction to opposition demands for “humanitarian aid” which the international media has, quite predictably, failed to highlight at all.

Second, after months of dragging its feet, the government cancelled a constitutionally allowed recall referendum process in October 2016.

The CNE (the electoral authority) did drag its feet. However the opposition also delayed for over three months before initiating the recall process because of internal divisions over how to use their majority in the National Assembly to oust the government. In 2004, the recall process took over eight months and the recall referendum was held just days before the deadline for it to trigger a presidential election had Hugo Chavez lost it. Opposition leaders (Borges and Capriles for example) have been blatantly dishonest about the 2004 recall process to deny the significance of their delay.

The United States does not have a recall process at the presidential level but it does have them for some of its state governors. The recall process in California’s 2003 recall election took 7-8 months depending on how you define the start of the petition drive. Wisconsin’s in 2012 took 6-7 months. Can anyone imagine an international campaign demanding that the United States speed up its recall process?

Third, the government indefinitely postponed municipal and regional elections that should have occurred in 2016, according to the constitution (although Maduro recently moved to set a date for the elections).

It is the regional, not municipal, elections that were due in 2016. The CNE – which, remember, was accused with some justification of not going fast enough on the recall process – also postponed local elections for about a year due to the 2004 recall process. The CNE should have done all it could to set a clear date for regional elections even if it went over the constitutional limit. There should be a way to have a simplified and expedited recall process that does not result in other elections being delayed. However, as noted above, the delay in the recall process, and therefore in the holding of regional elections, was also due in part to the opposition’s tactical divisions.

Fourth, as noted, the Supreme Court issued a ruling dissolving the National Assembly in March, before partially reversing itself days later, after Maduro asked the Supreme Court to review its decision. Maduro was spurred to action when his own attorney general, Luisa Ortega, took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning the Supreme Court decision as “a rupture in the constitutional order.”

Ortega’s dissent and the reversal of the decision make thin gruel out of this example of “authoritarianism”. Additionally, the National Assembly was not dissolved.

Fifth, in April 2017 Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure and two-time former presidential candidate (in 2012 and 2013), was banned from participating in politics for fifteen years, on highly dubious grounds.

In the United States or Canada, Capriles would still be in prison (or more likely dead) had he participated in the violent ouster of the government, the kidnapping of an official, and attacks on a foreign embassy. Capriles served months in prison and then went on to run and win the governorship of the state of Miranda. The really valid and important criticism is that Capriles and others have enjoyed an outrageous amount of impunity thanks to their powerful cheerleaders abroad and access to sympathetic media coverage at home. That is where those of us who live in rich imperial countries like the Unites States and Canada need to be focussing.

Venezuelan Socialist Student Leader Gunned Down After Backing Maduro

Juan Bautista Lopez Manjarrez poses next to flags during a student organizing meeting

Lopez was killed a day after publicly backing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal for a national constituent assembly.

Venezuelan student leader Juan Bautista Lopez Manjarrez was shot and killed on Thursday at the Territorial Polytechnic University in Anzoategui by an unknown shooter. Three others were left injured, Venezuela’s Public Ministry reported.

Lopez, leader of the Federation of University Centers and member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, was shot after leaving an assembly held on the university’s campus. The attacker fired several shots and fled on a motorcycle.

Lopez was killed a day after publicly backing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal for a national constituent assembly during a press conference. The assembly aims to bring together organizations from broad sectors of society to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution in an attempt to ease ongoing political tensions.

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, however, slammed the proposal as a “coup” and called for protesters to rebel against the move, leading many to believe they were behind Lopez’s murder. Local newspaper El Vistazo reported that at least 23 rounds were fired.

Since April, up to 39 people have been killed in Venezuela amid ongoing right-wing opposition protests.

Opposition leaders have attempted to portray the deaths as examples of state repression and evidence of the “dictatorship” that they are aiming to topple. Mainstream media have by and large echoed this version of events, ignoring the deaths of leftist activists like Lopez by suspected right-wing protesters.

In addition to the more than three dozen killed, over 437 people have been injured in the protests, according to Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega.

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Here’s Your Guide to Understanding Protest Deaths in Venezuela

At least three dozen people have died since opposition-led protests aimed at toppling the government began.

Headlines about ongoing violence in Venezuela are practically inescapable, with over three dozen people dead since opposition-led protests aimed at toppling the government began in early April.

Right-wing opposition leaders have attempted to portray the deaths as examples of state repression and evidence of the “dictatorship” that they are aiming to topple. Mainstream media have by and large echoed this version of events, using titles like “Venezuelan Regime Has Blood On Its Hands” and “Venezuela’s Tiananmen Moment.”

Some outlets have even gone as far as claiming the elected government of Nicolas Maduro as engaging in “a campaign of state genocide.”

The reality of the situation on the ground, however, demonstrates something very different.

Of those killed thus far, three are attributed to state security forces, while two of the dead are members of police themselves. The total number of dead is significantly bolstered by the eight who were electrocuted as they attempted to loot a bakery, while five of those killed were expressly connected to opposition protests. On the other hand, 12 of the deceased are attributed to right-wing violence.

In addition to the more than three dozen killed, over 437 people have been injured in the protests, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega said.

Here’s a breakdown of those killed since the opposition protests began.

April 6

  1. Jairo Ortiz: the 19-year-old student, was shot by transit police Officer Rohenluis Leonel Mata in the state of Miranda. Venezuelan police immediately detained Mata, who is set to face criminal charges.

April 10

  1. Daniel Queliz: the 19-year-old college student from Carabobo was shot by police while participating in an opposition protest.
  2. Ricarda de Lourdes: the 83-year-old woman died at her home in Caracas on April 10 from hydrocephalus. When her symptoms began flaring earlier that day, she was unable to be transported to a nearby hospital because opposition protesters blocked all of the neighborhood’s roads, preventing ambulances from picking her up.

April 11

  1. Yey Amaro: 37-year-old police officer in the state of Lara, was hit by a vehicle driven by opposition protesters on April 11 after trying to mediate protests in his home state.
  2. Miguel Colmenares: the 36-year-old opposition supporter from Lara died from multiple wounds received after the detonation of explosive devices in Barquisimeto, Lara state.
  3. Gruseny Canelon: the 32-year-old opposition supporter from Lara died of organ failure after being shot during an anti-government demonstration. Fifteen members of the National Guard have been placed under arrest in the incident.
  4. Oliver Villa: the 29-year-old digital marketing entrepreneur was shot by unidentified assailants on motorbikes in Caracas after evading an opposition barricade in the El Paraiso sector of Caracas.

April 12

  1. Brayan Principal: the 14-year-old resident of the Ali Primera Socialist City was shot by opposition protesters after they toppled the main gate of the commune.
  2. Carlos Moreno: the 17-year-old student was shot in the head while in Caracas. Family members say he was not involved in the protest, and it is suspected his murder was perpetrated by armed robbers who stole his motorcycle.

April 19

  1. Niumar Sanclemente: the 28-year-old sergeant with the National Guard was apparently killed by sniper fire in Los Teques, the capital of the state of Merida.
  2. Paola Ramirez: the 23-year-old college student from Tachira was shot while in the vicinity of a demonstration. A member of the right-wing Vente Venezuela opposition group is under arrest for the murder.

April 20

  1. Ramon Martinez: the 28-year-old cook who worked in the same bakery as Kevin Leon in the El Valle district of Caracas was shot by opposition protesters as he tried to protect the store.
  2. Francisco Gonzalez: the 34-year-old died during the vandalization of the El Valle bakery.
  3. Elio Manuel Pacheco Perez:  the 20-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  4. Jairo Ramírez: the 47-years-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  5. Robert Joel Centeno Briceño: the 29-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  6. William Heriberto Marrero Rebolledo: the 33-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  7. Jonathan Meneses: the 27-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  8. Stivenson Zamora: the 21-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  9. Kenyer Alexander Aranguren Pérez: the 20-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  10. Yorgeiber Rafael Barrena Bolívar: the 15-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
  11. Mervin Guitan: the 26-year-old who worked for a mayor’s office in Sucre was shot by unidentified gunmen during a protest.
  12. Alberto Rodriguez: the 16-year-old died from suffocation from tear gas used in El Valle, Caracas.

April 23

  1. Almelina Carrillo: the 47-year-old was struck in the head with a frozen water bottle thrown from a building while walking near a pro-government march in Caracas on April 19 and died a few days later.

April 24

  1. Jesus Sulbaran: the 41-year-old criminology student and an official in the governor’s office in Merida was killed while participating in a pro-government demonstration, according to Venezuela’s ombudsman.
  2. Renzo Rodriguez: the 54-year-old was killed in the state of Barinas from a gunshot wound to his chest when he was in the vicinity of the mayor’s office of the municipality of Barinas.
  3. Orlando Jhosep: the 23-year-old died of a gunshot wound during a protest in the city of El Tocuyo, Lara state.
  4. Daniel Infante: the 25-year-old transportation worker was killed while participating in a pro-government demonstration, according to Venezuela’s ombudsman.
  5. Luis Marquez: the 52-year-old was shot and killed in the capital of the state of Merida while taking part in a pro-government demonstration.

April 25

  1. Efrain Sierra: the 27-year-old lost his life after receiving a bullet in the stomach on April 24 as he resisted the theft of his motorcycle while passing through an opposition barricade.

Disturbingly, there are also other people whose murders during these dates raise concerns about targeted assassinations and possible paramilitary activity.

April 26

  1. Juan Pablo Pernalete Llovera: the 20-year-old was killed Wednesday in Chacao after being hit by a gas cannister.

May 2

  1. Angel Enrique Moreira Gonzalez: the 28-year-old died after trying to dodge a barricade placed by an opposition march blocking a highway in the state of Miranda, as his motorcycle crashed into another car.
  2. Ana Rodriguez: the 42-year-old died in the state of Carabobo when the bus she was traveling in crashed trying to dodge a street barricade. Police have yet to confirm the identity of another person that would have been killed in the same accident.

On this same date, the opposition had called for communities across Venezuela to block all access to their towns by building barricades.

  1. Yonathan Quintero: the 21-year-old was killed by a store owner when a group of people tried to loot his store in the state of Carabobo.

May 3

  1. Armando Cañizales: the 18-year-old died due to a gunshot wound on his neck during an opposition march blocking one of the main highways in Caracas.

May 4

  1. Gerardo Barrera: the 38-year-old police officer was shot during an opposition demonstration in the town of La Pradera, in the state of Carabobo, around 100 miles west of Caracas.

May 5

  1. Hecder Lugo: the 20-year-old died after being shot in the head during a protest held in Valencia the day before.———–

    The next two cases were not directly related to the marches, but the political nature of their work has raised concern that their deaths could be part of a broader trend.

    April 23

    Esmin Ramirez: the Venezuelan trade unionist was killed in the southeastern state of Bolivar after being kidnapped in an act that people close to him claim was politically motivated. Ramirez, who was a member of the Movement 21 labor syndicate in the state-run iron ore producer Ferrominera and part of the PSUV political party in Cachamay, was killed in El Rinconcito sector in Guayana City, a city along the bank of the Orinoco River in Bolivar state.

    Jackeline Ortega: murdered in the greater Caracas area in Santa Lucia del Tuy. Ortega was also a member of the PSUV as well as a leader in the Local Committee on Supply and Production, known as CLAP, a government-created alternative food distribution program.

    Kevin Leon: the 19-year-old bakery worker in the El Valle district of Caracas, was shot by opposition protesters who were vandalizing his workplace.

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