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Issue #1629      March 5, 2014

The truth behind the uproar in Venezuela

Venezuela’s right wingers have been taking to the streets for weeks, blocking roads, starting violent confrontations with lethal results and causing as much mayhem as they can to try to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro government.

This is not a popular uprising: Supporters of the forces trying to displace the government.

The ever-predictable media coverage in the West has been of a democratic popular movement facing off against a dictatorship.

The Venezuelan opposition has lost four elections since October 2012 – that is in the last year and a half. On three of the four occasions it lost by significant margins.

This is the first year in a long time in which no elections are planned – the next ones, for the parliament, are due at the end of 2015. It’s clear that the Venezuelan right have only minority support and it seems that for the time being it won’t be able to oust the Bolivarian government through the ballot box.

Many right wingers have obviously noticed this – since the last vote all of two-and-a-half months ago saw them routed in local elections an increasingly loud minority among the opposition alliance has called for a non-democratic way out of their dilemma.

This approach has been led by the Voluntad Popular (VP) party leader Leopoldo Lopez. VP is the fifth-largest party in Venezuela and usually gets 3-5 per cent of the vote.

We should bear in mind that Venezuela’s constitution gives the people the right to a recall referendum on the president’s mandate after three years – something the opposition tried with Hugo Chavez, only to find it lost the referendum as well.

There is a democratic way for the right to challenge Maduro’s majority if it wanted to. But instead on January 23 the opposition called its supporters out under the banner of “la salida,” “the ousting.”

The protests have turned violent and have spread to various parts of the country. A poll released last week showed 81.6 percent of Venezuelans see the protests as violent and over 85 percent oppose opposition roadblocks.

The protests draw significant numbers on to the streets because of very real and recognised problems caused by the economic war being unleashed by the bourgeois class – shortages, inflation and problems of production.

Following numerous deaths as a result of opposition violence the courts ordered the arrest of Lopez as the inspiration for these crimes.

Since then the defence of Lopez has itself become a key theme of the protests, which reiterate the usual confused discourse of the far right. Placards demand the right to free speech, for example, when weeks of protest show that the government has respected this right even at the cost of significant disruption.

Despite cries of repression the protests have not been touched by the organised revolutionary people or the armed forces. In some cases police and the army have been on the receiving end of Molotov cocktails, beatings and live bullets without responding with force. In no country in the world would you see the security forces putting up with this abuse with such patience.

Some people have of course been arrested – but these are not political prisoners. They are citizens under arrest for breaking laws by, for example, shooting at the police.

And 90 percent of the Venezuelan press continues to be vehemently anti-government and spews racist, hate-filled headlines against the working-class president. The idea that there is no freedom of speech is laughable.

And media manipulation is intense. Facebook and Twitter are serving as tools to “prove” repression via uploading photos, which are often manipulated. The pro-government demonstrations have less access to such means as few demonstrators own expensive smartphones.

One image of police beating a protester that went viral turned out to not be from Venezuela at all, but from Egypt.

The government of Maduro, who was himself elected less than a year ago, has opened the door to talks with opposition leaders not involved in “la salida” as a way of defusing the violence.

Some of the deaths so far, such as that of pro-government activist Juan Montoya, have been political assassinations. It has also been proven that the opposition has killed some of its own – forensic reports show that bullets used to kill opposition marchers came from within the march. This is then used to blame the government for the violence and further ratchet up the tension.

As I write 18 municipalities in the country are affected by the violence, which means incidentally that over 300 other municipalities have seen no disruption. And every single municipality that has seen violence is run by an opposition mayor or governor.

There are near-daily marches by both sides, with the revolution’s supporters calling for peace and the opposition calling for the “ousting.” And those taking part in the opposition marches are mostly from the wealthier sections of the population. Some say it’s a student uprising, but it isn’t. Most people protesting are business owners and white-collar workers, stirred up by the far right to act because of their economic problems.

There has been some support from student leaders at right-wing universities but many of these people don’t even study but enrol in order to lead political activity on campus.

Working-class support for the government has stayed firm.

This is not a popular uprising. It is a bid by a minority to cause chaos.

And in this it is not unsuccessful. In areas where the protests are strongest, such as the cities of Merida and San Cristobal, some streets have been taken over, with barricades erected.

Those manning these barricades have started to charge “vacunation,” or extortion payments, for safe passage through the street. In residential sectors thousands have literally been trapped in their homes, afraid to go out and with no way of getting past the barricades, where the opposition burn tyres and trees and patrol the streets with armed gangs.

Theft and violence are rife in these areas. Anyone wearing anything red is sure to be beaten, robbed or worse. No exception is made for mothers, children or the elderly.

Other grisly tactics have included stretching taut wires across roads, which have killed at least five people riding past on motorbikes at night, and spreading oil to make motorbikes skid so bike and rider can be “captured.”

It is clear that support for these protests is coming from outside Venezuela. Opposition groups have been found with Israeli weapons and numerous Colombian paramilitaries have been caught in the border states.

These are professional mercenaries, expert in firing up violence and street-fighting. Some are qualified snipers. Weapons found on those arrested for violent acts have included grenades, machine guns, pistols and rifles.

Armed gangs have attacked hospitals, power stations, schools, ministries, public institutions, telephone companies, the offices of revolutionary parties, public transport, police stations, universities, hotels and supermarkets.

Revolutionary activists are shot at when out and about – I myself have been fired on.

US President Barack Obama and others are calling for foreign intervention, a clear sign that outside interests are at work. This is dangerous. The Venezuelan people will not have their revolution sabotaged by a far-right minority whose constitutional rights have been fully respected.

All progressives worldwide need to see these protests for what they are and oppose any interference with Venezuela or its democratically elected government.

Morning Star

Next article – Cypriot parliament blocks bailout sell-off bill

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