Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Politics of Venezuelan unrest

Marco Rubio is criticizing the Maduro government in hopes of getting some political mileage out of it. Marco Rubio se enfrenta contra Nicolás Maduro y gana La Opinión 02/24/2014

In his characteristically subtle way, Maduro denounced Rubio as "el loco de los locos" ("the craziest of the crazy").

I don't think Rubio has to worry about that damaging him politically in Florida!

Meanwhile, opposition leader Henrique Capriles didn't follow through on his plan to meet with Maduro on Monday.

Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne report in Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare
Reuters 02/24/2014:

Capriles, 41, spurned an invitation to meet Maduro in the afternoon as part of a gathering of mayors and governors that some had hoped would open up communications between both sides.

"This is a dying government ... I'm not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic," he told reporters. "Miraflores (presidential palace) is not the place to talk about peace, it's the center of operations for abuses of human rights."

Capriles and other opposition figureheads are demanding that the government release imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and about a dozen jailed student demonstrators.
Other opposition figureheads? The cultural news editor at The Daily Beast is probably denouncing Ellsworth and Cawthorne as "useful idiots" right now for writing that!

But they mention the key fact about Venezuela that Americans need to understand: "Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves."

That fact alone guarantees that there will be considerably pressure on any government that inconveniences the oil multinationals. And that the views of those in Venezuela who are inclined to advocate for the international oil lobby's interests will have a generous hearing in the American media.

The unrest of the moment, though, seems almost self-limiting. Leaders like María Corina Machado, Leopoldo López and Caracas Metropolitan District Mayor Antonio Ledezma of the may have raised their profile among the opposition in comparison to Henrique Capriles. But the López/Machado faction driving the protest evidently has limited support for their current "atajo" (shortcut) strategy of promoting conditions for a military coup.

One of their main disruption tactics has been blocking streets to create big traffic jams. That way, a relatively small number of demonstrators can create a big disruption if they pick the right streets to block. But their street blockades are often in the wealthier areas of cities, the areas from which most of those protesters are drawn. And so the brunt of the disruptions often falls disproportionately on the López/Machado faction's own wealthy base.

It's hard to guess what Capriles is doing at the moment, and he probably wants it that way. On the one hand, he's publicly disagreeing with the atajo strategy and the López/Machado faction. But he also wants to maintain his credibility among the opposition, so he's demanding López' release from prison and continues to put the blame for violence on the government, which at best is only partly plausible. And after last year's Presidential election which he lost narrowly to Nicolás Maduro, he encouraged a strategy of militant protest that looked a lot like the one López and Machado are currently following.

Oddly, Capriles just warned Argentina not to pursue similar policies to Maduro's. (?!) This story from Yahoo! Venezuela/iProfessional, Capriles: "Ojalá que la Argentina no siga el modelo fracasado que pretenden imponer por la fuerza en Venezuela" 02/25/2014, quotes Capriles as saying what's in the title, "I hope Argentina doesn't follow the failed model that they {Maduro's government} are trying to impose by force on Venezuela."

Does Capriles know about some new, gigantic oil reserve just discovered in Argentina that the rest of us don't?

While Argentina rejects the neoliberal economic model, it is pursuing a more diversified strategy, by necessity, than Venezuela. There is a case to be made that Venezuela suffers from some of the problems typical to petrostates - problems sometimes referred to as the "Dutch disease" - because the country's national economy is so heavily subject to the vagaries of the world oil market.

But speaking of Argentina, has this long, Spanish-language interview with Maduro on Sunday the 23rd available on their website, Venezuela: Entrevista a Nicolás Maduro 02/24/2014:

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