Sunday, February 23, 2014

Venezulan opposition this weekend

La Opinión (Los Angeles) carries and EFE report on the opposition rally led by Henrique Capriles on Saturday, Oposición realiza manifestaciones en Venezuela 02/22/2014. Capriles called for the release of and amnesty for student protesters that have been jailed, and explicitly for the release of Leopoldo López, the far-right leader who, along with María Corina Machado, is the main leader of the far-right group that is more-or-less openly attempting to create conditions for a coup against the elected chavista government of Nicolás Maduro.

As I've mentioned here before, Capriles has taken pains to distinguish his road of parliamentary electoral activity and peaceful protest from the López/Machada strategy of "atajo" (shortcut) which aims to force Maduro from office and replace his government with military rule. (All in the name of democracy, of course!)

And Capriles' public position still appears to be consistent with that position. In the speech Saturday, he called specifically on his supporters not to protest public at night and also to avoid blocking off streets, so as to minimize the possibility of violent confrontations with government forces and Maduro supporters. Obviously, these situations involved some very specific tactical calculations that are hard to judge from afar. But Capriles has a meeting scheduled with Maduro on Monday. And that also seems compatible with an intention to pursue a distinct course from that of the López/Machada faction.

On the other hand, he is specifically calling for the release of López. Since the charges against him seem to be general charges of plotting, calling for his release plausibly looks like a genuine human rights stand, even if it is politically convenient for Capriles. I haven't seen any specifics about the government charges against López. Deliberately planning acts of vandalism or violence would be illegal in the US and pretty much all other countries; but it's up to the Venezuelan government to prove those charges.

La Opinión/EFE also report that Capriles' demands also include a call on "humanitarian" grounds for the release of Iván Simonovis, who remains in prison after being convicted of responsibility for deaths in the course of the failed 2002 coup. (Point 3 in Capriles' list of demands in the NTN24 audio included by La Opinión) This isn't necessarily a demand a leader who is trying to distance himself from the coup-oriented strategy of a competing opposition group would be well-advised to stress in this situation.

And Capriles is still formally allied with López and Machada in the umbrella opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). So while Capriles is taking pains to follow a distinct path in the protest, one also cannot say that his break with the López/Machada pro-coup group is clean or complete in this situation.

However, the reporters doing the English-language stories on this really should start using this Internet invention and the Twitter machine and stuff a little more. Machada tweeted this morning: "Los estudiantes q arriesgan su vida saben q el régimen no cambiará sus politicas;de lo q se trata es de cambiar al régimen" ("The students who are risking their lives know that the regime will not change it's policies; what it is about is regime change.")

Capriles, meanwhile, posts today on his blog (Venezuela nos necesita a todos), speaking of his meeting with President Maduro scheduled for tomorrow: "Si este gobierno no sirve, si no sabe cómo resolver los problemas del país, debe venir otro que sí nos saque del caos donde éste nos metió. Pero eso no se logra a través de los atajos. A un gobierno débil los atajos le convienen." ("If this government is inadequate, if it doesn't know how to resolve the country's problems, it should bring in another that actually will get us out of the chaos in which this one has involved us. But this won't take place via shortcuts. Shortcuts are convenient for a weak government.") In the slogans of the moment, Capriles is clearly distancing himself here from the "atajo" (shortcut) strategy of immediate "regime change" via a coup against the current elected government that López and Machada are following. López also calls the strategy "la salida" (exit).

Capriles came very close to winning last year's Presidential election in Venezuela, where López was far behind Capriles in the contest for the opposition nomination. So this split is pretty basic to the current situation. Is it really too much for reporters doing English-language stories to, you know, read what the major players themselves there are saying about what they're doing?

None of this excuses human rights abuses by the Venezuelan government, of course. It's still important in understanding what's going on that the larger opposition group is promoting peaceful protest and parliamentary change, while a smaller hard-right group is openly promoting a coup. Maduro and his supporters aren't just making that part up.

This video from last week features Steve Ellner talking about the split in the opposition, Venezuelan Opposition Divided On Question of Regime Change The Real News 02/20/2014:

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