Monday, February 17, 2014

Violence in Venezuela

Venezuela was the scene of militant anti-government demonstrations last week that turned violent.

President Nicolás Maduro claimed that this was a coup attempt But that overstates the case, because the armed forces didn't revolt. Although some of the far right of the opposition may want to create enough unrest to promote conditions for a coup. (Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul, Venezuela protests turn deadly; Maduro accuses opponents of coup plot Los Angeles Times 02/13/2014)

As annoying as American and Colombian conservatives may find first Chavez and now Maduro, they were elected in competitive elections that the Carter Center among others found to be basically fair elections, however much the opposition that lost might claim otherwise. And the anti-Chavez opposition did stage a failed coup in 2002, backed by the US and the conservative government of Spain at the time. Maduro is overstating the case when he says this was a coup attempt, because the armed forces didn't revolt. Although some of the far-right of the opposition may want to create enough unrest to promote conditions for a coup.

Mogollon and Kraul report:

The students were protesting the high cost of living, rising insecurity and inflation. Opposition leaders, including Lopez and National Assembly member Maria Corina Machado, had urged their followers to march peacefully.

Witnesses said vigilantes arrived on motorcycles to harass the marchers, and that some fired indiscriminately into crowds. On Thursday morning, Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz said that of the 61 reported injured, 17 were police and other public officials. There were 69 arrests.

Two of the dead were identified as student Bassil Alejandro da Costa and Juan Montoya, a member of the pro-government January 23rd Collective.

In addition to Caracas, violent clashes were reported in San Cristobal, Merida and several other cities.
Reuters reports in Venezuela raids opposition party office, expels three U.S. diplomats by Diego Ore and Brian Ellsworth 02/17/2014:

The government has issued an arrest warrant for [opposition group] Popular Will's founder, Leopoldo Lopez, 42, the U.S.-educated opposition leader accused of murder and terrorism in relation to the violent demonstrations of the past week.

He has been the main instigator of the demonstrations that have energized Venezuela's opposition, but show few immediate signs they will achieve their goal of ending the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Student protesters have taken his lead and are now promising to continue demonstrating around the country.
The expulsion of the US diplomats fits with Maduro's claim that the United States is implicated in encouraging the violence. (Maduro habló de medios cómplices y de EE.UU. Página/12 18.02.2014) It's not clear from the news I've seen to date why the Obama Administration might want to support this kind of disruption in Venezuela right now, or what actual evidence there is of US involvement.

Alejandro Fierro, Venezuela no tendrá descanso Público 13.02.2014., writes on the same date as the Mogollon/Kraul report above, Fierro was writing that it had been confirmed that the three dead were not participants in the demonstration, "Uno de los fallecidos es un militante chavista, otro es un estudiante afín a la oposición y del tercero aún no se ha desvelado su identidad." ["One of the dead is a chavista militant, another is a student affiliated with the opposition and the identity of the third has not yet been revealed."] Fierro argues that the opposition media has promoted an anti-government picture of the events without much regard to the facts:

La evidente eficacia de ésta y otras burdas manipulaciones se explican por el enorme potencial mediático de la derecha venezolana, que controla el 85% de la prensa del país y cuenta con el respaldo de la práctica totalidad de los medios internacionales.

Más allá de la desinformación, los sucesos de ayer reflejan que la oposición vuelve a optar por la vía de la desestabilización, como ya hizo en el golpe de estado de 2002 o tras las elecciones del 14 de abril del pasado año, cuando se negaron a reconocer el triunfo de Nicolás Maduro y alentaron unos altercados que se saldaron con el asesinato de once simpatizantes chavistas.

[The evident effectiveness of this and other clumsy manipulations are explained by the enormous media potential of the Venezuelan right which controls 85% of the press of the country, and count on the support of practically to whole of international media.

Beyond the disinformation, the events of yesterday reflect that the opposition is going back to opting for route of destablization, like they did in the coup d'etat of 2002 or after the election of April 14 of last year, when they refused to recognize the clear victory of Nicolás Maduro and encouraged some altercations that resulted in the murder of 11 chavista sympathizers.]

The following two Spanish-language reports feature the journalist and author Modesto Guerrera discussing last weeks events in Venezuela.

Maduro denunció un intento de golpe de Estado (1 de 2) TV Pública argentina 15.02.2014

Maduro denunció un intento de golpe de Estado (2 de 2) TV Pública argentina 15.02.2014

Guerrera says that two of the dead from the February 12 shootings were chavistas. He also relates the strategy of the oppisition to the post-election protests of last year. He argues that the opposition grouping around Leopoldo López is connected with Colombian paramilitary types and thinks such semi-official paramilitaries in Colombia are assisting the most extreme opposition in Venezuela. Guerrera reminds us that López played a notable role as an activist in the failed coup of 2002.

He sees this as a continuation of "economic war" initiated by the opposition last October, with the goal of creating conditions for a coup. He notes that Maduro is wrong to describe the recent opposition action as a coup attempt as such, though. Guerrera claims that López is working closely with a foundation run by former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) is promoting and funding opposition paramilitary activities in Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela and Central America.

He names María Corina Machado as a key Venezuelan figure working closely with Uribe, that whole tendency following a political strategy he attributes to Alberto Franceschi (pronouced "fran-ches-ki") and that Guerrera calls atajo (shortcut). According to this theory as Guerrera describes it, the militant right around López is impatient with the parliamentary and electoral opposition still favored as the main route to power favored by Henrique Capriles of the Primero Justicia party and current Governor of the state of Miranda, who lost in the Presidential election against Maduro last April. (He appears in the first video at around 5:33, López at around 4:13.) Franceschi makes a bitter polemic against Carpiles here: La verdad, aunque duela Noticias Venezuela 28.12.13, in which he speaks like he thinks he's Lenin in November 1917, declaring that the Maduro government is in "plena descomposición terminal" ("a clearly terminal state of decomposition"). He calls explicitly for "una insurgencia militar, un nuevo régimen, Un Nuevo Orden" [a military insurgency, a new regime, A New Order] (emphasis in original).

As Guerrera relates it, the atajo theory says that the opposition can't wait until parliamentary election in 2015 to unseat Maduro government. He describes four aspects of the current situation that could create opportunity for the non-parliamentary atajo: the margin of the Presidential election last year; the divisions over income distribution; the weakness of the Venezuelan currency against the dollar, part of the emerging-markets jitters that has excited the financial press recently; potential divisions within the chavista coalition over some attempts by chavistas to strike deals with the opposition.

Franceschi in this video, Sentido Común #9 - La constitución no es la vía para sacar a Maduro 07.02.2014, that he features on his own website, ridicules Capriles and his supporters for pursuing a peaceful, parliamentary course to assuming power:

He also calls explicitly for a civil-military government for Venezuela, i.e., another coup.

Leopoldo López, for whom there has been an arrest warrant out since Wednesday and who is currently in hiding, has announced that he will lead a public demonstration. Formally, López and Capriles are united in the opposition under the umbrella of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática. But Capriles is staging a competing demostration against violence by the opposition and also calling for the disarming of the chavista popular militias. (Dos convocatorias opositoras Página/12 18.02.2014)

Alfredo Serrano Mancilla of the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano Geopolítico argues in La democracia frente a la doctrina golpista Página/12 18.02.2014 also agrees that that Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado and their followers are seeking a military coup by promoting economic dislocations, political violence and trying to undermine the currency. And he has some justification in saying that South America's tolerance for military coups has been low in recent times.

There is also a more-or-less nonpolitical problem of criminal violence in Venezuela that attracted some international attention recently when a actress pretty well known among Latinos, Mónica Spear (a former Miss Venezuela) was murdered along with her husband in an actual highway robbery there.

Although when that sort of violence becomes as serious as it is in Venezuela, it inevitably takes on a political aspect.

Here are three pieces by Mogollon and Kraul for the Los Angeles Times on Spear's death and the aftermath:

Beauty queen's slaying a 'blow' to Venezuelans, leader declares 01/08/2014

Venezuelan officials identify 7 suspects in slaying of beauty queen 01/09/2014

Venezuelan bishop backs effort against guns as beauty queen is buried 01/09/2014

Here is a TV Pública argentina report, also featuring Modesto Guerrero, talking about the implications of the criminal violence highlighted by Spear's murder, Inseguridad en Venezuela 18.01.2014:

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