The latest campaign to destablise the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, by groups who receive funds from the US government, appears to have largely failed. The attempts of a minority of students based on the old elite universities — who have held often violent protests in recent weeks — to present themselves as a "new" movement fighting for democracy have been exposed.
The campaign was nominally hooked around opposition to the government's decision not to renew the licence of TV station RCTV, which helped organise the failed 2002 coup against Chavez. However the government and supporters of the Bolivarian revolution — who staged demonstrations in support of the RCTV decision that dwarfed opposition-organised protests but were barely mentioned in the corporate media internationally — claimed that the real aim was to undermine the revolutionary process, which is redistributing the nation's oil wealth and reversing the pro-corporate policies that were implemented by the current opposition when it held power.
Key to the opposition campaign has been the protests by students held regularly since RCTV's licence expired on May 27, which have been presented by the opposition in Venezuela and the media internationally as the rise of a "new" movement to challenge the "authoritarian" Chavez government. However, this campaign fell apart due to a combination of larger protests by Chavista students and the actions of the opposition-aligned students at a nationally televised debate in front of a full sitting of the National Assembly on June 7.
The opposition students attempted to present their protests as unrelated to the main opposition groups, who are discredited for organising the failed 2002 coup and economic sabotage in their bid to overthrow Chavez. However, an article by George Ciccariello-Maher entitled "Behind Venezuela's 'student rebellion'", posted on Counterpunch.org on June 9, pointed out that the key leaders of the students protesting the government are members of various opposition parties.
Claiming to be calling for "dialogue", one of the key demands of the opposition student protests was to address the National Assembly (AN), which is entirely composed of supporters of Chavez after the opposition boycotted the AN elections in 2005. Their demand was granted and the AN organised a debate with 10 speakers from students opposing the government's RCTV decision and 10 supporting it. Ciccariello-Maher argued that this caught the opposition students in a trap, because to participate in a debate meant admitting that their position did not represent the entire student population, and that there was significant support for the government among students, especially those from the Bolivarian University set up by government to give free university access to tens of thousands of poor students.
Ciccariello-Maher pointed out that "Caracas boasts 200,000 students, whereas these demonstrations have not managed to mobilize more than 5,000", with the protests concentrated in wealthy eastern suburbs, "with no student protests in the sprawling barrios that house half of the city's population". He reports that on the day of the debate, there was a large protest of Chavista students outside the AN chanting "education first to the children of the worker, education second to the children of the bourgeoisie".
In a move that Ciccariello-Maher says shocked both Chavistas and anti-Chavistas, the opposition students staged a walk-out after only one speaker from both sides, claiming they intended to take the debate "to the streets". As they exited out the back, Chavista students out the front began chanting "cowards, cowards!". This left the floor open to revolutionary students to continue explaining their position on national TV.
ElUniversal.com reported on June 7 that Andreina Tarazona, a student from the Central University of Venezuela, said during the debate: "I would like to call upon the Venezuelan youth to define on what side we are. Are we on the side of the fight of our people, who have shed their blood or are we on the side of exploiters and the US empire?" Criticising the opposition students, Tarazona said: "Real democrats do not restrict debate. Real democrats engage in debate any time, anywhere."
Ciccariello-Maher reports on a damning incident when the Chavista students found a script left behind in the AN by the opposition students that showed their actions had been carefully stage-managed. Worst of all, the script, held up to TV cameras, was signed by a corporation owned by Globovision, an opposition-aligned TV station strongly implicated in the 2002 coup.
While the corporate media internationally continues to hail the rise of a "new" student movement fighting for democracy, a June 8 post on the "A Gringo in Venezuela" blog points out that "such pronouncements fail to acknowledge the emergence of the real 'new' student movement — the mobilisations in support of the government and the Bolivarian Revolution … The students who took to the streets around the AN yesterday in support of the Bolivarian process … 15 years ago would not have [had] the opportunity to become students. Hence, they are the truly new force in Venezuelan politics … Their loyalty to Chavez is outstripped only by their distaste for the privileged students claiming to represent the whole of Venezuelan youth."