Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility.
Civil war becomes more likely as long as the media obscure who is responsible for the violence and the international left fails to show solidarity with Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialist movement.
If the left receives its news about Venezuela primarily from the mainstream media, it is understandable why it is being so quiet. After all, the media consistently fails to report who is instigating the violence in this conflict.
For example, a follower of CNN or the New York Times would not know that of the 103 deaths arising from political violence [as of July 15], 27 were as a direct or indirect result of the protesters themselves. Another 14 were the result of lootings.
Fourteen deaths are attributable to the actions of state authorities — and in almost all cases those responsible have been charged — while 44 are still under investigation or in dispute.
This is according to data from the office of the Attorney General, which itself has recently become pro-opposition.
Also unknown to most consumers of the media would be that opposition protesters detonated a bomb in the heart of Caracas on July 11, wounding seven National Guard soldiers, or that opposition protesters burnt a building belonging to the Supreme Court on June 12 and attacked a maternity hospital on May 17.
In other words, it is possible that much of the left has been misled about the violence in Venezuela, thinking that the government is the only one responsible.
If this is the reason for the silence on Venezuela, then the left should be ashamed for not having read its own critiques of the mainstream media.
All of the foregoing does not contradict that there are plenty of places where one might criticise the Nicolas Maduro government for having made mistakes with regard to how
It has handled the current situation, both economically and politically.
However, criticisms do not justify taking either a neutral or pro-opposition stance in this momentous conflict. As South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu once said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Perhaps the Venezuelan case is also confusing to outsiders because Maduro is in power and the opposition is not. It could thus be difficult to see the opposition as being an “oppressor”.
However, for an internationalist left, it should not be so confusing. After all, the opposition in Venezuela receives significant support not only from private businesses but also the US government, the international right and transnational capital.
Perhaps progressives feel that the Maduro government has lost all democratic legitimacy and that this is why they cannot support it. According to the mainstream media, Maduro cancelled regional elections scheduled for December last year, prevented the recall referendum from happening and neutralised the national assembly.
Let’s take a brief look at each of these claims one by one.
First, regional elections (state governors and mayors) were indeed supposed to take place late last year, but the National Electoral Council (CNE) postponed them, arguing political parties needed to re-register first. Leaving aside the validity of this argument, the CNE has rescheduled the elections for December.
This postponement of a scheduled election is not unprecedented in Venezuela; it happened in 2004, when local elections were postponed for a full year. Back then, at the height of former President Hugo Chavez’s power, hardly anyone objected.
As for the recall referendum, it was well known that it would take approximately ten months to organise. However, the opposition initiated the process in April last year, far too late for the referendum to take place in 2016 as they wanted.
According to the constitution, if it were to take place in 2017, there would be no new presidential election and the vice-president would take over for the remainder of the term.
Finally, with regard to the disqualification of the National Assembly, this was another self-inflicted wound on the part of the opposition. Even though the opposition won 109 out of 167 seats (65%), it insisted on swearing in three opposition members whose elections were in dispute because of fraud claims.
As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that until these three members are removed, most decisions of the National Assembly would not be valid.
In other words, none of the arguments against the democratic legitimacy of the Maduro government hold much water.
Now that we have addressed the possible reasons why the left has been reluctant to show solidarity with the Maduro government and the Bolivarian socialist movement, we need to examine what “neutrality” in this situation would end up meaning — in other words, what allowing the opposition to come to power via an illegal and violent transition would mean.
First and foremost, their coming to power will almost certainly mean that all Chavistas — whether they currently support Maduro or not — will become targets for persecution.
Although it was a long time ago, many Chavistas have not forgotten the “Caracazo” — when in February 1989, then-president Carlos Andres Perez meted out retaliation on poor neighbourhoods for protesting against his government and wantonly killed somewhere between 400 and 1000 people.
More recently, during a short-lived coup against Chavez in April 2002, the current opposition showed it was more than willing to unleash reprisals against Chavistas.
Most do not know this, but during the two-day coup more than 60 Chavistas were killed in Venezuela — not including the 19 killed, on both sides of the political divide, in the lead-up to the coup.
During the most recent wave of violent street protests there have been several incidents in which Chavistas, who were near an opposition protest, were killed because protesters recognised them to be Chavista.
In other words, the danger that Chavistas will be generally persecuted if the opposition should take over the government is very real.
Second, even though the opposition has not published a concrete plan for what it intends to do once in government — which is also one of the reasons the opposition remains almost as unpopular as the government — individual statements by opposition leaders indicate that they would immediately proceed to implement a neoliberal economic program along the lines of President Michel Temer in Brazil or President Mauricio Macri in Argentina.
They might succeed in reducing inflation and shortages this way, but at the expense of eliminating subsidies and social programs for the poor across the board.
They would also roll back all policies supporting communal councils and communes, a cornerstone of participatory democracy in the Bolivarian Revolution.
Instead of silence, neutrality or indecision from the left, what is needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement.
Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow the Maduro government. Aside from the patent illegality that overthrowing the Maduro government would represent, it would also literally be a deadly blow to Venezuela’s socialist movement.
The left does not need to take a position on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with the opposition are the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is really up to Venezuelans to decide.
Opposing intervention and disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela, though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a constructive role.
[Slightly abridged from TeleSUR English. Published in the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network July 2017 special liftout.]