Right-wing Venezuelan attempts to disrupt university forum

A forum on Venezuela in Canberra on August 11 was disrupted by opposition supporter Frank Madrid. Madrid has expressed his support for right-wing leader Juan Requesens who justified violence to provoke a “foreign intervention" in Venezuela.
August 16, 2017

In recent months a small section of Venezuelans living in Australia have decided to embrace some of the aggressive tactics used by fellow right-wingers living in other parts of the globe.

With a campaign established to deport Lucia Rodriguez, the daughter of Caracas mayor and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader Jorge Rodriguez – she was accosted in Bondi a few months ago – and two Venezuelans removed by police from the Latin America Down Under mining expo held in Perth, it is becoming apparent some Venezuelans view these types of actions as acceptable.

Earlier this year the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) at the Australian National University (ANU) invited me to speak on Venezuela and the political crisis that country has been experiencing for some time.

The successful event, which was held on August 11 and attracted over 60 people, was co-sponsored by the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and ANCLAS, to its credit, and like most Latin American Studies (LAS) departments in Australia, saw no issue with this collaboration.

For those familiar with my work, it is no secret that I have previously viewed certain policies to reduce poverty by the Venezuelan government in a favourable light.

Likewise, since 1999, I have considered positively the Venezuelan government’s challenge to US hegemony throughout Latin America, resulting in the creation of such organisations as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americans (ALBA).

In a similar manner, when I have differed with the administration in Caracas I have expressed these views publically on numerous occasions, most recently in an interview I gave to the ABC.

Unfortunately, for some, none of the complexity of the points I often make matter.  

Commencing my lecture at ANU by reading out a short article I recently published in the American Herald Tribune (AHT), where I documented some of the opposition’s violence in Venezuela in the last few months, I soon heard a member of the audience make comments such as “bullshit”, “lies” and “propaganda.”

A few paragraphs into the article, a man stood up and started yelling. Not identifying himself, I was later told this was the Venezuelan hard right-wing and arts promoter Frank Madrid.

Stating that I was telling nothing but lies, Madrid took exception to a comment I made about the guarimberos – right-wing youths in Venezuela that, throughout the recent crisis, have burnt buses and government buildings, used explosives against police officers, attacked a maternity hospital and will be soon be investigated by a Truth Commission for the alleged deaths (among others) of the young Afro-Venezuelan Orlando Jose Figuera and judge Nelson Moncada.

Perhaps unaccustomed to how an academic forum works – it is basic manners to listen to a speaker and ask questions or make comments at the end – a member or two from the audience grew tired of Madrid’s rant and called him a “fascist” in Spanish. Another yelled out “Chile 1973 shouldn’t be repeated!”

As quickly as Madrid’s tirade commenced it soon came to an abrupt end. Informing the audience that he was utterly offended, and so was his mother who was also present, Madrid stormed off with one other audience member.

Attempting to re-establish order, I was later told one of the organisers tried to calm Madrid down and invited him back into the event.

Again, upon his return, Madrid was unable to sit quietly for more than a few short minutes, launched another tirade and left the auditorium. Later, I was informed he was particularly upset when someone took a picture of him as campus security and police debated whether to escort him out of the building.

Had Madrid stayed longer than a few minutes at the forum he may have actually learnt something.

During my presentation I noted that the Venezuelan government had failed to diversify the economy, that far stronger measures against corruption should be taken and that human rights violations had been committed by some sections of the security force against certain opposition protesters in recent months. I even made a point of showing a video where members of the opposition were interviewed and images of police firing tear gas at crowds were clearly visible.

I noted that most middle class Venezuelans who protest against incumbent president Nicolas Maduro do so peacefully, and, to the government’s credit, where cases of excessive use of force against protestors have been suspected, investigations have been conducted.

In contrast to the simplicity of the mainstream media though, I discussed specific details regarding the conflict. While most middle class Venezuelans of European heritage may demonstrate in a civil fashion, this is hardly the case with the guarimberos or, more importantly, key opposition leaders who have long incited their supporters to use violence – a necessity according to Justice First (PJ) opposition leader Juan Requesens in order to provoke a “foreign intervention.”

As many experts on Venezuela could attest, the government has long banned opposition protests in the heart of Caracas due to the manner in which a coup in April 2002 developed.

Then, opposition protests reached the presidential palace and, after unidentified snipers shot at opposition demonstrators and pro-government supporters (Chavistas), a military takeover occurred which saw former president Hugo Chavez kidnapped. With dozens of people killed (the overwhelming majority Chavistas), the president was soon restored to power by the bulk of the armed forces that remained loyal to the constitution.    

In 2002, the Bush administration supported the coup against Chavez just as the successive administrations in Washington have funded millions into the coffers of the opposition.

This point, as with actually enquiring into the details of the political crisis in Venezuela, or stating that the country’s sovereignty should be respected, makes the opposition and its sympathisers highly uncomfortable.

Perhaps this is why Madrid could only stomach a few minutes of my presentation and why he and other right-wing Venezuelans have continuously sought to shutdown meetings about Venezuela that do not conform to their views.

[Dr. Rodrigo Acuña is an Associate Lecturer in the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University. He can be followed on Twitter at: @rodrigoac7]

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