The private media and important actors both at home and abroad, including Washington, have downplayed, and in some cases completely ignored, the terrorist actions perpetrated against the Venezuelan government over the past three months.
Among the latest examples that have gone underreported abroad is the assassination in late April of Eliezer Otaiza, a historic leader of the Chavista movement and president of the Caracas city council.
Another is a series of reports issued by interior secretary Miguel Rodriguez Torres that establish connections between terrorist actions and sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. The reports have includeda wealth of documents — including videos, emails, phone call registries, and phone call recordings.
The opening remarks of Robert Menendez, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in hearings to study proposed sanctions against Venezuela shows how the charges of opposition-promoted terrorism get brushed aside.
First, Menendez listed various charges against the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro of human rights violations. These were based on statements by several individuals who are anything but impartial such as Moises Naim, who was planning minister in the government that Hugo Chavez sought to overthrow in a coup in 1992.
Menendez minimised the seriousness of the widespread violence carried out by the opposition. After recognising, “there has been violence on both sides,” he adds, “but we should be perfectly clear that the primary responsibility for the excessive, unjustified use of force rests with the Maduro administration”.
Anyone who gets their information solely from these sources could easily reach the conclusion that, with the exception of a few minor excesses, which are normal and inevitable in such protest movements, what is happening in Venezuela represents a flagrant violation of human rights by the government.
This discourse by opponents of the Maduro government and the picture painted by the media encourages the radical fringe of the opposition, which is engaging in violence on a huge scale.
Those who downplay the importance of opposition-promoted violence, and exaggerate or fabricate the response by security forces to control the protests, serve as accomplices to the destructive activity consciously or otherwise.
A note of caution is needed in making such a statement. A journalist or political actor certainly has the right to make accusations without being accused of aiding or abetting a violent fringe. The problem, however, is two-fold.
In the first place, all analysts agree that cherry picking amounts to distortion of the facts and that the media has the obligation to present all relevant information. To do otherwise is to encourage culprits and blame the innocent.
In the second place, accusations or insinuations by the media and opposition are often made without any proof whatsoever. These statements serve to neutralise any negative reaction to opposition-promoted violence.
In modern-day vernacular, the tactic is called “damage control”.
Thus, for instance, opposition-aligned newspaper Tal Cual published an article by Sebastian Boccanegra that criticised Chavista spokespeople for alleging that the opposition was behind the assassination of Otaiza. Torres put forward that explanation on the basis of an analysis of the circumstances of Otazia's death.
Boccanegra then argued the killing was the work of delinquents without offering any evidence. Similarly online posts by the opposition completely devoid of evidence attributed Otaiza’s assassination to infighting among Chavista factions.
Similarly, the opposition’s demand for the liberation of student prisoners serves to draw attention away from the violent actions of the protesters.
On May 13, the opposition coalition Roundtable for Democractic Unity (MUD) suspended a much-anticipated “peace dialogue” meeting with the government on grounds that the government had failed to free students arrested over the protests.
The MUD's statement, as is the norm for the opposition , the lacked any acknowledgment that many of the prisoners, if not most, took part in acts of violence. Obviously, determining whether individual prisoners are guilty of unlawful activity is a matter for the courts, not the national executive.
The demand for freeing the students has become a major slogan of the opposition and street protests.
Recently, Chavista television commentator Miguel Perez Pirela called on his colleagues to use the word “terrorism” instead of the term “guarimba”, which is a local slang-word referring to a type of violent urban protest.
The list of actions carried out by protesters that qualify as terrorist is extensive. One of the most affected sectors has been public transport in Caracas. Metro stations in the eastern part of the city controlled by opposition mayors have been devastated, 90 metro buses have been damaged and 200 passengers have been injured.
On May 13, metro workers marched to the attorney general’s offices (themselves heavily damaged by opposition protesters) to demand a firm government response.
The list of terrorist actions includes: the killing of six national guards and three police officers; the total destruction of the campus of the military school UNEFA in San Cristobal; the destruction of public buildings including the housing ministry; the burning of a truck that distributes gas for the state company PDVSA-Gas Comunal in Tachira state; the destruction of vehicles of the state food chain PDVAL; and reported attacks on 162 Cuban doctors who work for the state-sponsored Mision Sucre education program. The list goes on and on.
The statements coming out of the US Congress and Obama administration condemning human rights violations fail to recognise the terrorist acts by sectors of the opposition.
It is ironic that the same government that justifies huge indiscriminate surveillance throughout the world and intervenes in many nations in the name of fighting terrorism turns a blind eye to, and ends up encouraging, terrorist activity in Venezuela.
The US State Department revoked the visa of Venezuela's National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello on the absurd grounds that he acted as a bag man on behalf of Osama bin Laden. This is a bid to discredit a Chavista who represents a hard line in the struggle against terrorism in Venezuela.
Terrorism cannot be defined as only actions carried out by an enemy. In such a case, the term loses all credibility.
[Steve Ellner teaches at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. He is the editor of Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the 21st Century.]