The violent anti-government protests that shook Venezuela in February have again thrust the issue of the pace of change into the broader debate over socialist transformation. Radical Chavistas, reflecting the zeal of the movement’s rank and file, call for a deepening of the “revolutionary process”. Moderate Chavistas favour concessions to avoid an escalation of the violence.
The Venezuelan opposition and much of the media use the term “peaceful protests” to distinguish gatherings of protesting students and other young people from the more violent actions by opponents of President Nicolas Maduro's government -- including vandalism and shootings carried out by those outside of the university community. “Peaceful protests”, however, is a loaded term that serves to plant doubts about the intentions of the Maduro-led Chavista government.
The strategy and tactics of the Venezuelan opposition is a replay of events that took place leading up to the coup against Hugo Chavez on April 11, 2002. The blatant distortions and in some cases lies of the media — CNN in Spanish playing a lead role — represent an essential element in the strategy. There are two main groups that the United States-funded right-wing opposition has mobilised. From all appearances, the two act in coordination even though their style, and even social background, differs.
Since the 1990s, many critics of the United States have accused Washington of promoting the dismemberment of nations such as Yugoslavia, in accordance with neoliberalism’s drive to weaken central governments and nation states. Today, Washington’s official policy in nations like Syria and now the Ukraine has been support for rebels seeking to overthrow the government, even though their chances of success are minimal.
The slant of Venezuela’s private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence. In the first place, it is said, government-ordered gunmen are shooting at peaceful demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces. But there is considerable evidence that shows the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:
History repeats itself. The time-worn tactic of the dominant class that controls the spread of information is to provoke violence and then blame it on the enemy, usually those who struggle for change. Nero did it when he burned down much of Rome and blamed it on the Christians. Similarly, US newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst used the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898 to create war fervour that led to war with Spain.
The illness of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has created uncertainty over the future direction of his government, and specifically its commitment to revolutionary change and socialism. Throughout the 14 years of his presidency, the key to Chavez’s political success was the constant deepening of the process of change, which invigorated the rank-and-file of his movement.
On September 28, a British Guardian reporter who interviewed me by phone published an article on the September 26 Venezuelan National Assembly elections titled “Opposition Gains Loosen Chavez’s Grip on Power.” According to the article, I said the electoral results “suggested the government should try to modify its radical discourse and accommodate the opposition, as long as it accepted the government’s legitimacy”.