Venezuela: Violence caused by opposition, not government

Friday, February 21, 2014
Opposition protesters in Merida, February 19.

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:

1. Violent actions have been carried out by the opposition since the time of the 2002 coup. The guarimba, which means urban violence (or “foquismo”) was publicly advocated by opposition leaders in 2003-2004 as the only way to prevent the establishment of a “dictatorial regime” in Venezuela.

2. On April 11, 2002, the day late president Hugo Chavez was overthrown, the Venezuelan and international media, and the White House, used juxtaposed images of Chavistas shooting pistols in downtown Caracas, on the one hand, and peaceful anti-government demonstrators, on the other to justify the coup.

However, the Irish-produced documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and other documentaries demonstrated by the flow of the camera that the demonstrators were far away from the Chavistas and they were shooting in response to sniper fire against them.

If snipers were responsible for the 15-20 killings (of both Chavistas and opposition demonstrators) that justified the 2002 coup, is there any reason to doubt that the unidentified individuals who are attacking demonstrators are acting on behalf of sectors of the opposition?

3. The violence that has rocked Venezuela during the past two weeks has targeted public buildings, such as the headquarters of the attorney-general, the public television Channel 8, the state-owned Banco de Venezuela, the house of the Chavista governor of Tachira, trucks of the state grocery store chain PDVAL, and dozens of metro buses in Caracas.

4. None of the opposition leaders have explicitly condemned the opposition-promoted violence. Opposition mayors in Caracas and elsewhere have refrained from using their police force to contain the violence.

5. The so-called “peaceful” demonstrators engage in disruptions by closing key avenues in a bid to paralyse transportation. Where I live, on the main drag between the twin cities of Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, the demonstrators occupy two of the three lanes on both sides, causing traffic to back up for miles. A number of tragedies have been reported of people in an emergency unable to make it to a hospital or clinic on time.

6. The term “salida”, which has become a main slogan of the protesters, implies regime change. The opposition is not calling for a constitutional solution, in which Maduro resigns and is replaced by the president of the National Assembly (and leading Chavista) Diosdado Cabello, as the constitution stipulates. Regime change is a radical slogan that implies radical tactics.

7. Political scientist and Venezuelan specialist David Smilde of the University of Georgia, who is not pro-Chavista but rather evenhanded in his analyses, points out the Venezuelan government has nothing to gain by the violence.

8. The government has nothing to gain by the violence because the media is largely on the side of the opposition and present a picture of the violence that directly and indirectly blames the government. Consider the following front page article ijn the February 20 El Universal titled “Capital City Suffers Night Violence”, one of Venezuela’s major newspapers: “Last night, the National Guard and National Police attacked almost simultaneously different demonstrations that were taking place in distinct areas of the capital city.

“In the confrontations there was gunshot [and] tear gas while people banged on pots and pans from their windows (opposing the government).”

9. The Venezuelan government has shown great restraint in the context of opposition-promoted violence and disruption. In nearly any other country in the world, the disruption of traffic in major cities throughout the country would have resulted in mass arrests.

10. Governments, particularly undemocratic ones, which lack active popular support and completely control the media use repression against dissidents. This is not the case in Venezuela. None of the non-state channels and newspapers (that the vast majority of Venezuelans get their news from) supports the government and most of them are ardently anti-government.

Furthermore, unlike governments that use massive repression (such as Egypt under Mubarak), the Chavista government and movement has a greater mobilisation capacity, particularly among the popular sectors of the population, than the opposition. As Smilde says, the use of violence by the government makes absolutely no sense.

[Professor Steve Ellner has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, since 1977. He is the author of many books on Venezuelan politics.]

From GLW issue 998