Venezuela: OAS defies US to send gov't solidarity, Maduro calls for fresh dialogue amid new violence

March 10, 2014
A barricade on a Merida street, February 24. Photo by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuela Analysis.

The Organization of American States (OAS) approved a statement on March 7 expressing solidarity and support for the Venezuelan government in light of recent events.

After two full days of heated debate at its summit, 29 states of the OAS voted in favor of a declaration lamenting the victims of protest-related violence in Venezuela, detailing the need for ongoing dialogue, and decidedly rejecting any intervention into, or sanctions against, Venezuela’s democratically elected government.

Only Panama, the United States and Canada voted against the statement. Both Panama and the US accused the OAS of bias. They said diplomatic intervention was an imperative step for protecting human rights and democracy in the region.

US vice-president Joe Biden made his stark difference of opinion known upon his arrival in Chile on March 10, where he will attend the inauguration of president-elect Michelle Bachelet.

“The situation in Venezuela reminds me of the past, when strongmen ruled through violence and oppression, and human rights, hyperinflation, shortages and extreme poverty caused havoc on the peoples of the hemisphere,” Biden said in an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.

“[Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro] should listen to the Venezuelan people, and look at the example of those leaders who resisted oppression in the Americas, or risk repeating the injustices against which they fought so bravely.”

Biden did not specify what exemplary leaders resisted oppression — or whose oppression they resisted.

Maduro described Biden’s remarks as revenge for the OAS’s decision to stand by the Venezuelan government in the face of opposition protests and violence.

“Why did Biden attack Venezuela upon his arrival in Chile?” Maduro asked. “It’s because they know they were defeated in the OAS.”

Maduro, in turn, praised the OAS declaration as an important show of support for Venezuelan democracy.

In Venezuela, Maduro has reiterated his request to the Venezuelan opposition to join peace talks. In recent days, another government supporter was killed in opposition barricade-related violence.

“I want to invite the MUD [opposition Roundtable of Democratic Unity coalition] to join the peace conference … the whole country has entered the peace conference with the exception of some sectors of the opposition,” he said on March 9.

Addressing supporters at a march of commune activists in Caracas, the Venezuelan president also called on opposition student groups to dialogue with the government. The communes are part of Venezuela’s attempt to create participatory democracy, based on elected representatives from the neighbourhood-based communal councils.

“They [opposition students] haven’t responded although I’ve invited them five times [to talks],” Maduro explained.

Maduro said: “Let’s listen to each other talk, say all you have to say. I’ll also say my truths and I’ll say them with kindness.”

However key opposition figures rejected the calls for dialogue and advocated further protests and street action.

Far right leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently in custody facing charges for inciting violence, tweeted to followers on March 9: “We ratify our objective: Nicolas Maduro’s exit as quickly as possible in the framework of the constitution. He’s a disaster, an assassin, and illegitimate.”

In another tweet, Lopez said: “The exit will only happen with an organised people in the street making the dictatorship retreat.”

Meanwhile, failed opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles wrote on March 9 that the opposition should pursue “more street activity” but “without violence”.

For the past month, Venezuela has experienced often-violent street protests after Lopez called his supporters onto the street to seek Maduro’s “exit”.

While some protests are peaceful and make demands over high crime rates and economic problems, a radical wing of the opposition has engaged in a violent strategy of riots and street barricades to try to force out the government’s resignation.

Twenty-three people have died in the violence, and more than 300 people have been wounded.

Thirteen deaths were caused directly related to street barricades. Some deaths occurred when civilians drove into street traps and barricades. Others took place when civilians or security forces were shot by assassins while trying to clear barricades from the road.

Four of the 23 deaths were allegedly related to the actions of state security forces. In the other five cases, the deaths were either accidents or the perpetrator is unclear.

Venezuela’s ombudsman is investigating 44 denouncements of abuses by state security forces related to mistreatment or excess use of force.

“We’re going to investigate any disproportionate use of force,” said Ombudsman Gabriela Ramirez on March 7. “We reject it and we want justice to be proportionately applied, I want this to be very clear.”

The latest violent death occurred in the Andean city of Merida on March 8. Student and pro-government activist Gisela Rubilar was shot by assassins while she tried to clear a barricade blocking access to her community.

Merida state governor Alexis Ramirez, a member of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said that Rubilar was “vilely murdered” as a result of “this situation of extreme right-wing groups, terrorist bands that are causing chaos and destabilisation”.

Ramirez said the scientific investigation police (CICPC) are investigating the murder. He promised that “those guilty will be punished”.

Other violence in recent days by radical opposition activists included the burning of an athletics track in the eastern city of Ciudad Bolivar and burning and trashing of a ticket booth of the Caracas metro bus during a protest in the Altamira area.

In Merida public transport was cancelled on March 10 after a group of opposition street barricaders stole two buses, and reportedly threatened to burn them if transport services continued.

[Compiled from Venezuela Analysis.]

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