Greens Senator backs right-wing attack on Venezuela, again

Anti-government protesters build a barricade of burning tyres in Caracas.
Saturday, August 26, 2017

In an August 9 speech to parliament, Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson once again backed the right-wing campaign against Venezuela’s democracy and national sovereignty.

His statements follow a June 21 speech to the Senate, where he spoke out against what he claimed was an “increasingly anti-democratic and corrupted government under President Nicolas Maduro”, while praising the “democratic and peaceful” protests led by Venezuela’s right-wing opposition.

Since then, it appears Whish-Wilson has changed his tune on the opposition.

Opposition violence

Despite the media’s best attempt to hide the real nature of the opposition, there is no way anyone following events in Venezuela could ignore their violent actions.

These actions have included: publicly lynching and setting alight government supporters; assassinating candidates, trade unionists and community activists; burning government buildings and public buses; dropping grenades on the Supreme Court from a stolen police helicopter; and attacking military bases, maternity wards and childcare centres.

All of this has occurred without a single public denunciation of such acts from opposition leaders, who instead have encouraged these actions as part of their latest attempt, in an almost two-decades-long campaign, to overthrow Venezuela’s progressive government.

This time around, Whish-Wilson held back on his praise for the opposition and instead called “on all sides, both government and opposition, to deplore violence and stand up against human rights abuses”.

However, Whish-Wilson continued to decry a supposed undermining of democracy in Venezuela, this time centring his criticism on the newly-elected National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

Maduro proposed the ANC as a way to find a peaceful and democratic solution to months of political violence that kicked off in early April. In response, more than 8 million Venezuelans accepted this call and voted on July 30 to elect representatives to the ANC.

The ANC is enshrined in Venezuela’s constitution, which was rewritten in 1999 by a previous constituent assembly and approved in a referendum under Maduro’s predecessor, the late socialist president Hugo Chavez.

Maduro has explained that unlike the previous assembly, the primary task of this ANC will be to discuss proposals to reform the constitution and deal with the immediate problems facing the country.

The ANC has come under fire from some quarters, as Whish-Wilson noted when he said “governments from around the world, including Venezuela's Latin American neighbours and the European Union” have condemned the constituent assembly. 

However, Whish-Wilson is not being completely honest.

International campaign

He failed to point out that a majority of countries internationally have not taken this position. Moreover, most Latin American and Caribbean governments have consistently sided with Venezuela inside the Organization of American States to block attacks on Venezuela and the ANC.

He also failed to mention that those neighbouring countries that have expressed opposition to the ANC are overwhelming led by right-wing parties. These same parties have steadfastly opposed the Venezuelan government since Chavez was first elected, because it represents a challenge to their own neoliberal orthodoxy and US control in the region.

On the other hand, most of the region’s left-wing governments, progressive parties and social movements have expressed their support for Venezuela.

Perhaps as a further attempt to obscure this uncomfortable reality that sees him siding with rightist forces against the left, Whish-Wilson made no mention of arguably the most vocal opponent of the ANC, the US administration, which has declared Venezuela to be a threat to its own national security, and applied economic sanctions on Venezuela in response to the convening of the ANC.

Only days after Whish-Wilson’s speech, President Donald Trump said he would not rule out “military options” for dealing with Venezuela.

Clearly, there is an international right-wing campaign, involving sanctions and threats of war, that seeks to interfere in Venezeula’s internal politics and unseat a democratically elected government. Rather than oppose this, Whish-Wilson has jumped on board this rightist campaign.

Inaccuracies

Whish-Wilson also repeated a number of inaccuracies or distortions regularly recycled by these rightist forces and the corporate media about the ANC. He warned that the ANC “is entirely made up of ruling party loyalists” but failed to mention that the opposition boycotted the elections.

This is not the first time the opposition has boycotted an election. After boycotting the 2005 National Assembly elections, Chavez supporters obtained complete control of parliament for the next five years. Despite fears to the contrary, Venezuela’s democracy continued to function without problems.

Whish-Wilson claimed “it’s impossible to ascertain the truth regarding the voter turnout”. But independent observers from the Council of Electoral Experts in Latin America, who were present for the vote, have verified the results announced by the National Electoral Court (CNE) — a body repeatedly lauded as one of the best in the world.

Perhaps the best indication of the trustworthiness of the CNE is the fact that most opposition parties have now reversed their boycott position regarding the upcoming October regional elections for state governors and have registered candidates with this very same CNE.

Whish-Wilson claimed the ANC is unconstitutional, yet Article 348 of the constitution is clear: “The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly, by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.”

Clearly in this case, the initiative has emanated from Maduro and his cabinet.

Whish-Wilson tried to muddy the waters by talking about the need to hold a plebiscite and noting that Chavez “held a plebiscite on changing the country's constitution”. But he did not mention that Maduro has already said that any proposed constitutional changes will have to go to a referendum, as per the current constitution. 

The ANC ratified this position in a unanimous vote on August 24.

ANC powers

Whish-Wilson claimed the ANC has “the power to stop the [opposition-controlled] National Assembly” from operating. However, again this is not quite true.

The ANC has plenipotentiary powers — meaning its authority stands above all other state bodies — and the constitution states: “the existing constituted authorities shall not be permitted to obstruct the Constituent Assembly in any way”.

But far from dissolving the National Assembly, the ANC has, as per the constitution, assumed the right to legislate on issues directly relating to the re-establishment of peace in the country and resolving the economic crisis — critical problems that must be resolved if the ANC is to be able to function normally.

At the same time, the ANC has invited the National Assembly to select representatives to a joint commission to work on establishing a harmonious relationship between the two bodies.

Contrary to Whish-Wilson’s claims that Venezuela has “taken further steps away from democracy and towards chaos”, the past few weeks has seen:

  • political violence subside — there have been no deaths during street protests since July 30;
  • millions have come out to vote in a constitutionally-backed process to establish a constituent assembly as a democratic alternative to months of political violence;
  • parties from all political stripes have registered candidates for regional elections to be held in October;
  • presidential elections have been reconfirmed for next year; and
  • attempts have been made to establish dialogue as part of ensuring peace and stability in the country.

These steps towards peace and dialogue should be supported by progressives. The best way we can do this is by opposing right-wing attempts to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs and undermine its national sovereignty — not promote them as Whish-Wilson is doing.

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