Steve Ellner

Venezuela is again grabbing headlines in the media, amid allegations of lack of democracy and exaggerated accounts of nonetheless very real economic problems.

Much commentary puts the problems facing the country down to the alleged “failed populism” of Venezuela’s pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution. Last month, the New York Times even compared Donald Trump to Venezuela’s late socialist president Hugo Chavez in an article titled “What Hugo Chavez can teach us about Donald Trump”.

“Oil didn’t wreck Venezuela’s economy, socialism did.” That’s what Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, of the Washington-based conservative think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote earlier this year in his reflection on Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis.

Gobry, a prolific writer for Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, criticised Venezuelan analysts who scapegoat oil, even though he recognised that declining oil prices have aggravated the nation’s difficulties.

“The culprit is clear and obvious,” Golbry contends. “The problem is Venezuela's authoritarian socialism.”


Protest against Guarimba, Caracas, January 21. Photo: Cory Fischer-Hoffman.

Leftists in Venezuela have put forward several explanations for the pressing economic difficulties and growing discontent that have beset the nation recently. These difficulties raise the possibility of an opposition takeover of the National Assembly in this year’s elections.

It is a point of honour for the Venezuelan government that despite the sharp plunge in oil prices and acute shortages of goods, President Nicolas Maduro has ruled out austerity measures.

In a recent TV interview with former vice president Jose Vicente Rangel, Venezuelan Central Bank president Nelson Merentes explained why, saying: “Do you remember what happened on February 27, 1989?”

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.

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:

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