- Created: Thursday, 17 April 2014 21:58
- Written by Sam Mcgill
Last summer, Venezuelan opposition leaders met with a group of international reactionaries, including the viciously right-wing former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and the director of USAID for Latin America, Mark Feierstein, to pen the following strategy:
• ‘Maintain and increase sabotages that affect public services... that will enable responsibility to be placed on the government for supposed inefficiencies and negligence’;
• ‘Emphasise social problems, provoking social discontent, increase problems with supply of basic consumer products’;
• ‘Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries’;
• ‘Extend the image of a severe crisis in Venezuela to more external media and possible countries as a means of managing international public opinion’.
(Excerpts from Strategic Plan Venezuela, June 2013)1
Following a resounding victory of 76% for socialist forces in December’s municipal elections, the stakes for Venezuela’s parasitic comprador class and its imperialist backers are high. Defeated at the ballot box and faced with an economic offensive on their ill-gotten profits, Venezuela’s beleaguered elite has resorted once again to coup tactics. SAM MCGILL reports.
Violence, price and profit
It is no coincidence that the current wave of anti-government protests, launched on 12 February, came within days of the implementation of a new law against the price speculation, currency fraud and product hoarding which has rocked the economy in recent months.2 President Maduro reports that 40% of subsidised products sold through the Mision Alimentacion nutrition programme are smuggled to neighbouring Colombia where they can be sold at 20 times the price. Inspections have begun at principal ports La Guaira and Puerto Cabello where an estimated 5,000 goods containers lie abandoned, imported only as part of a currency scam.
The anti-government protests began in San Cristobal, Tachira state, on the border with Colombia. Whilst media reports project an image of a whole country in turmoil, the protests have been restricted to the most affluent areas of six main cities where violent masked gangs have attacked transport systems, subsidised food markets, public health centres and government offices. Burning street barricades and barbed wire booby traps designed to decapitate motorcyclists have accompanied effigies of black people and Cuban doctors suspended from bridges. These are destabilisation tactics associated with the Guarimba plan advocated by Cuban exile Robert Alonso who during similar protests in 2004 stated:
‘The only objective of the Guarimba is to create anarchistic chaos on the national level with the help of all citizens and in the main cities of Venezuela, so as to force the Castro-Communist regime of Venezuela to order “Plan Avila” [a military contingency plan to enforce public order].’
This time, the Guarimba figureheads are Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado who have repeatedly called for la salida (‘the exit’) of President Maduro. Lopez is a member of the Mendoza oligarch family and heads the opposition party Voluntad Popular. As Mayor of Chacao, he played a leading role in the failed 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. Maria Corina Machado is an opposition National Assembly member who also supported the coup, as well as signing the Strategic Venezuelan Plan detailed above. On 18 February, dressed in white and clutching flowers, Lopez choreographed a media stunt, turning himself in to face charges of arson and conspiracy. He remains in custody using twitter and his website to continue to foment dissent.
The protesting students are pawns in a lethal game which has resulted in over 30 deaths among opposition activists, chavistas, bystanders and security forces alike. Despite the international media’s portrayal of the protests as peaceful, a comprehensive list published by Venezuela Analysis3 highlights that it is the opposition’s street barricades ‘which have claimed at least 17 lives including people shot while trying to clear away debris, “accidents” caused by barricades and street traps, and patients prevented from reaching hospital’. Some deaths may have been orchestrated to further escalate violence and apportion blame. Genesis Carmona, a student and former beauty queen, died from a gunshot wound on 18 February during an opposition march in Valencia, a photogenic tragedy that even made the pages of Britain’s Daily Mirror. Omitted from press coverage were the ballistic investigations showing she was shot in the back from within the ranks of the protest. No equivalent coverage was given to the community activist Gisella Rubilar, a chavista mother of three shot dead by an opposition protester as she attempted to clear away a barricade in Merida.
Media manipulation and hollow hypocrisy
By 7 March, 1,603 people had been arrested in connection with the unrest, the majority released without charge or on bail. 92 remain in custody charged with crimes including homicide. 21 members of the security forces have been arrested for alleged abuses and excess use of force. President Maduro has demanded that the National Guard (GNB) show restraint, emphasising that the right to peaceful protest is guaranteed but violence will not be tolerated. Those who breach their orders have been arrested and investigated. Thousands turned out to show their support for ‘peace and life and GNB soldiers’ at a civic-military procession on 17 March. Yet bourgeois national news outlets such as La Patilla and El Nacional continue to deliberately circulate pictures of security forces brutally attacking protesters in countries such as Chile and Egypt, falsely passing them off as portraying current events in Venezuela. Chavista ‘colectivos’, grassroots community organisations which physically defend their communities against counter-revolutionaries, are inevitably presented as violent thugs on motorcycles.
The capitalist media, both domestic and international, has played a crucial role in presenting a completely distorted picture of what is happening in Venezuela. It directly represents the interests of the very same class desperately defending its privilege based on fraud and speculation. Opposition demands for free speech ring rather hollow when, only 4.58% of television and radio channels are controlled by the state, while 80% of the media is privately-owned, mainly by those opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution. For example, the major news outlet Ultimas Noticias is owned by the family of opposition leader Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez’s father is on the editorial board of the right-wing El Nacional newspaper.
Opposition leaders and groomed student activists work hand-in-hand with the bourgeois media, supported by the interests of international finance capital. The European Commission channels around €7m annually to opposition groups; nearly $15m of US funding has been directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks.4 Student leaders have been sent to the US for training in the use of internet activism and media networking. This is the essence of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ‘21st-century statecraft’ – the use of social media to achieve regime change. It is notable that unlike other student protests across Latin America, none of the demands relates to education. In fact under the Bolivarian Revolution, education is free and university attendance has tripled. The majority of students taking part in the anti-government protest are privileged white youth from Venezuela’s elite privately-run universities.
The opposition says it is protesting against ‘scarcity, inflation and insecurity’; this is rank hypocrisy in the face of initiatives taken by the Bolivarian Revolution in recent months. Whilst the opposition have boycotted peace talk initiatives, preferring to torch food trucks and subsidised popular food markets, in February Maduro approved nearly two million dollars for the import of meat, milk and other basic food stuffs. Millions of dollars have also been spent financing projects to help former gang members off the streets. As economist Mark Weisbrot argues, ‘the economic situation is actually stabilising – monthly inflation fell in February, and the black-market dollar has fallen sharply on the news that the government is introducing a new, market-based exchange rate. Venezuela’s sovereign bonds returned 11.5% from 11 February to 13 March, the highest returns in the Bloomberg dollar emerging market bond index.’5
This commitment to tackling the real issues faced by Venezuela, propelled by grassroots pressure, is the backbone of the continued popular support for Maduro’s government. Popular forces, including oil workers, students and women’s organisations are taking a stand in in defending the concrete gains of the working class under the Bolivarian Revolution that has slashed levels of extreme poverty, provided free universal health care and education, built hundreds of thousands of houses, developed thousands of social projects and is building a real transformative democracy through socialist communal councils and comunas.
Latin American countries back Venezuela
Venezuela has some of the world’s largest oil reserves, with over 800,000 barrels exported to the US on a daily basis. As the capitalist crisis bites, the US is ever more desperate to regain political control over its backyard and guarantee its energy needs. Sections of the ruling class are demanding ‘targeted sanctions’. At the behest of the US, Panama convened an emergency meeting of the Organisation of American States with the aim of achieving regional backing for foreign intervention in Venezuela.
Despite these attempts, in March 29 OAS states supported a declaration expressing ‘solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela’ and respect for ‘the principle of non-intervention’. Only the US, Canada and Panama voted against. Panama contains the Colon Free Trade Zone which operates the Panama Canal and functions as a huge port for the Americas. In 2012, Venezuela imported around $1.7bn of goods from Panama, predominantly through the private sector. Panama has long been a popular destination for currency scams and a safe haven for rich Venezuelan exiles.
In contrast to the US and its Panamanian lackey, Latin America has emerged more united than ever to back the Bolivarian Revolution. Regional initiatives including UNASUR, MERCOSUR and ALBA have denounced the violent coup tactics, restating their opposition to foreign intervention and respect for Bolivarian democracy. Other radical students in Latin America have distanced themselves from the Venezuelan protests. For example, the Chilean Federation of University Students, which fought against the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and played a key role in Chile’s recent protests, stated: ‘We reject any attempt at destabilisation, hoarding of food and coup-mongering that aims to bypass the sovereign decisions of the people of Venezuela…Similarly, we don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that have taken the side of the defence of the old order’.
Despite throwing money at opposition groups, orchestrating a media war and pulling strings in regional networks, US and European imperialism is once again failing to achieve ‘regime change’ in Venezuela.
5. ‘The truth about Venezuela: a revolt of the well-off, not a “terror campaign”’, Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian 20 March 2014
Reports from the frontline:
speaking tour by Venezuelan revolutionary
Throughout April and May the Revolutionary Communist Group and supporters of the FRFI are holding a series of public meetings with the Venezuelan revolutionary Rafael Ramos. Rafael is a representative of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s youth wing (JPSUV) and was interviewed in our documentary, Viva Venezuela: fighting for socialism. Rafael, a community artist and student activist, will give an eyewitness accounts of Venezuela’s struggle against imperialism and popular resistance to the recent coup attempt in his country.
Sunday 6 April, 2-4pm
Kinning Park Complex, 43 Cornwall Street, G41 1BA
Newcastle upon Tyne
Wednesday 16 April 7pm
St John the Baptist Church Hall, Grainger street, NE1 5JG
Saturday 3 May 3pm
The Casa, 29 Hope Street,
Saturday 31 May 2pm
Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way, W1T 5DL (Warren Street tube)
Wednesday 7 May, 7.30pm
Upstairs at The Town Hall Tavern, Tib Lane, M2 4JA
Saturday 24 May 2pm
Cross Street Chapel, Cross Street, M2 1NL
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014