What You Should Know About the Ukraine-Style Anti-Government Protests in Venezuela

The Venezuelan autocrats of the past are now masquerading as democratswith the aim of just getting all their old privileges backThe US-supported opposition in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is taking its cue from the anti-government protests taking place across the Atlantic Ocean in Ukraine. Failing to win any of Venezuela’s elections by earning a popular mandate from the majority of the population in the last few years, the leaders of the mainstream opposition are now resorting to colour revolution tactics and a Ukraine-style disruption strategy. The aim of these opposition leaders in Venezuela is to manipulate the galvanized anti-government protesters into creating a political crisis in Caracas. Mainstream opposition leaders are doing this by instigating the protesters into taking steps that are geared at toppling the Venezuelan government.

The same opposition leaders and their foreign supporters are using the cover of the undeniable misgivings about rising crime rates, political corruption, and economic turmoil in Venezuela as a disguise for what is essentially looking like an attempted coup. The socio-economic misgivings of a segment of the population are being used as a pretext to legitimize street action and violence aimed at toppling the government

It is ironic that many of those opposing the Venezuelan government in the name of democracy, equality, and security were once supporters of autocratic and openly corrupt governments before the Chavez era. Memory loss or outright hypocrisy is at play. When the same oligarch’s that form and finance the Venezuelan opposition that is supporting and instigating the current anti-government protests were in charge of Venezuela, corruption was widespread, poverty rates were much higher, inequality was greater, and there was much higher inflation. Nor was Venezuela even a functioning democracy.

Despite the Venezuelan governing party’s democratic mandate, which includes winning most the municipal seats during the country’s December 2013 elections, the US-supported Venezuelan opposition wants to use flash mobs to oust the government and to take over the country. Of the 337 mayors elected in December 2013, the final vote counts awarded 256 mayor positions to the ruling party and its coalition of pro-government forces. This amounted to a win of seventy-six percent of the mayoralties in the South American country’s municipal elections, which confirms that the majority of the population supports the current Venezuelan governing party and its political allies.

Despite their short comings, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela and its political allies have one of the most democratic mandates in the world. In relative terms of fair voting, the government in Caracas has much more democratic legitimacy than the governments in countries like Britain, Canada, France, and the United States, which portray themselves as champions and models of democracy. The governing United Socialist Party and its coalitions, including the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) coalition, have gone to the poles more times and for more issues than any of the current governments in Britain, Canada, France, or the US. On any occasion where constitutional issues or major issues involving Venezuela’s political structures were being contemplated, the government and governing party let the Venezuelan voters make the decisions through popular referendums.

From 1999, the period that the Chavez era started in Venezuela, until 2014 there has been six referendums dealing with the country’s national constitution, union structures, and even an opposition motion to have President Hugo Chavez removed from office through an electoral recall at the polls. Four presidential elections, four parliamentary elections for the National Assembly, and four regional-level elections for state governors and legislatures have all taken place too. Nicolas Maduro’s election as president in April 2013, just a few months after Hugo Chavez had won the presidential elections in October 2012, reconfirmed the support and confidence that over half of the population had for the government. Moreover, not only has there been four municipal-level elections, but municipal leaders began to be democratically selected by election ballots instead of being appointed; it was the leaders of the US-supported opposition that preferred to appoint municipal leaders outside of electoral mechanisms instead of letting the people decide themselves through voting.

The Mainstream Venezuelan Opposition is Anti-Democratic

What the US-supported opposition has been trying to do is to take over Venezuela outside of electoral mechanisms. It does not care about democracy or what the majority of Venezuelan citizens want. Where the mainstream opposition leaders have failed to get popular support or to win via the ballot box, they have used trickery and every option available to them for taking over the South American country. This includes the use of force, instigation of violence, attempted coups, intense propaganda campaigns, continuous collusion with the US government, and deliberate price hikes.

The leaders of the 2014 anti-government protests are the same Venezuelan mainstream opposition leaders that supported and collaborated in the 2002 coup, executed by a small circle of military officers, that was coordinated with the US Embassy in Caracas and US Ambassador Charles Shapiro. Although the USA falsely claims any involvement, Ambassador Shapiro would quickly run to meet the coup leaders and even joyously take photographs with them after they had their soldiers kidnap President Chavez. Through access to US federal government documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been indisputably proven that the CIA was even given the coup’s conspiracy plans five days before the Venezuelan opposition launched their illegal and short-lived takeover of Venezuela.

The leaders of the mainstream opposition have continued to lie shamelessly since that day. Paradoxically, they have also been major benefactors of many of the democratic mechanisms of political and legal recourse that Hugo Chavez created for Venezuela as a means of increasing democratic participation and the channels of empowering people and any form of democratic opposition against the government.  Mainstream opposition leaders used one of these avenues of recourse against the government in 2004 by petitioning for the removal of President Chavez, which resulted in a national referendum. The mainstream opposition leadership, however, refused to recognize the electoral results of the very same 2004 referendum that it had initiated to remove Chavez through an electoral recall by voters, just because the results were not what it wanted.

During the same 2004 referendum, the mainstream opposition leaders even tried to manipulate the Venezuelan voters and create a political crisis through a doctored recording intended to discredit the government by alleging fraud by Chavez. Their argument was fallacious, because the recording was a parody that was being circulated for months before the election. The opposition leadership merely decided to use it as an excuse to allege fraud and to delegitimize the whole referendum and the Venezuelan government.

Members of the same opposition later boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2005 after they had created an electoral crisis prior to the voting. Originally, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela wanted to use fingerprint scanners to securely register voters, but the Venezuelan opposition refused to participate if this took place. One of the reasons for the move to use fingerprint scanners was to reduce fraud or attempted fraud during elections. After the National Electoral Council backed down on its decision to install fingerprint scanners, the main opposition parties still boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections and nevertheless tried to delegitimize the Venezuelan government.

These same opposition leaders have tried to utilize technicalities, in attempts to manipulate the law, to also take over and divide the government and its allies. When President Chavez got sick and then eventually died, the mainstream opposition forces tried to use constitutional pretexts under Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution to push National Assembly President/Speaker Diosdado Cabello to assume the interim presidency, hoping it would create a rift between him and Vice-President Maduro that would divide and ultimately weaken the Chavistas and the United Socialist Party.

After Nicolas Maduro won the April 2014 presidential elections, Maduro’s opposition rival from the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD), Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, refused to even recognize the electoral results and unceremoniously declared fraud. With the initial support of the US government, Governor Capriles refused to accept the results even after an audit of more than half the votes was conducted through his insistence. Capriles then demanded that all the votes be recounted, which was accepted by the National Electoral Council. Capriles, however, made additional demands including a call for the full audit of the voter registry and essentially a retracing of all the votes cast (not merely a vote count). Even when the National Electoral Council with great hardship tried to meet his increasing demands and did verify that Maduro won the election fairly, Governor Capriles refused to admit defeat and said that the election was a hoax. Even the US government was forced to back down from supporting him.

After his defeat Governor Capriles instead instigated his followers into igniting violence in the streets. US-based organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) totally ignored the role that Capriles and the opposition played in igniting the violence, instead taking the opportunity to criticize the Venezuelan government. HRW actually had this to say about the street violence that MUD leaders had started:  “Under the leadership of President Chavez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics.” Not once were the violent actions taken by the mainstream opposition or the corruption of their leaders in the states or municipalities that they administer ever mentioned by HRW.

Governor Capriles and the leaders of the mainstream Venezuelan opposition have deliberately been trying to instigate violence and a loss of human life as a tactic to delegitimize the Venezuelan government and to justify the mainstream opposition’s strategy to work outside of any democratic framework. It cannot be emphasized enough that their aims are to increase political chaos and to disrupt Venezuela’s political stability with the goal of creating a vacuum to justify acting outside of the democratic framework of elections.

The objectives of the Venezuelan oligarchs controlling the mainstream opposition are not to establish a just society or to weed out corruption and crime in Venezuela. Their objectives are to reassert and entrench their privileged positions in Venezuelan society and to undo the reforms that Hugo Chavez enacted to help the poor in Venezuela.  They want the law to cater to their needs and to merely serve as a tool of enforcing their dominance. Through the major private corporations that they own they have been increasing prices. Moreover, in many cases organized crime is tied to Latin America’s oligarchs themselves.

When asked about Chavez’s legacy, many of the supporters of the mainstream opposition parties will admit that Chavez helped the poor, but emphasize that Chavez “did nothing for the country (Venezuela).” In what has the possibility of being cataloged in the psychological research on class, privilege, and perceptions of entitlement by Paul Piff of the University of California in Berkeley, this attitude exposes the psychology of entitlement that is the motivation for the mainstream Venezuelan opposition: many of these individuals (who are clearly “individuals” in the sense of being individualistic) see themselves as “the country” and exclude the Venezuelan poor from being part of the country. Thus, bridging the gap between poor and rich or improving the quality of life for the underclass citizens of Venezuela means nothing to these supporters of the mainstream opposition and does not even psychologically register as doing anything worthy to improve Venezuelan society. Only service to them and their interests can be categorized as legitimate and noteworthy.

Students Are People, They Should Not be Romanticized

The imagery of student activists has been a key characteristic of the anti-government protests in Caracas. It is worth quoting the February 14, 2014 statement of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) about the opposition protests in Venezuela. The COHA declared that it viewed “with great alarm the violence perpetrated against the democratically elected government and civilians in Venezuela that has resulted, as of February 12, 2014, in three confirmed deaths, 61 persons wounded and 69 detained.” The COHA also noted in the same statement that the bloodshed in Caracas came “on the heels of generally peaceful marches held on the 200th anniversary of the battle of La Victoria, a battle in which students played a critical role in a victory against royalist forces during Venezuela’s war of independence.”

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