Government feels the heat and the impact from student demonstrations

June 6, 2007

Well, the Chavez administration must be feeling the heat by now, given the performance of the Deputies of the National Assembly today. The students have by now moved their fight beyond freedom of speech and RCTV to turn it into a discussion of all civilian rights for all Venezuelans and without discrimination. And the message seems to be getting across as the members of the National Assembly held a press conference which was diametrically the opposite of what the Chavista Deputies said last week about the student demonstrators.

As they invited the students to go to the Parliament on Thursday, the Deputies praised them for their ideas and proposals, saying their movement was authentic and will contribute to the discussions. They said they would of course invite them, as this is what they do regularly with Venezuelans from all walks of life (Did they hear anyone on the RCTV shutdown?). It was all niceties, filled with phrases like “Venezuela for all”, “these bright kids”, “authentic” and the like. And most of the words were spoken by none other than Cilia Flores, the wife of the Foreign Minister, who was one of the members of the Cabinet that blasted the students the most last week, calling them preppies, arrogant and manipulated.

Clearly, polls must be telling the Government something that they have changed so much in so little time. Lost in the intensity of the student demonstrations was the fact that at the University of Los Andes, the movement led by Nixon Moreno, the same man that is currently requesting asylum at the Vatican’s Embassy, beat the Chavista group by more than a three to one margin.

The students are definitely mad at the politicians. In press conferences today, they reiterated that they are owed an apology by both the National Assembly members and other members of the Government. They also began talking about the fact that the Chavez Government has placed social rights above civil rights, but has delivered little on social rights, while forgetting the importance of civil rights. Thus, they said discrimination is rampant on the part of the Government and the way they have been treated has shown that. They said they want this to stop and will march and demonstrate until it is stopped.

The Government is looking for a way to neutralize the protest. Initially they tried repressive action, but it backfired as the children of revolutionary officials are part of the protests and Venezuelan police has always been quite abusive of demonstrators so that given them a free rein to control the crowds led to excesses and repressive actions that have affected the image of the Government in Venezuela. A second strategy has been to delay permits, but while this worked well on Friday, did not work on Monday and there may already be problems with tomorrow’s “Universities”march. After not allowing that march today, now the Mayor of the Libertador district is saying he has received no request for tomorrow’s march.

For the Government the problem is critical, after Chavez sailing for the last six months with his whims and wishes, Enabling Bill, nationalizations, secret discussion of Constitutional reform and the like, the student movement represents a significant stumbling block on his path and is suddenly very well organized. The path to indefinite reelection and other reforms of the Constitution, the fight for control of the Universities and even changing laws under the Enabling Bill, will now become a difficult battle for the autocrat.

Even worse, any misstep along the way, like excessive force on demonstrators or a move against a media outlet, could increase international pressures, which while irrelevant at the end of the day for the outcome of the confrontation, seem to matter quite a bit to the Government and thus would like to avoid them.

For now, the students are ready to take things one day at a time, as the Government feels thei heat and the impact of their demonstrations.

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