Archive for February 14th, 2014

Venezuelan Protest and Violence As Seen From Afar

February 14, 2014


When you are not in situ, it is not easy to report on events like those that have been taking place in Venezuela. Even if your read every thing, there is no substitute for being there.  On the ground, watching TV, talking to people and getting a feel for what is going on. That is why I yielded to Daniel yesterday, I could do no better than him.

But as a blog concerned with Venezuela, how can I not write about the events of the last two days if that is all I am thinking about?

So, here is my take:

Venezuelans are fed up. The shortages, crime and inflation are taking their toll. People are arrechos, which in English has a very straight translation: People are really pissed.

While you or I may not agree on a strategy of protests, I believe Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, in the knowledge that people were about to start protesting, decided to get ahead of the protests and start calling people to go out and protest in the name of #LaSalida. Somehow, when the protest began, they would be the receptors of the frustration that most Venezuelans have when they line up for purchasing basic staples, almost every day.

The students, the young frustrated people of Venezuela, were going to protest on February 12th. anyway, the day when Venezuelans celebrate La Batalla de La Victoria, a battle won by Jose Felix Rivas who was accompanied by students, regular ones and those from the seminary. They stopped the royalists led by Boves, thus February 12th celebrates the victory of youth at that battle.

And they went to the Prosectors office, where they met with not only resistance from police, but with violent groups belonging to either the so called “collectivos” or to the “Sebin” intelligence police. There are videos of Police and Sebin (intelligence police)  officers shooting real bullets against the protesters.

But even before violence erupted, the Government was already threatening the media, saying that they could be shut down for showing protests. Most of the media applied self-restraint and it was difficult to determine exactly what was going on.

By the time February 12th. came around, there were few media outlets covering the events, and one, Colombia’s NTN24, was not only blocked from the Internet after covering events live all day. But NTN24 was removed from the programming of all cable TV stations, simply disappearing from the scene, while protests were taking place. Maduro called this a “decision of State”

I call it stupid censorship…

And while there is evidence in video and picture form, that both SEBIN officers and “colectivos” shot at the student protesters, the Government issues and arrest warrant against Leopoldo Lopez and a Chavista Deputy calls for removing parliamentary from Deputy Machado, in order to be able to investigate her and prosecute her. But remarkably, after this diffuse charges against the “leaders” of the protests, there is no call to investigate or prosecute those that were taped and seen shooting and killing at the protesters. (The arrest warrant against Lopez has yet to be executed)

Which is quite revealing, no?

Moving towards today, it is clear that there will be no investigation of what happened. According to the Maduro Government (?) it is all a conspiracy to overthrow him, as if a bunch of students with stones and guts can actually expect to fight with the organized criminal system Chavismo has established.

Going forward things could get complicated. The students are unlikely to leave the streets now that there have been deaths and the way the Government has reacted. Maduro and his cronies like the confrontational style and are unlikely to back down from their stance. If each sides pushes forward, things could get violent and tricky very fast. Many students are still in jail.

The events are also affecting the dynamics of politics within both the Government and the opposition. Within the Government, because the colectivos remain a problem for the military and they have played a significant role in igniting the protests. And despite Maduro’s ban on protests, they continued on Thursday despite the streets being full of National Guardsman and their anti-riot equipment. Clearly, someone was holding off the troops for the time being.

Within the opposition, the gamble by Maria Corina Machado and Lopez to ask people to take to the streets, has paid off. Their role in Venezuelan politics will become more prominent if the Government decides to go after them. On the other side of this is former Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has tried to distance himself from the protests and if the protests gather steam, he may lose his position as leader of the opposition.

Maduro has been careful not to attack the students, but has focused on the leadership of the protests at the political level, which implies he is being careful. But any mistake on either side could escalate this conflict to unknown levels and places.

Some question the strategy of protests. I believe protests will be daily events in Venezuela going forward, as shortages and inflation accelerate due to the inaction of the Government. I don’t believe taking to the streets is a strategy, but a reality of daily life in Venezuela, which some may take advantage of politically. Where it leads is as unclear as any other strategy, as the results of last years Presidential election showed. The opposition was well behaved and in the end got ripped off by the Government which never performed the promised audits. It is no surprise that many believe a different strategy is needed now.

But in the end, this is not or should not be about removing the Government, but about pressuring the Government to change course. Scarcity, inflation and crime affect Venezuelans equally, anyone that thinks that Chavistas are happy should read polls more carefully. Yes, there is a hard core militancy that will never say things are bad, but more and more Venezuelans are fed up with the whole economic situation. Absent Chavez, they are not as willing to put up with problems as they used to. Students protesting belong to homes on both side of the political divide. Just because Chavismo shows little dissent publicly, it does not mean that there are no disagreements within the many sides of Chavismo in Government, including the military. The tougher things get, the wider the protests, the wider the dissent. And the more pressure there will be on Maduro to change course…