Archive for March 6th, 2014

What have we learned after three weeks of protests in Venezuela?

March 6, 2014

BiFikYLCUAAKa1lOpposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in jail

It has been four weeks since the first San Cristobal protests that ignited the current wave of repression. Some people are still trying to understand what is happening, why it is happening and where it will end. I have no answer to where this will all go, but I do think I understand parts of what took us to where we are.

The current wave of protests began in Tachira State, as understood well by Girish Gupta in his article in The New Yorker, the people of Tachira are among those hurt the most by shortages in Venezuela, add to that a student protest, some jailed students taken to another State, which is illegal, and you had the necessary sparks to get this thing going.

But this wasn’t enough. You have to add to the combination tha,t coincidentally, that same week, Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado,  both called for protests under the slogan “La Salida” (The Exit), something which many thought was a bit too radical and a bit too much at the time. Combine that with a march where two people are killed and have the  Government blame and even jail Leopoldo Lopez for the violence that day. and you have the perfect combination for the flare up of protests we have seen in the last two weeks.

I mean, look at it. The Government could have defused the whole situation at many points in time. In fact, it even accused policemen of causing the deaths in the violent march that Lopez was accused for. What a perfect excuse to reduce tensions, release Lopez, send some jailed students home and give the Government some working space. Instead, Maduro does exactly the opposite: Lopez remains in jail, more than 1,000 students jailed, 60 accusations of torture, 20 dead and Maduro on nationwide TV calls on his paramilitary groups, the infamous “colectivos” and go and repress the opposition.

Which they have done in earnest since two nights ago.

And I could choose many pictures or videos, but here is one with some repression which makes me ashamed of being a Venezuelan:

And I ask the same questions I have asked before: What is Maduro’s strategy? Why hasn’t he defused the conflict? Is he so afraid of Lopez? Why more repression, which begets even more protests? Why provoke the paramilitary “colectivos” into a civil war?

The answer is I don’t know, because what is coming in terms of shortages in April and May is so much worse than the current official “you can’t find one of three items in the supermarkets”. And I really don’t see how you can blame the opposition this time around.

Remember Sicad 2? Well, Venezuela remains Sicad 2-less two weeks after it was first announced it would start operating and I am willing to take bets on the fact that despite Ramirez’ claim today, Monday will come and go and nothing will have happened, unless they fake it. Not only do we not have a Foreign Exchange Agreement, we do not have regulations as to how this new market will work. Maduro has been improvising for eleven months as President.

Call me skeptical, once again.

But going back to where the Government wants to go, it is  a very dangerous game. The next step is that beyond “Guarimbas”, where neighbors protest by blocking each others way, just because they want and they can, by now people are tired of the repression and being repressed. Today two people died, none of them students, one a National Guardsman and another a “Moto taxi” driver, which could or not be a euphemism for a a member of a paramilitary  “colectivo”. I just don’t know.

What I know is that people are fed up with the repression and they are ready to attack back. And it could get ugly. Guaicaipuro Lameda, a retired General and former Chávez Minister,  makes the point today that conditions are the same as those that preceded the 1989 infamous Caracazo, which Chávez used in part to become famous. And they are very similar. The “people” perceive a Government that is not only not providing basic necessities, but is showing that it is far and removed from the people. People forget Carlos Andres Perez was elected with 56% of the vote a month before the Caracazo. That is how fickle Venezuelans can be.

And yes, the Caracazo was mostly about looting, but that was once it got beyond control. Before that, it was protests. Protests about unfulfilled promises. Protests about frustrations. About crime, about inflation. There were no shortages. And repression only got out of hand once the protests were out of control. Are we there yet?

And we are certainly close to it, based on what people experienced today in Los Ruices, where coincidentally the death of the National Guardsman and the moto-taxista took place. The people of Los Ruices are tired of it. tired of Colectivos, Tired of guardsmen, tired of tear gas and tired of being repressed day after day for protesting.

And it all goes back to San Cristobal. The whole city is up in arms, such that the Governor had to come out and say he disagreed with the violence and the jet planes flying overhead as a threat (he backed down a bit, but he wants to be considered to replace Maduro). San Cristobal is not middle class and the National guard seems afraid of people by now. Neither is El Guarataro, nor is Caricuao, nor is Petare or Las Minas.

But instead of backing down, Maduro presses forward. He lost his international prestige as a Democrat? Insult the Panaminian President Martinelli. Which shows he what he thinks about Panama.

And Ramirez came back saying the Chinese and Russians will lend the Government money. I just doubt it. Not now, least of all under this conditions. I mean, the Chinese are so conservative with their money that they keep it mostly in US Treasury Bills. They are not going to lend to a shaky Government with a nebbish leader. What if the Government after it decides to place the Chinese at the back of the line?

And they should. They should wait with the Brazilian and Argentinean “alcahuetas” in the back of the line.  After all, the Venezuelan private sector should be paid first, no? It is crucial for the future, despite what Maduro and his cohorts may think today. And between the Panaminians and the Chinese, the choice seems quite clear.

As for the Cubans, the problem is that most will want to stay here, rather than go back. They think Venezuela is savage capitalism, where you can live off remarkable opportunities for arbitrage and where corruption is rampant.

Another reason why this incapable revolution has to be eradicated from the land of Venezuelans.

The question remains: What is Maduro after? Suspend constitutional guarantees before the real shortages begin? Blame the opposition for those upcoming shortages?

It could be, but somehow, it seems as if the people of Venezuela are beyond those tricks. Which is why I see more violence, almost civil war-levels ahead. Until the Government makes a mistake. The opposition can make many, but they are not in charge and they are not armed. But any use of excessive force by an aggressive and well armed Government, could simply be the beginning of its end.

And that seems to be where the Government is taking us.