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.

36 Responses to “What have we learned after three weeks of protests in Venezuela?”

  1. Ralph Says:

    What does maduro, cabello or the castro cuban invaders want?
    Loot Venezuela’s oil after terminating all dissention and opossition, maduro is propelled by the brainwashing he got from castro years ago, cabello is in for the money and to avoid at all costs the possibility to pay for his crimes.

    Those two are the reasons that propel the whole chavista cabinet today to do that series of screw-ups, like Ramírez disgraceful “alcahuetería” for the thugs that torture people these days, or the call for a flash attack that Fco. Ameliach did by Twitter to the colectivos the day before several people were murdered in Carabobo.

    Others seem to be compelled by seething hatred or just by ignorance, one day, an usual customer at my business, a chavista, once said casually that “The only way to ensure stability of a new regime is to exterminate all that supported the old one”, I looked at him a couple of seconds, then I asked him back “Is that seriously what you think, dude? Because in that case, are you going to pull a gun a shot me in the face right now?” The guy flinched, he obviously wasn’t expecting that one, and he isn’t some moronic 15-20 year boy that can’t wipe his own ass, he’s a 50-something lawyer and publicist who worked plenty and fine in the infamous 4th (I think he’s chavista out of mere opportunism…)

    So, there you have it, an example of how hammering the message of hatred and violence (And justifying them) 24/7 can screw some people’s minds without them noticing it, and then seeing something as smashing a woman’s face with a helmet as a “fitting punishment for daring to opposse us”

  2. Thanks, Miguel. Very good article.
    I guess most of the times people making history don’t know where they are going, have unclear visions of the possible futures.
    They react from the heart without long-range plans.
    But a struggle for freedom is a good thing as freedom will not arrive without struggle.

  3. Glenn Says:

    So Sicad has not been paying out as planned but now we have another half billion from China and 2 billion loan from Russia. How long will 2.5 billion keep the government afloat, assuming it is allowed to be spent on food and basis necessities?

  4. Bruni Says:

    My reading of the situation is that someone else is giving the orders. The Castros? Cabello?

    • Rob Says:

      Venezuela has been in the gunsights of the Castros certainly from the sixties if not the fifties. Their desire and control has unfortunately become exponential culminating in the final battle of today. And in their minds, Raul’s anyway, this is a battle for their legacy. Not a lot to do with politics as that was never the issue.
      The problem we have in Venezuela today has more to do with a pair of unhinged brothers. From all accounts Fidel is or was, depending on your view, the clever one whereas Raul the younger brother had more interest in “stuff”.
      And their family was well off, landed but not connected. Invited but not accepted. I suppose Fidel resented that even though his father owed a thanks to the UFC. Even the circle in to which Fidel married Batista was referred to disparagingly as the “negro”, something like that.
      Fidel’s wife was the daughter of some fairly high up legal adviser in the Batista regime. Fidel was introduced to her by her brother, a fellow legal student and long time friend of Fidel. Incidentally that brother and his family headed to USA after the fall of Batista. Diaz Balaert is the family. Whilst Fidel was “organising” Cuba his brother in law was a Republican congressman, Florida I think. Sounds a bit unbelievable but the Balaert legacy and anti castro stance still lives today as does the Castro carry on. A Family at War, you might say, where nothing is sacred. Not a lot to do with politics but a family argument out of control.
      Ahhh but the Castro world has more to do with left, right, centre, Trotsky, Lenin, Marxism, Stalin and so on. Utters tosh !
      Castroism is rooted purely and simply in resentment.

      Chavez, probably a sponsored Castro plant, unfortunately for Cuba was slightly his own man. Maduro, his “convenient” and timely replacement is not. Maduro as president is a key part of the final battle for Venezuela’s Cubanisation and Castro’s legacy. So in answer to your question I believe Raul is the one giving the orders. Fidel these days is not quite with it. Whilst that’s a bad thing the interesting part is that Fidel’s incompetent brother is tasked with finishing the Castro project. Fidel they say even threatened at one time to kill Raul due to his political incompetence.
      So step forward to the Chavez Memorial Day. Panama panamed, GNb killed, colectivo killed, couple of officers arrested and so on. That is certainly Castro-like. Raul’s problem is he always overstepped. His brother was his keeper and that is no longer the case.
      So Venezuela’s future is dependant on no more than Raul’s inability to press the brakes, wrapped up in a family argument of course !

      • m_astera Says:

        Nicely done, thanks. I’ve been thinking what’s going on is the last gasp of a lunatic power trip by a couple of geriatric psychopaths. Sad that worthwhile people are being killed and imprisoned for the gratification of a couple of senile losers.

  5. NET Says:

    Miguel, apart from typical very poor/if any planning for the future by Maduro/Chavismo, I believe the excessive repression by the Government is a knee-jerk reaction ordered by the Castros, since it worked in their much more easily-controlled island country, and because they have traditionally quashed any even small public anti-government demonstration for fear of it snowballing out of control in their tightly-controlled and very-impoverished nation.

    • m_astera Says:

      I agree with this assessment. The Castros took over Cuba with violence and followed that up with repression. They know no other tools. Maduro, even if he wanted to do differently, is no doubt surrounded by Cuban bodyguards he inherited from Hugo. Step out of line, have an unfortunate accident.

  6. Gus Says:

    That happen in Cuba before, they don’t go to leave Venezuela very easy.

  7. Gus Says:

    I hope this students start using cocteles Molotov, because they don’t have no weapon and they has been killed with shots in the head. They need to start using Molotov coctels again those army truck, and barbiqueing the Nationals Guard inside of those armed vehicles. That is the only way if not they all go to be killed or put on jails. An anticommunist Cuban here.

  8. Island Canuck Says:

    I just watched the new Mandela movie last night & the similarities between the process there & here are striking. Not the issue of apartheid but how things started out with peaceful marches & entered the next phase of bombings & violence. How there were 2 classes of people when it came to legal & human rights.

    In the case of South africa the blacks had no weapons to speak of – they had their hands. I see this as the next step in this struggle.

    While the road blockages & marches may slow down the fight will not.
    This government is on it’s last legs.

    As Miguel has illustrated so well the problems are going to get a whole lot worse.

    How ironic if this leftist government finds themselves having to deal with guerrillas.

    • Island Canuck Says:

      Coincidentally after finishing this post I found this email from the Canadian Embassy in my inbox: Looks like this must have read Miguel’s blog.

      Dear Canadian,

      You are receiving this email because you are registered with the Government of Canada’s Registration of Canadians Abroad service. Please share the following important information with other Canadian citizens in your area.

      Demonstrations are continuing in Caracas and in other cities in Venezuela. This can lead to distribution problems in grocery stores, etc. For this reason, we would like to remind you that it is good practice to have a stockpile of certain basic provisions. This should be assembled in your home, it is recommended that you organize the following and have it in an accessible grab bag in the event of an emergency:

      • Water : consider two liters per person per day (includes small bottles that are easier to transport)

      • Food: canned food, dried food and energy bars

      • Manual can opener

      • Flashlights and batteries

      • Portable radio with extra batteries

      • First aid kit

      • Special Items : medications and eyeglasses. Consider the needs of children , elderly and disabled

      • Spare keys of your house and your car

      • Cash

      • Travel documents

      • Gas in your car

    • m_astera Says:

      Did the new Mandela movie highlight the fact that Mandela was on the central committee of the South African Communist Party? Here, you can read it for yourself at the World Socialist Web Site:

  9. Kepler Says:

    You are too optimistic.

  10. Boludo Tejano Says:

    Neither is El Guarataro, nor is Caricuao, nor is Petare or Las Minas.

    Miguel, the links do not work.

  11. Noel Says:

    Let’s face it, there is no constitutional exit to this crisis because the Chavismo has made it crystal clear that they will not be voted out of power. And the Cubans are by now so discredited that they wouldn’t dare support clean elections for fear any opposition would promptly send them home without oil.

    The alternative democratic exit is in the streets, which is the Lopez way. From there, violence can only rise as the government will not tolerate dissent. Maybe a general strike would also be effective but it hasn’t been tried yet.

    The exit seems to be a transition government with broad support, with the explicit support of the armed forces. But who would lead it?

    Then again as Miguel wondered, somebody in the armed forces may decide that HE is the transition government.

    Venezuela can’t cut itself from the rest of the world, and therefore it will succeed in regaining its freedom. When it does, it will drag the rest of South America with it.

  12. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:
    The situation in Venezuela continued to deteriorate despite Carnival festivities and the anniversary of the death of el Thugo Chávez one year ago. The re-blogged article at Devil’s Excrement provides a good account of what has already happened and why and suggests this for the near future:

    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.

    Constitutional guarantees have already been substantially abandoned de facto. De jure suspension probably would not be noticed by many. El Presidente Maduro appears to be going nuts  even more pervasively and obviously than before. To the extent that he is in charge, or to tries to be, his regime is likely to continue to make more and increasingly disastrous mistakes. That’s all it seems able to do.

    Might arrival of former President Carter help? Not likely, unless more farcical posturing provides temporary relief from tensions.

  13. Marc Says:

    I wonder if after all this ends, the Venezuelan middle and upper class (most of them are now in exile) will continue saying that they are leftists. Venezuela reached this point because 99% of the population were leftists when Chávez was elected for the first time, even the so-called “elite” had Che Guevara posters on their bedroom’s walls. Many that have blogs against this criminal and corrupt government now VOTED for Chávez back then. Will the people learn the lesson? Or will they keep electing autocrat socialists every 15 years? It makes me sick because I was alive in 1999 and after watching a speech from chávez I knew what would unfold. And I was a goddamn child. I even warned my family and friends: “He will destroy Venezuela.” I hope the Venezuelans can be a little bit smarter in the future. And I’m not talking about the poor.

    • Kepler Says:

      So, you think you were a genius child?
      There were millions who didn’t buy the Chávez ticket.
      At least 39.97% of the population voted against him, a bit over 2.6 million.

      I am no socialist but I find it a bit tiring to hear so much generalization in certain regions about “left”. There is a huge spectrum of socio-political views out there.

      Venezuela is just a feudal country and most people are neither capitalists nor socialists, they are just feudal.

      Venezuela has been an extremely elitist country and that goes for those who claim to be commies, socialists or capitalists.

      At least that’s my impression.

      • Marc Says:

        I wasn’t a genius child, the thing is that my family teached me to be afraid of communism (to be afraid, not to hate) since a very early age, and they did that because they had fresh memories of what communism did to their country in Europe. So when I heard Chávez talk for the first time a bell rang and it was clear to me that his aggressive tone would end up in expropriation of private property and pitting social classes against each, what would ultimately lead to a Civil War, massive social unrest and immense human suffering. But the Venezuelans didn’t have a clue about all that. Why? Well, because they were all socialists themselves. You won’t doubt someone that shares the same ideology as yourself, will you? Aren’t you a socialist? Isn’t the author of this blog a socialist too? I’m pretty sure that you two got VERY SURPRISED when things started going astray in Venezuela. And this is why I am a little bit skeptical about the future of Venezuela as a country, because since the “elite” can’t recognize that the root of the problem is socialism, and not Maduro or Chávez, what would prevent you from electing a new Maduro or a new Che Guevara after this current goverment is gone? Nothing. Venezuela will improve when the population understand that socialism is not the way to go. Until then, the Venezuelan people will keep walking in circles. Look at you saying that you can’t blame socialism because there is a “huge spectrum” in the left… Ok… Good luck then, pal.

        • tuziodos Says:

          Just to support your point: how many opposition figures had the integrity to denounce Maduro’s decree (forcing stores selling electronic products to dramatically lower their prices and take enormous losses before the December elections) as state-organized looting? None!
          The middle class happily stood in line to join in the looting!
          99.9% of Venezuelans just thought: “Those store owners, they had it coming.”
          That is why parties that are center or right or center cannot exist in Venezuela.

  14. morrocoy escarlata Says:

    “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.”
    Nicolás, his partners and the boli bourgeois do not live with the poor, they live in the east of Caracas and the wealth districts of others cities of the country. If necessary to hit chavistas is there where they are.
    Guarimbas target those who are in control not those who are exploited.
    That is the reason of its success and why the Nico nervousness. They are a minority who controls the country but they still are our neighbors.

  15. Getashrink Says:

    “…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’…”

    Can you explain this claim? Why do you think shortages will be much worse in April and May?

    • moctavio Says:

      Because CADIVI/Cencoex flows have been almost zero since October, because Maduro forced discounts and inventory was run down, because the private sector is owed US$ 8 billion and the Government said it will not pay. Because SICAD 1, which was supposed ti give out US$ 220 million a week, has not doine it (no Sicad 1 this week, forget Sicad -2 on Monday). The situatioin is really getting critical. I know pharmaceutical companies that are selling nothing right now. They have no inventory, suppliers will not ship anything until Cadivi pays. It is a vicious circle.

      • Getashrink Says:

        Ok, I understand that, but I’m not so sure about the timing. April or May seems too close to me, especially now that the government secured a loan of two billion dollars from Russia. That should buy them some time.

  16. Ira Says:

    Miguel, as you’ve said a hundred times…and with which most everyone agrees…the government doesn’t have and will continue to not have…any real “plans” or policies aimed at any specific outcomes.

    All they do is wing it, day after day, with no eye toward the future–everything is based on just making it through the day.

    Add to that ignorant Chavismo “pride,” hatred of all things Yankee, and all of that wonderful corruption loot…and logic has nothing to do with anything.

  17. amieres Says:

    My opinion is that the government is playing a dangerous game of stoking the protests early to prevent the big protests later, when the really bad times come. By then people may be exhausted of protesting, tired of not having a normal life and disappointed for not getting the government to budge. The protests then will be small and easy to sweep under the rug. Also the government will blame the opposition and the protests for the hard times.

  18. nacazo Says:

    A couple of opinions:

    The government is scared of what is going on in Tachira because a large percentage of the food comes from Colombia. Think what would happen if the gochos start blockading the flow of goods (for their own personal needs, let’s say). Sooner or later the poor that support the government in Caracase would stop such support if the food stops. That’s why they sent a paratroopers brigade, to keep the flow of goods coming in.

    The other assumption is that the government wants to stop the violence. What if their goal is to increment it so that they can keep on blaming the disturbances for the economic problems? The more violent the opposition gets, the better an excuse the government has.

  19. m_astera Says:

    Hired thugs are only loyal to their paycheck. When the paycheck stops, so does the loyalty. Much the same can be said about those enamored of Chavez’ socialismo; that was never about ideology, but rather “what’s in it for me?” The loyalty stops when the benefits stop.

    A recent reality check was when I ordered a cafe grande at a local pasteleria and was told there was no coffee. Say what?

  20. moctavio Says:

    I dont know where this is going, but I recall people saying the same thing in 2002 and Chávez was out within a week. If the Government makes a mistake, which is quite capable of doing, it could be game over faster than you may think. I dont think Lopez and Machado for turning the protests in a particular way. If those two people had not been killed on Feb. 12th. and Lopez jailed, we would not be talking.

  21. Nyzolano Says:

    I think this government knows exactly what it is doing and how to avoid violence that is so extreme so as to cause international outrage.

    This whole prolonged street protest benefits the government as it creates a distraction from all the economic failings that are coming to fruition now in Venezuela and causes the Chavistas to unite and rally together against a common enemy. And they can always blame shortages on the destabilizing actions of the “opposition fascists”.

    I blame MCM and LL for turning this student protest (which I supported, by the way, and which was organic and had legitimate and specific objectives) into a “fuera Maduro” irrational political movement.

    I know people think that this government is about to tumble and that the conditions for another “Caracazo” exist, but the truth of the matter is that this is what everybody has been saying for years and they don’t realize that Latin America is not what it was in the 80s. Governments change with elections, and only a true popular uprising would suffice to topple a government outside of an electoral process and, unfortunately, Venezuela is not ripe yet for a true popular uprising.

  22. moctavio Says:

    Not missing it, it is right in there: “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.”

  23. Paula H Says:

    Hi Miguel: you are missing why the whole protest really started: this whole situation started when a group of students started a protest in San Cristobal at the governor’s house. They were protesting for the lack of security due to a girl almost getting raped outside the universit, which to my understanding was not the first!. These students were captured and sent to jail in Coro… Then the whole mass of students (other universities joined) the protest. They were repressed by the police and the national guards… And the rest is history as you described!

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