February 23, 2014

VENEZUELA: With Bloodied Hands, Opposition Playing Dirty

R Arun Kumar

THE OPPOSITION in Venezuela is once again back to its old game – organising violent clashes, creating chaos and thus preparing the atmosphere to destabilise the government. They are desperately trying to create a situation akin to 2002, where they could stage a coup against the Chavez government, however short-lived it may have been. Now that Chavez is no more, they dream that such a coup has more chances to succeed. Venezuela commemorates the Day of the Youth on February 12 each year in memory of the role of young people in the decisive independence battle in La Victoria in 1814. Rallies are organised to commemorate this occasion and this year being the bi-centennial, both pro-government and anti-government youth were mobilised. Using this occasion, violent opposition groups attacked government buildings and civilians, and clashed with police and government supporters. Offices of the attorney general and other judicial officers were also not spared and the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro stated that around two hundred violent activists had attempted to attack Miraflores Palace, the official residence of the president, after the attorney general's office was attacked. The current demonstrations are in response to the right-wing opposition's call to its supporters to “take to the streets” and show a “way out” for the Venezuelan government. The students from the states of Merida and Tachira belonging to the University of the Andes (ULA) and other educational institutions, were masked and hooded, and did not display any banners explaining the reasons for their protest. They blocked roads, burnt tires, threw stones at passers-by and attacked government buildings, including the house of the governor. A group of them even attacked the baseball team from Cuba, which had come to play in Venezuela. The government reacted by arresting two youth for 'violating peace during demonstrations' in the Western state of Tachira. Taking these arrests as the peg, the opposition had instigated anti-Chavista youth to demonstrate all over the country. The opposition openly spread utter falsehoods through various social media sites. Photos of protestors confronting with the police and police atrocities in Syria, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Chile, Argentina and even Singapore were used to incite the people. After the defeat of opposition candidate Capriles in the elections held after the death of Chavez, cracks began to appear in the bloc of opposition parties that got together under the coalition, MUD (Democratic Unity Table) on the question of tactics that need to be pursued to oust the government from power. According to analysts, there is a three-way division: on one hand there’s Henrique Capriles, who within anti-Chavismo can’t find an alternative to what exists; the other current is led by Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez, who want to dispose the Venezuelan government through action, which includes getting rid of Capriles, who is seen as a 'conciliator'; and a third current, represented by the metropolitan mayor of Caracas, which proposes 'unity in the street', where they try to place themselves in the gaps of the conflict between the other two currents, but lack organic grassroots support. Of course, all these are mere divisions in the tactics that need to be pursued to ensure the 'exit' of the government. More importantly, they are all united in the goal for which they had come together in the first place – oust the Maduro government and eliminate 'Chavismo' or the Bolivarian process of socialist construction in Venezuela. The current opposition protests in Venezuela were called by Leopoldo Lopez, who is for 'action', as we are witnessing in the streets today. He had openly called the demonstrators to overthrow the government in his public speeches. Lopez and Machado are prominent figures on Venezuela's far-right, who were actively involved in the failed coup attempt against Chavez in 2002. Lopez is also notorious for being disqualified from contesting elections till 2011, after it was found he had diverted public resources when he was the mayor of Chacao from 2000 to 2008. Lopez and all the other opposition groups were in fact preparing grounds for street demonstrations through what Maduro had called as unleashing an 'economic war' on Venezuela. They resorted to largescale hoarding of goods, especially essential commodities, which led to scarcity and artificial price rise. As a counter, the government had enacted the Law for the Control of Fair Costs, Prices and Profits, which aims to prevent price speculation, product hoarding and other activities intended to destabilise the Venezuelan economy and contributing to the on-going economic problems. This Law specifies a maximum profit margin of 30 percentage across the economy to prevent companies from over-charging. The government hopes that this Law will help in the crack down on economic crimes and establish 'order' in the national economy, guaranteeing a 'fair price' for consumers. The Law prescribes punishments for thirty economic crimes, by imprisonment ranging between two and fourteen years in prison depending on the offence committed. The government also recently overhauled its control currency mechanisms to check currency fraud and speculation. As can be expected, given their class bias, Venezuela’s largest business federation, Fedecamaras, criticised this Law as 'unconstitutional' and 'inapplicable'. Fedecamaras, is an open supporter of the right-wing opposition groups and was from the beginning against Chavez and his model of socialism. Commenting on their opposition and pointing out their role in the entire crisis, Maduro had stated: “For how long will Fedecamaras cause damage to the country...Your last embarrassment was the state coup against President Hugo Chavez”, in reference to their prominent role in the April 2002 short-lived coup attempt. By stalling the implementation of this Law, the opposition groups want to create discontent among the people. Today, it intends to harvest these seeds of discontent it had been sowing for the past year through these violent demonstrations. The government of Venezuela had issued many appeals to the youth, who were initially involved in the marches to come and discuss their issues, without success. Appeals to maintain peace and order were ignored as the intention was clear – destabilise the country through violence. It is an open secret now, with evidence emerging that the opposition leaders were constantly prodded by the US embassy. Maduro had expelled three officials involved in such undiplomatic activities stating: “the said officials had organised meetings in private Venezuelan universities with the story of offering visas. While there, they (the officials) had some strange meetings, and as we have decided that we must be respected…let them go to Washington and conspire there, and leave Venezuela alone”! Such was the brazen involvement of the US that it had warned against arresting Lopez who was openly calling for overthrowing the government and inciting violence. The Venezuelan government condemned the US interference in a statement (Full text in the box). The government had called for massive popular mobilisations to counter the moves of opposition. Many people had positively responded to the call and came out on to the streets, even braving the violence. The rich experience gained by the Chavistas, when they had moved against the coup in 2002 and for reinstatement of Chavez as the president, taught them that all the nefarious designs of the opposition can be thwarted only by relying on the power of the people. According to latest reports, Lopez surrendered to the police, in an act he termed as complying with the orders of the judiciary in an “unjust system.” As the day wore, it became clear that it is one more of their games intended to stop the ebbing flow of opposition protests and incite further violence. Following this, riots were reported across the country. Many governments of Latin American countries like Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador had come with statements in solidarity with the Venezuelan government and also against the US interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. The Venezuelan government has appealed to all the peoples of the world to express their solidarity with them. It is the responsibility of all the anti-imperialist forces in the world to join ranks and stand by the government of Venezuela and its brave people who are thick in the battle against right-wing oligarchs and imperialism.