mainstream media consistently fails to report who is instigating the
violence in this conflict.
is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open
civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people
have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths
are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we
know the cause).
possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long as the
international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and
the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and
fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in
the international left receives its news about Venezuela primarily
from the international media, it is understandable why it is being so
quiet. After all, this mainstream media consistently fails to report
who is instigating the violence in this conflict.
example, a follower of CNN or the New York Times would not know that
of the 103 who have been killed as a result of street protests, 27
were the direct or indirect result of the protesters themselves.
Another 14 were the result of lootings; in one prominent case,
because looters set fire to a store and ended up getting engulfed in
the flames themselves. Fourteen deaths are attributable to the
actions of state authorities (where in almost all cases those
responsible have been charged), and 44 are still under investigation
or in dispute. This is according to data from the office of the
Attorney General, which itself has recently become pro-opposition.
unknown to most consumers of the international media would be that
opposition protesters detonated a bomb in the heart of Caracas on
July 11, wounding seven National Guard soldiers or that a building
belonging to the Supreme Court was burnt by opposition protesters on
June 12th or that opposition protesters attacked a maternity hospital
on May 17.
other words, it is possible that much of the international left has
been misled about the violence in Venezuela; thinking that the
government is the only one responsible, that President Nicolas Maduro
has declared himself to be dictator for life (though he has actually
confirmed that the presidential elections scheduled for late 2018
will proceed as planned), or that all dissent is punishable with
prison (disputed by major opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez – who
was partly responsible for the post-election violence in 2014 –
recently being released from prison and placed under house arrest).
this is the reason for the silence on Venezuela, then the left should
be ashamed for not having read its own critiques of the mainstream
of the foregoing does not contradict that there are plenty of places
where one might criticize the Maduro Government for having made
mistakes with regard to how it has handled the current situation,
both economically and politically. However, criticisms – of which I
have made several myself – do not justify taking either a neutral
or pro-opposition stance in this momentous conflict. As South African
anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral
in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the
the Venezuelan case is also confusing to outsiders because President
Maduro is in power and the opposition is not. It could thus be
difficult to see the opposition as being an “oppressor.”
for an internationalist left, it should not be so confusing. After
all, the opposition in Venezuela receives significant support not
only from private businesses but also the U.S. Government,
the international right and transnational capital.
progressives feel that the Maduro Government has lost all democratic
legitimacy and that this is why they cannot support it. According to
the mainstream media coverage, Maduro canceled regional elections
scheduled for December 2016, prevented the recall referendum from
happening and neutralized the National Assembly.
take a brief look at each of these claims one by one.
regional elections (state governors and mayors) were indeed supposed
to take place in late 2016, but the National Electoral Council (CNE)
postponed them with the argument that political parties needed to
re-register first. Leaving aside the validity of this argument, the
CNE rescheduled the elections recently for December 2017. This
postponement of a scheduled election is not unprecedented in
Venezuela because it happened before, back in 2004, when local
elections were postponed for a full year. Back then, at the height of
President Hugo Chavez’s power; hardly anyone objected.
for the recall referendum, it was well known that it would take
approximately ten months to organize between its initiation and its
culmination. However, the opposition initiated the process in April
2016, far too late for the referendum to take place in 2016 as they
wanted. If it takes place in 2017, there would be no new presidential
election – according to the constitution – and the
vice-president would take over for the remainder of the term.
with regard to the disqualification of the National Assembly, this
was another self-inflicted wound on the part of the opposition. That
is, even though the opposition had won 109 out of 167 seats (65%)
outright, they insisted on swearing in three opposition members whose
election was in dispute because of fraud claims.
a result, the Supreme Court ruled that until these three members are
removed, most decisions of the national assembly would not be valid.
other words, none of the arguments against the democratic legitimacy
of the Maduro Government hold much water. Moreover, polls repeatedly
indicate that even though Maduro is fairly unpopular, a majority of
Venezuelans want him to finish his term in office, which expires in
January 2019. As a matter of fact, Maduro’s popularity (24% in
March, 2017) is not as low as several other conservative presidents
in Latin America at the moment, such as that of Mexico’s Enrique
Pena Nieto (17% in March, 2017), Brazil’s Michel Temer (7% in June,
2017) or Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos (14% in June, 2017).
that we have addressed the possible reasons the international left
has been reluctant to show solidarity with the Maduro Government and
the Bolivarian socialist movement, we need to examine what
“neutrality” in this situation would end up meaning – in other
words, what allowing the opposition to come to power via an illegal
and violent transition would mean.
and foremost, their coming to power will almost certainly mean that
all Chavistas – whether they currently support President Maduro or
not – will become targets for persecution. Although it was a long
time ago, many Chavistas have not forgotten the “Caracazo” –
when in February 1989, then-president Carlos Andres Perez meted out
retaliation on poor neighborhoods for protesting against his
government and wantonly killed somewhere between 400 and 1,000
people. More recently, during a short-lived coup against President
Chávez in April 2002 the current opposition showed it was more than
willing to unleash reprisals against Chavistas.
do not know this, but during the two-day coup over 60 Chavistas were
killed in Venezuela – not including the 19 killed, on both sides of
the political divide, in the lead-up to the coup. The post-election
violence of April 2013 left 7 dead, and the Guarimbas of February to
April 2014 left 43 dead. Although the death count in each of these
cases represented a mix of opposition supporters, Chavistas and
non-involved bystanders; the majority belonged to the Chavista side
of the political divide.
during the most recent wave of guarimbas, there have also been
several incidents in which a Chavista, who was near an opposition
protest, was chased and killed because protesters recognized them to
be a Chavista in some way.
other words, the danger that Chavistas will be generally persecuted
if the opposition should take over the government is very real. Even
though the opposition includes reasonable individuals who would not
support such a persecution, the current leadership of the opposition
has done nothing to rein in the fascist tendencies within its own
ranks. If anything, they have encouraged these tendencies.
even though the opposition has not published a concrete plan for what
it intends to do once in government – which is also one of the
reasons the opposition remains almost as unpopular as the government
– individual statements by opposition leaders indicate that they
would immediately proceed to implement a neoliberal economic program
along the lines of President Michel Temer in Brazil or Mauricio Macri
in Argentina. They might succeed in reducing inflation and shortages
this way, but at the expense of eliminating subsidies and social
programs for the poor across the board. Also, they would roll back
all of the policies supporting communal councils and communes that
have been a cornerstone of participatory democracy in the Bolivarian
instead of silence, neutrality or indecision from the
international left in the current conflict in Venezuela, what is
needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement.
Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow
the government of President Maduro during his current term in office.
Aside from the patent illegality that overthrowing the Maduro
Government would represent, it would also literally be a deadly blow
to Venezuela’s socialist movement and to the legacy of President
Chavez. The international left does not even need to take a position
on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with
the opposition is the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is
really up to Venezuelans to decide. Opposing intervention and
disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela,
though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a
Wilpert is the author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The
History and Policies of the Chávez Government (Verso Books, 2007)