A Response to “Venezuela: it’s the opposition that’s anti-democratic.”
You claim Venezuela is “an experiment in democratic socialism.” We are not your guinea pigs, just like Chile should not have been a laboratory for Milton Friedman. We will not compromise our democratic ideals of freedom of speech, free and fair elections and a thriving civil society in the name of a socialist economy that is socialist in name only (and that you don’t live in). Venezuela has made some important advances and has paid a tremendous price. A tripling of the murder rate, 97% of crimes going unpunished, historic shortages of basic foods, world’s highest inflation that hurts the poor the most. These factors are what have motivated hundreds of thousands to protest despite the hundreds of students that have been imprisoned and beaten. Again, please feel free to reach me to discuss. If you’d rather listen than read, I was interviewed by Hyphenated Lives (5:00-25:00).
I agree with the first point, we cannot automatically side with every street protest. We must listen to logic, credibility and emotion.
(a) Up until very recently, there was almost no coverage of the events in Venezuela. CNN in Spanish, Al Jazeera America and the Huffington Post have provided balanced coverage. Democracy Now! (Which is usually great) did a disservice by only having one guest speak on the topic. CNN in Spanish hosted a debate in Venezuela between government supporters and opposition and was kicked out of the country the next day. Why would the government censor a reputable news source that had interviewed the vice president and other high-ranking officials just a few days before?
(c) You presume to know that any activists that agree with the protestors are ill informed and that presumption takes us nowhere. At least half of Venezuela voted for the opposition candidate in the last presidential elections. We must be open to listening to the concerns of that half and understand that their lived experiences are just as valid.
1. I’ve already touched on the point about being too quick to assume that all protestors are righteous. (As an aside, you describe the narrator of a video that has garnered 2 million views as having an “obnoxious upper-class American accent.” This characterization shows the unwillingness to take dissenting opinions seriously. The narrator is obviously Venezuelan herself and that’s where the accent comes from.) You state that the Venezuelan protests are very different from the Chilean student protests and Occupy protests. The key difference is that even though those protests lasted for months, even years, there is only one death attributed to government repression (Chile). In Venezuela, there have been 11 deaths in less than 10 days at the hands of the National Guard and paramilitary groups that are armed and have the explicit consent of the government.
2. Left. Vs. Right is a very simplistic way of analyzing the politics and we have to be more nuanced and mindful of contextual and cultural differences. You really must explain what makes the opposition right-wing other than the fact that it opposes a government that considers itself left-wing and socialist. I invite you to actually read the opposition’s platforms and proposals. You will find that they are in support of many of the policies that made Chavez so popular.
You accuse an oligarchic elite of hoarding and smuggling goods and speculating on the foreign currency market. The government has nationalized a significant portion of the production, importation and distribution of consumer goods (more than half the market share for key food staples). Our oil production has been nationalized since 1973 and it represents 95%+ of all of the dollars that the country receives through exports. The private sector must request dollars from the government. Currency speculation can only happen with the support of corrupt government officials.
Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado have called for PEACEFUL active civil disobedience and protests. While Nicholas Maduro dances on national television with the First Lady, Maria Corina Machado was attending the funeral procession of just one of the many students that have been killed in the past couple of weeks. While Leopoldo Lopez awaits a trial in a military prison as a political prisoner.
3. You provide many links to show that the US is backing the Venezuelan opposition but little evidence. In all likelihood, the US does support the Venezuelan opposition. The US has undoubtedly supported and backed horrible regimes in the past, too long to list. The US also has positive relationships with governments that you surely support as well. The US pretends to act as a benevolent international watchdog while working in its own self-interest. However, the US’ direct or indirect support of the opposition does not make the claims of half the country less legitimate. The US continues to be Venezuela’s biggest trade partner. This is definitely an area that requires more self-reflection and analysis on the opposition’s part.
4. The democratic credentials of Maduro are exactly what are in question (apart from the rampant crime, inflation, shortages, impunity, corruption). The last presidential elections, in particular, were marred with countless cases of voter intimidation and supervision, illegal use of government funding to campaign for the State Party (PSUV), dead people registered to vote (and voting!) and the insinuation that the vote is not secret leading some to fear the loss of government benefits. Even with all of this fraud, Maduro “won” with less than 1.6% of a difference.
5/6. Chavez and other government officials orchestrated a failed military coup against a democratically elected president in 1992. Their attempt left over 100 dead. The 2002 coup was a mistake. Currently, the opposition is not calling for a coup. Some are calling for Maduro to resign, and protests to pressure him to resign are constitutionally legitimate. Others want him to govern with the opposition and actually work to resolve issues of crime and the economy.
7. It is impossible to deny the outright censorship of media in Venezuela. Private media is required to broadcast government speeches and rallies at a moments notice. The remaining private media at the very least self-censors after dozens of radio and television channels have been taken off the air in the last 15 years because of their political inclinations. The government is showing discretion when allotting money to import paper for newspapers. It uses state media as a propaganda branch of the PSUV. It kicked out NTN24 because it covered live images of the February 12th protests and just kicked out CNN. Finally, the only channel left that was openly critical of the government, Globovision, was forced to sell itself to government supporters after years of fines and threats of being kicked of the air.
8. Rhetorically, Venezuela does challenge the US and its neoliberal ideology. In reality, the government thrives off of the global capitalist structure and the US continues to be the favorite vacation and investment spot for “socialist” government officials and their corruption “earnings.”
You present some statistics that according to many are manipulated by the government. Feel free to contact me to discuss in detail about these or any points I’ve raised.
Gloria al bravo pueblo
que el yugo lanzó,
la Ley respetando
la virtud y honor.