April 16, 2013

On the ground account account of destabilization in Venezuela

Padraic O'Brien is a student activist at the University of Guelph, currently in Venezuela.

Spread widely! Apparently the message in mainstream media isn't quite the same as what I'm finding on the ground here...

The recent chain of events in Venezuela since the electoral results came out last Sunday contain very troubling aspects which need to be brought to the light. I am presently in Guacas de Rivera, in the state of Apure, where elections took place normally and no act of violence was committed. But people here are worried about the way things are going.

The scenario we are seeing develop was foreseen by many people who had been anticipating a destabilization attempt against the government by the opposition in order to pave the way for a coup. This prediction was reinforced by the fact that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski never said he would accept the vote -- although his organization officially recognizes the impartiality and competence of the national electoral council, whose work has been deemed impeccable in the past by international observers.

Here is what happened so far.

First, despite the polarization of the debate and accusations both parties have been throwing at one another, the elections went smoothly across the country.  Chavista supporters in the area waited anxiously the results until around midnight, results which made Maduro winner with the slimmest margin ever registered by the revolutionary movement, less than 2%.

Immediately after Maduro's speech, his opponent Capriles stated the results were false and demanded a recount, while saying there were no doubts he had won the elections. Maduro later replied that a recount and audit were reasonable, as allowed for under electoral procedures, but saw in Capriles' actions nothing but maneuvers aimed at engendering a climate of instability in the country. The events from last night reinforce this accusation.

During the day, Capriles maintained his accusations against the revolutionary side, calling his supporters to take the streets with pots and pans to put pressure on the government. Meanwhile, the director of the national electoral council announced the final results and certified their validity, officially awarding victory to Maduro.

Later in the day, many governments congratulated him for his victory, such as those of Argentina, Chile,Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico, while other such as the United States and Spain took position in favour of a recount and did not recognize Maduro's victory. The Inter-American Organization meanwhile gave its approval to the electoral process and declared its results valid.

During the evening, Capriles supporters took the streets in many cities across the country. In Guacas de Rivera, Chavista supporters celebrated victory with loud music and dancing, and decided not to parade in the streets to avoid fighting. There was a pots and pans march in the neighbouring town of El Cantón but without any violence. There is the suspicion, however, that a 2 hour power outage was caused by sabotage.

Around 9pm, news starting coming out from the rest of the country about violence. Here is what we know so far.

In the largest cities of the country, such as Caracas, San Cristóbal, Mérida, Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Maracay, Baruta, Barcelona, Maturín, Barinas and San Fernando de Apure, Capriles supporters rioted and attacked state institutions associated to Chávez, Socialist Party offices and even residencies of party officials and of the electoral council's director.

At least seven people, including four members of the PSUV, were murdered. In Maturín, in the state of Monagas, the rioters took over the electoral council's office, but were then taken out by the JCV -- the Communist Youth of Venezuela.

The most troubling aspects however were the attacks against public hospitals, in the cities of Maracaibo and Valencia. In Maracaibo, they were triggered after opposition figure Nelson Bocaranga -- notorious for spreading false rumours in the past about Chávez's health status -- tweeted that voting booths were being stored in those public hospitals under the care of Cuban doctors.

Capriles' supporters went out to damage 11 hospitals, but of course found no evidence of this pure lie. Other regime opponents also spread photos from 2008 and 2010 elections to base their claims about electoral mischief. And public kindergartens and subsidized food stores were also attacked. Yes, you read that right...

Violent acts were also committed in smaller towns, which is cause for worry. For example, in the small, remote Andean town of Pregonero, in the state of Táchira, and in the town of Achaguas, in the state of Apure, rioters tried to burn down community radio stations. These towns are located in traditionally strong Chavista territory, and close to the Colombian border, a strategic area. In fact, the border state of Táchira, an opposition stronghold,seems to have been particularly hit hard by violence, not only in its capital San Cristóbal, but also in many smaller towns. Táchira happens to be the doorway to Colombia...

It seems like some violence was still going on during the day. I was told that in Barinas, opponents are still electrified in the streets, and police are using tear gas. Closer to here, in the district capital Guasdualito, both groups faced off in the streets. The smaller opposition group was only able to stay for an hour, and Chavista groups will remain vigilant tonight to protect important buildings. National Guards were present to avoid fighting, but the people were generally disciplined.

Word goes around to not respond to any sort of provocation. Many rumours are flying around, like one that says that Capriles, Bocaranga and other opposition figures have sent their families outside the country. In his first public appearance since the violence, Capriles blamed responsibility over violence to Maduro, and called for other marches tonight. But he withdrew his call to march to the central electoral office in Caracas tomorrow.

The situation in the country remains critical. It is important to spread around this information. The scenario is eerily similar to that of the 2002 coup attempt, and not entirely dissimilar from what happened more recently in Libya and Syria. Let's all remain vigilant, and demonstrate our support of Venezuelan sovereignty and democracy at the nearest Venezuelan embassies and consulates!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular stories