February 26, 2014

A first-hand account from Venezuela

A pro-government counter-demo. Venezuela has been
hit by many anti-Chavez actions recently
By Antoine St. Marie
Special to Rebel Youth

I am currently in a remote area of Venezuela and have been for the last week and a half. It is somewhat difficult to imagine all these events going on outside of the towns of San Simon and Pregonero, where I am based. Here people say these are the biggest protests since the 2002 CIA-backed coup against the government of then leader Hugo Chavez.

Originally the centers of the protests were San Cristobal (Tachira state) and Merida (Merida state). I was in San Cristobal when they started and I rather unexpectedly happened to stumble (almost literally) across what may have been the very first of these protests.  A group of opposition members were throwing rocks at the house of the state Governor, who is with the PSUV (or Socialist Party founded by Chavez). There was a small security force inside the walls of the house which was not responding to the attack; so unprovoked violence played a part right from the beginning.

While I saw no guns, I did see many protest areas with burning trash bags. The one other protest I saw with my eyes was in La Grita (Tachira), which was peaceful and consisted of a march and banging of pots and pans. Government security forces were not present.

The local pro-government media has extensively reported on vandalism and violence from the opposition protestors, overwhelmingly unprovoked; the videos shown are proof that violence and intimidation is a significant aspect of the opposition protests.

For example, yesterday the news showed videos and pictures of, among other things, the large scale vandalism of CANTV (pro-government news) in Lara state. The attack included burning six cars and and major damage to the building. Videos showed opposition protestors throwing Molotov Cocktails at a building of the Ministry of Justice, as well as fires lit in a Caracas subway station. Other pro-government media has even exposed photos posted on twitter of "evidence" of government aggression to be photos from past years or even in other countries.

While my ability to always understand Spanish rapidly blaring out of TV and radio speakers is far from perfect, I can get the idea of what is being said. And since both pro- and opposition media is everywhere and constant -- and the people here are so political these days and polarized -- there is no shortage of opportunities to hear different views, even if it is difficult to understand on the television sometimes. As far as freedom of press goes, there is abundant opposition press and they certainly speak against the government every day.

A member of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service SEBIN was recently arrested in connection with the deaths of an opposition protestor and a Chavista, but despite this crime, no serious evidence has been produced to show that government forces are behind the vast majority of violence and deaths produced by the protests, let alone that they have been initiating it. In my opinion, political violence and deaths in Venezuela since Chavez have essentially been committed by civil society – by both opposition and, unfortunately, some Chavistas. In a rare twist of global norms, the government forces seem to be most innocent.

I’ve also found the indigenous population in Venezuela is not quite as large as some other South American countries and is, generally, behind the pro-Chavez movement. Linguistic differences appear to me to be much less clear than class-based differences.

The rich of course are consistently against the government, those of middle incomes are also, generally, against while the poor are, generally, pro government although, of course, there are always many exceptions.

In Tachira state where I am, which is one of the states where the opposition is stronger, it is not too hard to find poorer people against the government who get their news from the corporate media. Scarcity and inflation are also affecting the government’s popularity among the less well off. Scarcities do not mean that people are not eating. As far as I have learned essentially everyone has 3 meals a day.  The quality and quantity of nutrition has risen very significantly for a large sector of the population during the Bolivarian Revolution. But rising prices are of course cutting into salaries.

As to the fomentation of these protests, I have no doubt that foreign imperialist powers are doing what they can as they always have here. Just the money given by the CIA in past years to opposition groups is enough to say that they have a role in it; let alone whatever they are doing these days during the protests. But, at the same time, these protests have their strongest root in national domestic opposition.

The Venezuelan bourgeoisie is of course no less ruthless than any other. Yet it appears there is something of a division of the leadership of the opposition here. The head of the opposition Capriles Radonski has denounced violent methods of struggle at the moment, not because he is a nice guy but because he does not consider the violent removal of the government a possibility at this time!

Radonski’s role in the 2002 coup is enough to show he is not against violence. He has at the same time said that the protests are generally peaceful – which is not evidently not true. Other members of the opposition such as Leopoldo Lopez, who recently gave himself up to the arrest warrant out for him, are trying to foment more protests which can only mean greater violence.

I find it hard to imagine the government being violently thrown-out in Venezuela today, but one never knows.

If protests of this sort were occurring in Canada, we would be in a government crackdown. In fact, I think some loud voices would be calling upon the government to do so at the notorious 2010 Toronto G20! There were considerably fewer cases of violence from the protestors, and considerably more police violence compared to Venezuela today.

From the best I can tell here, there has been a level of patience from the government. I can’t imagine such patience from the government and police in our supposedly peaceful country of Canada.

Antoine St Marie is an activist with the Kamloops Socialist club. In late December last year he traveled to Ecuador as part of the pan-Canadian delegation to the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students and has been traveling in Latin America since then.

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