February 24, 2014

Venezuela: Who’s the bully?

By Zach Morgenstern
Originally published by UofT's "the newspaper" Feb 23rd, 2014

From solidarity rally in Toronto - Feb 22nd 2014
Photo from Hugo Chavez Peoples' Defense Front
Imagine you went to school with a bully, someone who intimidates and physically assaults other students to get their way. Imagine one of the bully’s targets is an honors student with no blotches on his/her permanent record. Finally, imagine you are approached by the bully. The bully tells you the honors student has been beating up other kids, and that you should do whatever it takes to stop the violence.

Now chances are if you are most people, you would not buy the bully’s attempt to the play the angel and slander his/her very likeable, and trustworthy enemy.

Unfortunately, it seems we do not have this common sense when it comes to our perception of international politics. In 2002, Venezuela’s opposition launched a coup against then President Hugo Chávez. Their short-lived government named businessman Pedro Carmona president, and then proceeded to shut-down the national assembly and supreme court. The coup regime abolished the country’s constitution, which had been approved by popular referendum in 1999.

The coup government was soon defeated, but shortly afterwards, Venezuela faced an oil industry “strike” (which was actually a lockout) that attempted to bankrupt the country and bring down the government. Since then, opposition-government relations have not improved, with opposition politicians regularly refusing to accept the results of the nation’s democratic elections.

Common sense would tell us that a government that wins election after election by empowering poor, non-white-Venezuelans is the “honors student” in our metaphor. Common sense would tell us that a government that not only puts up with regular slander, including Hitler comparisons, from the country’s largely privately owned media, but also pardoned many of the perpetrators of the 2002 coup should be trusted in the wake of allegations of it being oppressive. Unfortunately, the analogy hasn’t held. As opposition campaigns such as #PrayForVenezuela have gone viral, people have forgotten the opposition’s consistent role as the bully.

What is more incredible, however, is that the list of Venezuela’s bullies does not just include figures like Leopoldo López who are little known outside of Venezuela. It also includes the US government, which openly funds the Venezuelan opposition and has been linked to the 2002 coup.

Prior to Chávez’s rise, Venezuela was a close US ally, including in 1989 when Venezuelan security forces massacred anti-IMF demonstrators. The United States’ record in the rest of Latin America is even more abhorrent. The US is a strong backer of Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia, a country with a reputation for disappearing people and killing trade unionists. Historically, the United States can claim to have supported a coup in Chile that killed the country’s democratically elected President Allende. Chile then fell under the rule of the US-trained General Augusto Pinochet, who proceeded to murder and torture his opponents en masse.

Washington has also backed murderous regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador Honduras, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, The Dominican Republic and Haiti. The US government funded the Contra army in Nicaragua which killed many in order to coerce citizens to finally vote against their leftist Sandinista government. Fidel Castro, Washington’s number one enemy in Latin America, has had to survive as many as 638 alleged assassination attempts.

Despite all this, mainstream western outlets have failed to view recent allegations of government violence in Venezuela through a critical lense. There has been little discussion in the mainstream press of what the role of Washington and Venezuela’s reactionary opposition have been in the violence. Rather, the response thus far has seemingly been one that takes the credibility of Venezuela’s opposition for granted, and, as the normally apolitical celebrity George Takei did, acts as if westerners are indifferent to the plights of Venezuelan dissidents.

From solidarity rally in Toronto - Feb 22nd 2014
Photo from Hugo Chavez Peoples' Defense Front
This only shows why the bullies of the world are far more domineering than the bullies of schoolyards. Many westerners know about the repressive tendencies of their governments that include the practice of torture , drone strikes and mass surveillance. Despite this, the average western commentator cannot seem to think like the kid on the playground who knows to trust the squeaky-clean honors student over the bully. Rather, the bully’s identity has to be relearned on every relevant occasion.

In the post-Rwanda era, it has become a western mantra to worry about not doing enough to protect foreign peoples from their oppressive governments. The problem with this logic is that it has a become a cliché that gets employed again and again seemingly devoid of context. Not all governments are created equal and not all demonstrators are created equal. We therefore need to be able to challenge the assumptions of the current political order and speak out for democratic and socialist-oriented Venezuela against its oligarchic, imperialist bullies.

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