After the recent UK premiere of the documentary April: between peace and rage, VSC spoke to Alvaro Sanchez, chargé d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy UK about the film, what it reveals about Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the ongoing destabilisation ahead of December’s elections.
Video by Angel Palacios
Why is this film “April: between peace and rage” important?
The film shows the political violence that took place earlier this year in Venezuela, in the aftermath of the presidential election in April. It’s a tragic story. Eleven innocent people lost their lives as a result of this unnecessary and outrageous political violence encouraged by the extremists at the heart of Venezuela’s opposition.
This was a blatant attempt to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro before it was even sworn into office. Sadly their deaths got very little coverage across the world. If they had it would make it much less likely that this would ever happen again. As we approach elections in December, it is an important time for democrats all over the world to speak out to condemn any violence against a legitimate and elected government as we have in Venezuela, as totally unacceptable.
Was the violence depicted in this film a one off?
Unfortunately not. This film focuses on events in April this year but, more widely, it serves as a reminder of the violence and anti-democratic nature of the extremists who dominate Venezuela’s opposition. As many people know this was taken to its logical conclusion with the coup d’etat in 2002.
However violence is not the only tactic used to destabilise and overthrow elected governments. Sometime destabilisation is expressed in other ways, including by abusing economic power. We saw that in the oil lockout in 2003 that caused our economy to collapse by one-third almost overnight in an attempt to try and force Hugo Chavez out. And we are seeing this again in the ongoing economic sabotage of the Venezuelan economy currently under-way.
Whether is through violence, economic sabotage or other means, the aim of such destabilisation is clear: they want to oust the democratically elected government.
That is what was tried in April when the right-wing opposition sought to unseat Maduro and it’s what is happening again in Venezuela at the moment.
What led to this wave of violence in April?
Nicolas Maduro won the election, which was the first since the passing away of Hugo Chavez. The candidate of the right-wing opposition coalition, Henrique Capriles, lost. Now he lost narrowly – by 51% -49% – but he lost nonetheless. And we should remember that President Maduro won by almost 250,000 votes.
Governments across Latin America, the UK, France, Spain and others in the EU recognised the results. Yet, emboldened by the US, the leadership of the right-wing opposition didn’t recognise them, in spite of all the evidence.
Immediately after the results were announced they claimed fraud. They immediately said they had proof of different figures! Of course they had no evidence. In fact they themselves had signed off a dozen audits prior to the election backing the electoral process. But they claimed fraud none the less. They continued to make baseless allegations about the National Electoral Council even after a 100% recount – that they had demanded – confirmed the results.
It’s worth remembering that ahead of the elections, Capriles bodyguard was caught saying that Capriles wasn’t going to recognise the results. And the US, the only government in the world not to recognise the results, had said in the run up that free elections wouldn’t be possible. This seems to have been a co-ordinated plan for destabilisation.
For example after the election, the media oligarchs – Venezuela’s equivalent of Murdoch – used clearly manipulated photos and video footage to “show” fraud. The lack of evidence would have been laughable had it not been so serious. In one photo they even took a photo from the National Electoral Council’s own website showing the incineration of votes from an election five years earlier – the ballot papers are destroyed after a certain period of time – and pretended this was recent evidence of fraud that they had discovered !
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles used these claims of fraud as a pretext to encourage opposition supporters to “vent their anger”. That’s what led to the wave of opposition political violence that is shown in the film.
Does the opposition normally accept acknowledge the results?
This isn’t the first time that the opposition has refused to accept the results. It has done it many times though it is very quick to accept the results in particular areas where it wins council, mayoral and state governor posts!
When it loses, it often claims fraud in spite of all the evidence as it doesn’t want to legitimise the government. This has been going on for years now.
A good example is the referendum in 2004 on whether Hugo Chavez would stay in power. An internationally observed referendum saw Chavez win by approximately 60%-40%. International monitors from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States declared the voting process was free and fair . But the opposition claimed it had evidence showing that, in fact, it had won and refused to acknowledge the results! Ten years on we are still waiting for the evidence.
Why do they refuse to acknowledge the results?
Much of the Venezuelan right-wing opposition has never reconciled itself to the new Bolivarian Constitution agreed to by a majority in 1999 as part of the new political era ushered in by Hugo Chavez. They have never accepted the legal institutions of the State. So in their heads they seem to think it is legitimate to work outside of the law and the constitution and to bypass the democratic principles.
At the heart of the matter, they have never accepted that the majority have a right to create a new society that works for the majority for the first time. That’s because it removes the privilege and power held by the old elite, by the very forces at the centre of the opposition.
That is why destabilisation and the use of the non-democratic path to oust the government has always been an open point of discussion in the Venezuelan opposition.
This refusal to accept the constitutional process and instead to engage in destabilisation and violence is exactly what we saw in April this year. Though prevented in April this pressure to get rid of the elected government continues.
What’s the link between the events in this film and the coming December’s elections?
Well we are in the middle of another destabilisation plan.
On the one hand, there’s economic sabotage and damage to infrastructure. This seems to be designed to create a pressure cooker in Venezuela that sees the revolution implode. Or maybe its aim is to weaken government support so that the the masses of the population do not mobilise in the same numbers as they did in 2002, when millions took to the streets to defend their President against a coup.
But there is another element to the destabilisation which is to try to force the government out through right-wing protests and claims of fraud.
As we approach the elections, the opposition is calling on their people to vote – and no doubt they hope to win many Mayoralties. But afterwards they are calling their people to stay out on the street.
What’s worrying is that this may be the kind of “protests” that we saw this April when 11 died . Or it may be like those in 2002 when, to justify the coup, political protests were manipulated into a confrontation by the opposition, who then had snipers kill their own supporters blaming the government as a justification for the army to enter the political arena and overturn democracy.
At December’s elections if they win, the opposition will claim that the Mayoral elections show that the government no longer commands legitimacy and should go. If they lose they could well say it was fraud and that the government had to cheat as it is does not reflect the majority: that it is illegitimate and it should go. Their approach may well be “heads you lose, tails we win!”
Through these protests they want to give the impression that the majority has risen up against the Maduro government and that the only way to rescue the nation is through a new government. They hope by doing so they can encourage other actors – domestic or foreign – to bypass the democratic process and force the government out before the completion of its electoral term.
And they are being pretty open about this. Last month Maria Corina Machada, one of the most prominent opposition spokespeople said that president’s term of office wont be determined by the constitution but “by the will of the people on the streets”.
Capriles himself recently issued a video telling his supporters to vote and then take to the streets in all the corners of the country to “make them respect the will of the people”. They are already launching smears on the National Electoral Council (CNE) claiming it is biased, even though they asked the CNE themselves to oversee their own primaries that choose Henrique Carpiles as their their Presidential candidate!
And Leopold Lopez, the campaign manager of Henrique Capriles, recently said that his strategy for last April’s elections had been for protests that would “never leave the street” presumably until the government had gone. He called it a “setback” that they had left the streets and said that they had to “regain” that initiative. Given what happened in April, that is frightening.
What would you say in response to the media disinformation that supporters of Henrique Carpiles are spreading in Venezuela and internationally?
Firstly, the presidential election was won by Nicolas Maduro – and so he has a mandate to serve a six year term. Under our constitution half way through that six year term, if the people want one, there can be a recall referendum on whether President Maduro stays. But only if 4 million or so people sign a petition asking to have a referendum. That aside there is no way reason that President Maduro will not serve a full term. Six years – that the rules of the game. And any attempt to shorten by the right-wing opposition is anti-constitutional.
Secondly, whatever happens in Decembers mayoral elections, President Maduro’s fate won’t be decided by those results. Whether or not the parties backing Maduro win a majority of Mayors or a majority of the popular vote matters not one bit to who the President is. President Maduro’s constitutional position as President will remain identical. Just as your Prime Minister is not determined by who wins your local elections, our President is not decided by who wins councillor, Mayoral, or governor elections. Its determined by whoever wins the presidential elections – and that election is done and dusted. The opposition attempts to claim that if they were to win the mayoral elections then the President should stand aside is another attempt to violate our constitution.
Thirdly, smears about the National Electoral Council and Venezuela’s election system have to be challenged. Venezuela has proven time after time that it is a democratic country with an impeccable record. Protests claiming otherwise will stem from the same old people who have always sought to oust the government – all too often by non democratic means
How can people in Britain help defend democracy and social progress in Venezuela?
Well the key thing is that people speak out against the false arguments used to destabilise the country. It’s clear that extremists in the opposition are hoping to exploit the post Chavez scenario to try to overturn the democratic will in Venezuela
When they tell lies that the President did not win a majority; of the lack of democracy; of social collapse; or of how the majority want regime change, you can play your role by speaking out so that in this corner of the world the truth is known.
Sadly – be it by military coups, economic lock-outs or politician destabilisation – extremists in the opposition never give up. It’s not surprising as Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world.
But with people like you across the world supporting us, alongside the Bolivarian forces inside Venezuela, we can thwart the latest destabilisation attempts just as we have done with many previous ones.