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Opinion and Analysis: Opposition

Unlike What the Media Says or Implies, the Violence in Venezuela Is Being Perpetrated by the Opposition

The slant of the Venezuelan private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence. In the first place government-ordered gunmen are shooting at pacific demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces. But there is considerable evidence that shows that the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against the demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:

1. Violent actions have been carried out by the opposition since the time of the 2002 coup. The “guarimba” which means urban violence (or “foquismo”) was publicly advocated by opposition leaders in 2003-2004 as the only way to prevent the establishment of a dictatorial regime in Venezuela.  

2. On April 11, 2002, the day Chávez was overthrown, the Venezuelan and international media and the White House used juxtaposition of images of Chavistas shooting pistols in downtown Caracas, on the one hand, and peaceful anti-government demonstrators, on the other to justify the coup. However the Irish-produced documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and other documentaries demonstrated by the flow of the camera that the demonstrators were far away from the Chavistas and that they were shooting in response to sniper fire against them. If snipers were responsible for the 15-20 killings (of opposition demonstrators along with Chavistas) that justified the coup of April 2002, is there any reason to doubt that the unidentified individuals who are attacking demonstrators are not acting on behalf of sectors of the opposition?

3. The violence that has rocked Venezuela during the last two weeks has targeted public buildings, such as the headquarters of the Fiscalía General (Attorney General), the public television channel (Channel 8), the state-owned Banco de Venezuela, the house of the Chavista governor of Tachira, trucks of the state grocery store chain PDVAL, and dozens of metro buses in Caracas. 

4. None of the opposition leaders have explicitly condemned the opposition-promoted violence. Opposition mayors in Caracas and elsewhere have refrained from using their police force to contain the violence.

5. The so-called “peaceful” demonstrators engage in disruptions by closing key avenues in an attempt to paralyze transportation. Where I live, on the main drag between the twin cities of Barcleona and Puerto La Cruz, the demonstrators occupy two of the three lanes on both sides and as a result traffic backs up for miles. A number of tragedies have been reported of people in a state of emergency who were unable to make it to a hospital or clinic on time.

6. The term “salida,” which has become a main slogan of the protesters, implies regime change. Obviously the opposition is not calling for a constitutional solution in which Maduro resigns and is replaced by the president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, as the constitution stipulates. Regime change is a radical slogan that implies radical tactics.

7. Political scientist and Venezuelan specialist David Smilde of the University of Georgia, who is not pro-Chavista but rather evenhanded in his analyses, has stated that the Venezuelan government has nothing to gain by the violence.

8. The government has nothing to gain by the violence because the media is largely on the side of the opposition and present a picture of the violence which directly and indirectly blames the government. Consider the following front page article titled “Capital City Suffers Night Violence” of El Universal (February 20), one of Venezuela’s  major newspapers:

“Anoche la Guardia Nacional Bolivariana y la Policía Nacional Bolivariana arremetieron casi simultáneamente contra las diferentes manifestaciones que se producían en distintos puntos de la ciudad capital, mientras el presidente Nicolás Maduro hablaba en cadena nacional de radio y televisión. En los enfrentamientos hubo perdigones, bombas lacrimógenas mientras las cacerolas sonaban desde las ventanas.”

Translation: “Last night, the National Guard and National Police attacked almost simultaneously different demonstrations that were taking place in distinct areas of the capital city,,, In the confrontations  there was gunshot [and] tear gas while people banged on pots and pans from their windows (in protest of the government).”

9. The Venezuelan government has shown great restraint in the context of opposition- promoted violence and disruption. In nearly any other country in the world, the disruption of traffic in major cities throughout the country would have resulted in mass arrests. 

10. Governments, particularly undemocratic ones, which lack active popular support and completely control the media effectively use repression against dissidents. This is not the case in Venezuela. None of the non-state channels and newspapers (that the vast majority of Venezuelans get their news from) supports the government and most of them are ardently anti-government. Furthermore, unlike governments that use massive repression (such as Egypt under Mubarak), the Chavista government and movement has a greater mobilization capacity, particularly among the popular sectors of the population, than the opposition. As Smilde says, the use of violence by the government makes absolutely no sense.