The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.

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It says something about overall media coverage of a subject when some of the most important news appears in the form of corrections.  On February 26, the New York Times corrected a false statement in a news report that had incorrectly referred to Globovision as “[t]he only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” This was false, and it was easy to show that other major television stations regularly broadcast opposition views.

Today the Times corrected an even more important false statement that appeared in an op-ed by jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.  López had written that “more than 30” protesters had been killed in Venezuela in the recent protests. In fact the “more than 30” number cited by López includes all protest-related deaths, a fraction of whom appear to be protesters.  Although it has not been mentioned in major media coverage, a compilation of press reports indicates that the protesters themselves – not security forces – are responsible for about half of the deaths.  These include six national guardsmen who were shot, five additional people apparently shot while trying to remove barriers erected by protesters, and seven people who were killed apparently from crashing into protesters’ barriers (including two motorcyclists beheaded by wire strung across the road).

This correction is extremely important because most people who see the daily death toll from protests in Venezuela understandably assume that these are people killed by state agents.  Although the reporters are not intending to mislead, we can see the effect of this reporting in that López himself, and whoever edited, placed, or provided other assistance with the op-ed for him also were very much mistaken.  The net result of this widespread false impression is to greatly strengthen the opposition strategy, supported by many politicians and pundits in the U.S., to portray Venezuela as a violent, repressive, and illegitimate government. 

Although it is impossible to give a completely accurate accounting of who has been killed by whom in the six weeks of protests, the fact that only a small fraction of the fatalities were caused by security forces, and about half by the protesters themselves, should make people think about whether this is really a story about a “violent” government trying to repress “peaceful” protesters.  The Attorney General has also stated that there are 60 investigations of human rights abuses by security forces and that at least 15 have been jailed.  

The prior error and correction about the news media in Venezuela was significant in the same way, as I have detailed elsewhere.  In general, op-eds are given more leeway with respect to facts than news reports, so it is good that the Times recognized this as a significant factual error and promptly corrected it. 

The New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who has shown a great deal of independence and integrity in reviewing the content of the paper, yesterday looked at the question, “Does The Times Take Sides in Venezuela Reporting?”  I don’t have the time or space here to review the Times’ reporting on Venezuela over the past 15 years, but there is one complaint that she seems to agree with:     

Another reader, Paul Karlin, complains that The Times’s news and opinion coverage is “remarkably biased” against the Maduro government. He has sent me a number of examples of perspectives – critical of the American approach to Venezuela – that he finds lacking on the Times Op-Ed pages; it’s a reasonable point.

It sure is.  In the 15 years since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, the New York Times has offered many op-eds from an opposition viewpoint on Venezuela, including 3 in just the last month.  But only after Chávez died last year did the Times’ print edition offer its first, and to date, only op-ed on Venezuela from another perspective, by Brazilian ex-president Lula Da Silva. This contrasts with almost every medium-sized to large newspaper in the United States – e.g. the LA Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, and Washington Post, and scores of other mainstream and even right-wing city newspapers, which all published at least one op-ed offering another side of the story during the Chávez years.

It says something about overall media coverage of a subject when some of the most important news appears in the form of corrections.  On February 26, the New York Times corrected a false statement in a news report that had incorrectly referred to Globovision as “[t]he only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” This was false, and it was easy to show that other major television stations regularly broadcast opposition views.

Today the Times corrected an even more important false statement that appeared in an op-ed by jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López.  López had written that “more than 30” protesters had been killed in Venezuela in the recent protests. In fact the “more than 30” number cited by López includes all protest-related deaths, a fraction of whom appear to be protesters.  Although it has not been mentioned in major media coverage, a compilation of press reports indicates that the protesters themselves – not security forces – are responsible for about half of the deaths.  These include six national guardsmen who were shot, five additional people apparently shot while trying to remove barriers erected by protesters, and seven people who were killed apparently from crashing into protesters’ barriers (including two motorcyclists beheaded by wire strung across the road).

This correction is extremely important because most people who see the daily death toll from protests in Venezuela understandably assume that these are people killed by state agents.  Although the reporters are not intending to mislead, we can see the effect of this reporting in that López himself, and whoever edited, placed, or provided other assistance with the op-ed for him also were very much mistaken.  The net result of this widespread false impression is to greatly strengthen the opposition strategy, supported by many politicians and pundits in the U.S., to portray Venezuela as a violent, repressive, and illegitimate government. 

Although it is impossible to give a completely accurate accounting of who has been killed by whom in the six weeks of protests, the fact that only a small fraction of the fatalities were caused by security forces, and about half by the protesters themselves, should make people think about whether this is really a story about a “violent” government trying to repress “peaceful” protesters.  The Attorney General has also stated that there are 60 investigations of human rights abuses by security forces and that at least 15 have been jailed.  

The prior error and correction about the news media in Venezuela was significant in the same way, as I have detailed elsewhere.  In general, op-eds are given more leeway with respect to facts than news reports, so it is good that the Times recognized this as a significant factual error and promptly corrected it. 

The New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who has shown a great deal of independence and integrity in reviewing the content of the paper, yesterday looked at the question, “Does The Times Take Sides in Venezuela Reporting?”  I don’t have the time or space here to review the Times’ reporting on Venezuela over the past 15 years, but there is one complaint that she seems to agree with:     

Another reader, Paul Karlin, complains that The Times’s news and opinion coverage is “remarkably biased” against the Maduro government. He has sent me a number of examples of perspectives – critical of the American approach to Venezuela – that he finds lacking on the Times Op-Ed pages; it’s a reasonable point.

It sure is.  In the 15 years since Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, the New York Times has offered many op-eds from an opposition viewpoint on Venezuela, including 3 in just the last month.  But only after Chávez died last year did the Times’ print edition offer its first, and to date, only op-ed on Venezuela from another perspective, by Brazilian ex-president Lula Da Silva. This contrasts with almost every medium-sized to large newspaper in the United States – e.g. the LA Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, and Washington Post, and scores of other mainstream and even right-wing city newspapers, which all published at least one op-ed offering another side of the story during the Chávez years.

Venezuelan opposition politicians and their allies in the U.S. frequently decry Cuba’s alleged influence on the Venezuelan government. Ironically however, there seems to be an important and growing nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and the anti-Cuba lobby in the U.S. Cuban-American lawmakers recently introduced sanctions legislation targeting Venezuelan officials that appears to be designed to push U.S. policy toward Venezuela in the same direction as policy toward Cuba.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Venezuelan opposition’s ire for Cuba and the role it has played in the ongoing protests in Venezuela:

Enraged as they are by their nation’s leaders, many of the protesters who have spilled onto Venezuela’s streets have their eyes fixed on another government altogether, one they resent perhaps just as bitterly as their own: Cuba’s.

Their rancor is echoed by the Cuban opposition, which has thrown itself behind the Venezuelan protesters’ cause with gusto, sharing photos and videos of protests and police abuse on Twitter, urging Venezuelans to resist and even rapping an apology for what they call Cuba’s meddling.

The Venezuela protests have “energized” members of Cuba’s opposition, reports the Times. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, an anti-Castro blogger in the U.S., told the Times, “The fate of Castro-ism may be at play in Venezuela…What we were not able to topple in Cuba, we may be able to topple there.”

Yet despite near constant claims from the Venezuelan opposition that Cuba is in control of their country (for instance, when it was announced that Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado would be investigated and possibly stripped of her position, she responded that “It’s clear to me that it was the Castro brothers who gave the order”), the Times notes that:

Such convictions are held by critics in both countries, although they offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions. And while some former Venezuelan military officers say that Cubans are involved in decision-making in the armed forces, some protesters go further, professing to see what they call “the hairy hand” of Cuba everywhere: saying they have detected Cuban “infiltrators” at street protests; seeing a Cuban hallmark in the tactics of Venezuela’s armed forces; and circulating unsubstantiated Internet reports that Cuban special forces, or Black Wasps, are operating in Venezuela.

The Times report follows a number of pieces from the Tampa Bay Tribune, which discuss the relations between anti-Castro exiles, specifically in South Florida, and the opposition in Venezuela. In early March, Paul Guzzo wrote:

From Tampa to the Senate floor in Washington, and throughout the United States, Cuban Americans who defend continued isolation of the Communist island nation are throwing their support behind Venezuelan Americans in their efforts to bring order to the South American country.

The Tribune reports on Casa de Cuba, an organization that has existed since the 1980s. Recently, the organization has shifted its resources to Venezuela:

Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa attorney who has supported Casa de Cuba since its inception, said, “The fact is we got involved too late in Cuba. By the time our fight began Castro was already fully entrenched in the Cuban government.

“But that is not the case in Venezuela. We can inspire and create change there. It is not too late.”

Casa de Cuba has provided Venezuelan opposition supporters with full access to its center at 2506 W. Curtis St.

Reno and Fernandez said Casa de Cuba leaders are teaching these new allies how to organize demonstrations, speak to the media, lobby elected officials, raise money, support clandestine missions, make contacts abroad and distinguish between supporters and spies.

“It has been a perfect relationship,” Reno said.

One resident of Doral, Florida, home to one of the largest Venezuelan populations in the U.S., recently faced boycotts and other harassments after she pointed out that many of the pictures circulating on social media about Venezuela were actually faked. Tim Padgett reports:

Her case isn’t isolated. Boycotters also insist, for example, that a high-end restaurant in Coral Gables is owned by the son of Venezuela’s Supreme Court president. And that the owners of a Doral sushi restaurant are supposedly relatives of Venezuela’s First Lady, Cilia Flores.

In each of those cases, however, the claims appear to be patently false.

And to many observers in Miami, it’s déjà vu – reminiscent of personal attacks suffered a generation ago by anyone who dared disagree with the hardline Cuban exile community.

As the Times points out:

the notion that Cuba’s future is at play in Venezuela is tempting hard-liners from both sides, including influential Cuban Americans, to polarize the conflict further, said Arturo López-Levy, a former Cuban security analyst who lectures at the University of Denver.

“Compromise is not a word in the lexicon of the Cuban revolution,” or of the Cuban exile community, Mr. López-Levy said.

As both the Times and the Tribune note, the support for the Venezuela opposition has also come from U.S. lawmakers that have long supported a more aggressive policy with regards to Cuba. The Times reports:

[Senator Marco] Rubio, a fiery defender of the American economic embargo of Cuba, introduced legislation with two other senators this month that would authorize $15 million in new funding next year for human rights and civil society programs in Venezuela and require President Obama to impose sanctions on people involved in serious human rights violations.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been among the most vocal in denouncing the Venezuelan government. The sanctions legislation she introduced a few weeks ago, which has 15 co-sponsors (11 are from Florida), outlines an extremely aggressive approach to the Venezuelan government and in fact, took some passages directly from the 1996 Helms-Burton act [PDF], which strengthened the embargo against Cuba. The legislation calls on the U.S. government to outline a strategy to ensure that Venezuela is, among other things, “substantially moving toward a market-oriented economic systems based on the right to own and enjoy property,” and “are committed to making constitutional changes that would ensure regular free and fair elections,” sentences taken word for word from Helms-Burton. But the passages seem divorced from the reality in Venezuela, where regular elections are held and private sector growth outpaced public during Chávez’s presidency.

Even the short title of the Venezuela legislation, the “Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act” matches that of Helms-Burton, which is known as the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996.”

The Tribune reports on concerns about the high-profile role being played by the anti-Castro lawmakers:

Attorney Martinez sees another concern; The resolutions are sponsored by Rubio, [Menendez] and Ros-Lehtinen, all of whom are among the most vocal anti-Castro leaders in the U.S.

Martinez said their involvement, coming on the heels of polls showing the majority of the U.S., in favor of, improved relations with Cuba, may point to ulterior motives.

By vilifying the Venezuelan government and tying Cuba to it, the pendulum could swing back to the side of preserving the embargo against Cuba, he said.

Venezuelan opposition politicians and their allies in the U.S. frequently decry Cuba’s alleged influence on the Venezuelan government. Ironically however, there seems to be an important and growing nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and the anti-Cuba lobby in the U.S. Cuban-American lawmakers recently introduced sanctions legislation targeting Venezuelan officials that appears to be designed to push U.S. policy toward Venezuela in the same direction as policy toward Cuba.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Venezuelan opposition’s ire for Cuba and the role it has played in the ongoing protests in Venezuela:

Enraged as they are by their nation’s leaders, many of the protesters who have spilled onto Venezuela’s streets have their eyes fixed on another government altogether, one they resent perhaps just as bitterly as their own: Cuba’s.

Their rancor is echoed by the Cuban opposition, which has thrown itself behind the Venezuelan protesters’ cause with gusto, sharing photos and videos of protests and police abuse on Twitter, urging Venezuelans to resist and even rapping an apology for what they call Cuba’s meddling.

The Venezuela protests have “energized” members of Cuba’s opposition, reports the Times. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, an anti-Castro blogger in the U.S., told the Times, “The fate of Castro-ism may be at play in Venezuela…What we were not able to topple in Cuba, we may be able to topple there.”

Yet despite near constant claims from the Venezuelan opposition that Cuba is in control of their country (for instance, when it was announced that Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado would be investigated and possibly stripped of her position, she responded that “It’s clear to me that it was the Castro brothers who gave the order”), the Times notes that:

Such convictions are held by critics in both countries, although they offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions. And while some former Venezuelan military officers say that Cubans are involved in decision-making in the armed forces, some protesters go further, professing to see what they call “the hairy hand” of Cuba everywhere: saying they have detected Cuban “infiltrators” at street protests; seeing a Cuban hallmark in the tactics of Venezuela’s armed forces; and circulating unsubstantiated Internet reports that Cuban special forces, or Black Wasps, are operating in Venezuela.

The Times report follows a number of pieces from the Tampa Bay Tribune, which discuss the relations between anti-Castro exiles, specifically in South Florida, and the opposition in Venezuela. In early March, Paul Guzzo wrote:

From Tampa to the Senate floor in Washington, and throughout the United States, Cuban Americans who defend continued isolation of the Communist island nation are throwing their support behind Venezuelan Americans in their efforts to bring order to the South American country.

The Tribune reports on Casa de Cuba, an organization that has existed since the 1980s. Recently, the organization has shifted its resources to Venezuela:

Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa attorney who has supported Casa de Cuba since its inception, said, “The fact is we got involved too late in Cuba. By the time our fight began Castro was already fully entrenched in the Cuban government.

“But that is not the case in Venezuela. We can inspire and create change there. It is not too late.”

Casa de Cuba has provided Venezuelan opposition supporters with full access to its center at 2506 W. Curtis St.

Reno and Fernandez said Casa de Cuba leaders are teaching these new allies how to organize demonstrations, speak to the media, lobby elected officials, raise money, support clandestine missions, make contacts abroad and distinguish between supporters and spies.

“It has been a perfect relationship,” Reno said.

One resident of Doral, Florida, home to one of the largest Venezuelan populations in the U.S., recently faced boycotts and other harassments after she pointed out that many of the pictures circulating on social media about Venezuela were actually faked. Tim Padgett reports:

Her case isn’t isolated. Boycotters also insist, for example, that a high-end restaurant in Coral Gables is owned by the son of Venezuela’s Supreme Court president. And that the owners of a Doral sushi restaurant are supposedly relatives of Venezuela’s First Lady, Cilia Flores.

In each of those cases, however, the claims appear to be patently false.

And to many observers in Miami, it’s déjà vu – reminiscent of personal attacks suffered a generation ago by anyone who dared disagree with the hardline Cuban exile community.

As the Times points out:

the notion that Cuba’s future is at play in Venezuela is tempting hard-liners from both sides, including influential Cuban Americans, to polarize the conflict further, said Arturo López-Levy, a former Cuban security analyst who lectures at the University of Denver.

“Compromise is not a word in the lexicon of the Cuban revolution,” or of the Cuban exile community, Mr. López-Levy said.

As both the Times and the Tribune note, the support for the Venezuela opposition has also come from U.S. lawmakers that have long supported a more aggressive policy with regards to Cuba. The Times reports:

[Senator Marco] Rubio, a fiery defender of the American economic embargo of Cuba, introduced legislation with two other senators this month that would authorize $15 million in new funding next year for human rights and civil society programs in Venezuela and require President Obama to impose sanctions on people involved in serious human rights violations.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been among the most vocal in denouncing the Venezuelan government. The sanctions legislation she introduced a few weeks ago, which has 15 co-sponsors (11 are from Florida), outlines an extremely aggressive approach to the Venezuelan government and in fact, took some passages directly from the 1996 Helms-Burton act [PDF], which strengthened the embargo against Cuba. The legislation calls on the U.S. government to outline a strategy to ensure that Venezuela is, among other things, “substantially moving toward a market-oriented economic systems based on the right to own and enjoy property,” and “are committed to making constitutional changes that would ensure regular free and fair elections,” sentences taken word for word from Helms-Burton. But the passages seem divorced from the reality in Venezuela, where regular elections are held and private sector growth outpaced public during Chávez’s presidency.

Even the short title of the Venezuela legislation, the “Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act” matches that of Helms-Burton, which is known as the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996.”

The Tribune reports on concerns about the high-profile role being played by the anti-Castro lawmakers:

Attorney Martinez sees another concern; The resolutions are sponsored by Rubio, [Menendez] and Ros-Lehtinen, all of whom are among the most vocal anti-Castro leaders in the U.S.

Martinez said their involvement, coming on the heels of polls showing the majority of the U.S., in favor of, improved relations with Cuba, may point to ulterior motives.

By vilifying the Venezuelan government and tying Cuba to it, the pendulum could swing back to the side of preserving the embargo against Cuba, he said.

Reading the daily reports on Venezuela’s protests, we find that “At least 31 people have died” (CNN) or the headline “Venezuela death toll rises to 33” (Reuters) and dozens of similar statements in television and radio reports. There is nothing inaccurate about this on its face, and no one can accuse the journalists involved of having exaggerated anything.

But let’s look at this for a moment from the perspective of the reader or listener, who is generally not an expert on Venezuela. What do they think when they read or hear these statements? If you want to find out, just ask anyone who happens to be near you when you are reading this right now: “Who is responsible for most of these deaths?” Unless they have done their own research, they will tell you that the government and/or security forces are responsible.

In fact, it appears that the majority of the deaths described in the headline “Venezuela death rises to 33” appear to have been caused by protesters. The average reader, of course, has plenty of reason to think the opposite; that it was the state security forces that were responsible for most of the deaths. In most countries where street protests take place and there is violence, the vast majority of the violence is indeed caused by police or armed forces. Even in places where protesters engage in violent acts, they will generally provoke greater violence from the state.  

So because this situation is so contrary to what people are understanding from the reports, perhaps reporters should include a simple statement that he majority of deaths appear to have been caused by protesters, not security forces. Otherwise, although it is not intentional, these reports continually reinforce the widespread belief, which is promoted by U.S. politicians and pundits who want Americans to believe it, that the government of Venezuela is violently “cracking down” on “peaceful protesters.”

Reading the daily reports on Venezuela’s protests, we find that “At least 31 people have died” (CNN) or the headline “Venezuela death toll rises to 33” (Reuters) and dozens of similar statements in television and radio reports. There is nothing inaccurate about this on its face, and no one can accuse the journalists involved of having exaggerated anything.

But let’s look at this for a moment from the perspective of the reader or listener, who is generally not an expert on Venezuela. What do they think when they read or hear these statements? If you want to find out, just ask anyone who happens to be near you when you are reading this right now: “Who is responsible for most of these deaths?” Unless they have done their own research, they will tell you that the government and/or security forces are responsible.

In fact, it appears that the majority of the deaths described in the headline “Venezuela death rises to 33” appear to have been caused by protesters. The average reader, of course, has plenty of reason to think the opposite; that it was the state security forces that were responsible for most of the deaths. In most countries where street protests take place and there is violence, the vast majority of the violence is indeed caused by police or armed forces. Even in places where protesters engage in violent acts, they will generally provoke greater violence from the state.  

So because this situation is so contrary to what people are understanding from the reports, perhaps reporters should include a simple statement that he majority of deaths appear to have been caused by protesters, not security forces. Otherwise, although it is not intentional, these reports continually reinforce the widespread belief, which is promoted by U.S. politicians and pundits who want Americans to believe it, that the government of Venezuela is violently “cracking down” on “peaceful protesters.”

While most of the news from Venezuela has been focused on protests, something that is probably more important for the future of the country has taken place. The black market value of the dollar has plummeted by one-third in the past three weeks, on news that the government is introducing a new, market-based exchange rate. According to the plan, known as SICAD 2 (Sistema Cambiario Alternativo de Divisas), Venezuelans will be able to purchase dollars legally from various vendors including private brokers and banks.

In November of last year I wrote a short piece for Folha de Sao Paulo arguing that the black market dollar price was a bubble, comparable to the real estate bubble in the U.S. in 2006 (or stock market in 1999), and that the government could burst it at any time. Some people were buying dollars because they needed them for various purposes; but also some were making what they thought was a one-way bet. They thought that the dollar was a good store of value because it would continue to rise indefinitely against the domestic currency. Much of the media promoted the idea that Venezuela was headed for hyperinflation (some even erroneously call it that), and so the domestic currency (bolivar fuerte) would continue to lose value until it collapsed.

At the time I wrote about the bubble the dollar was at about 60 bolivares fuertes, but it was already well into bubble territory; it continued to rise to 88 and has now fallen to 58.3. It’s likely to fall further as the SICAD 2 system supplies dollars that were previously being sold on the black market. And if the black market dollar falls, it will bring down inflation, since this has been the main cause (see graph below) of the sharp increase in inflation since October of 2012. There should also be some relief of shortages, since it will be easier for importers to get dollars. Since PDVSA (the state oil company) can sell dollars on this market as well, this should also reduce the government budget deficit.

Of course there are other economic problems, including the pilfering of billions of dollars in foreign exchange at the official rate through the setting up of fake companies, and smuggling subsidized food and gasoline across the Colombian border. But the exchange rate system has been the central economic imbalance, and if SICAD 2 functions as planned it could go a long way towards resolving Venezuela’s current economic problems.

vz erandbop1

While most of the news from Venezuela has been focused on protests, something that is probably more important for the future of the country has taken place. The black market value of the dollar has plummeted by one-third in the past three weeks, on news that the government is introducing a new, market-based exchange rate. According to the plan, known as SICAD 2 (Sistema Cambiario Alternativo de Divisas), Venezuelans will be able to purchase dollars legally from various vendors including private brokers and banks.

In November of last year I wrote a short piece for Folha de Sao Paulo arguing that the black market dollar price was a bubble, comparable to the real estate bubble in the U.S. in 2006 (or stock market in 1999), and that the government could burst it at any time. Some people were buying dollars because they needed them for various purposes; but also some were making what they thought was a one-way bet. They thought that the dollar was a good store of value because it would continue to rise indefinitely against the domestic currency. Much of the media promoted the idea that Venezuela was headed for hyperinflation (some even erroneously call it that), and so the domestic currency (bolivar fuerte) would continue to lose value until it collapsed.

At the time I wrote about the bubble the dollar was at about 60 bolivares fuertes, but it was already well into bubble territory; it continued to rise to 88 and has now fallen to 58.3. It’s likely to fall further as the SICAD 2 system supplies dollars that were previously being sold on the black market. And if the black market dollar falls, it will bring down inflation, since this has been the main cause (see graph below) of the sharp increase in inflation since October of 2012. There should also be some relief of shortages, since it will be easier for importers to get dollars. Since PDVSA (the state oil company) can sell dollars on this market as well, this should also reduce the government budget deficit.

Of course there are other economic problems, including the pilfering of billions of dollars in foreign exchange at the official rate through the setting up of fake companies, and smuggling subsidized food and gasoline across the Colombian border. But the exchange rate system has been the central economic imbalance, and if SICAD 2 functions as planned it could go a long way towards resolving Venezuela’s current economic problems.

vz erandbop1

Earlier this week, in a highly irregular move, Panama offered its seat at the regular meeting of the OAS Permanent Council today to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado. Machado, along with Leopoldo López, are the leaders of the “La Salida” — “The Exit” — campaign, which calls for street protests to oust the current government.

At the beginning of the meeting, the OAS representative from Nicaragua called for a vote on whether the meeting should be public or private. After much debate, 22 countries voted to make the meeting private, while 11 countries voted in favor of it being public. It should be noted that this is far from the first time the OAS Permanent Council has held a meeting that was closed to the media. Many of the meetings that occurred after the Honduras coup, for example, were also closed to the media.

Many within the Venezuela opposition and the media were quick to cast the vote as a move to censor Machado and prevent her message from being heard. Others have presented the vote as a barometer of support for the Venezuelan government and opposition. Brazil, which voted to make the meeting private, has quite a different explanation:

The objective of this meeting is not to turn itself into a circus for an outside audience as some representatives have shown they want to do.

Earlier this week, in a highly irregular move, Panama offered its seat at the regular meeting of the OAS Permanent Council today to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado. Machado, along with Leopoldo López, are the leaders of the “La Salida” — “The Exit” — campaign, which calls for street protests to oust the current government.

At the beginning of the meeting, the OAS representative from Nicaragua called for a vote on whether the meeting should be public or private. After much debate, 22 countries voted to make the meeting private, while 11 countries voted in favor of it being public. It should be noted that this is far from the first time the OAS Permanent Council has held a meeting that was closed to the media. Many of the meetings that occurred after the Honduras coup, for example, were also closed to the media.

Many within the Venezuela opposition and the media were quick to cast the vote as a move to censor Machado and prevent her message from being heard. Others have presented the vote as a barometer of support for the Venezuelan government and opposition. Brazil, which voted to make the meeting private, has quite a different explanation:

The objective of this meeting is not to turn itself into a circus for an outside audience as some representatives have shown they want to do.

Today’s report from the New York Times trashes the government for “combative tactics” and “cracking down” on protesters, but if you watch the accompanying video, all you see are protesters attacking police, and the police – without venturing forward, defending themselves with water cannon and tear gas.

One can criticize the decision of the government to block the march from going to hostile territory, but given the continuous presence of violent elements among the protestors, and that Venezuela is a country with a very high homicide rate and many armed civilians, it could have been the prudent thing to do. The government also believes, with some justification, that these protests seek to provoke violence in order to de-legitimize the government. Their stated goal is to overthrow the democratically elected government, and given that the vast majority of the country is against the protests, this really is their only chance of getting anywhere. And the government also knows that the media (both national private and international) will generally blame them for any violence.

In the United States, and especially here in Washington DC, you have to get a permit for marches like this, and they are often denied or re-routed; and if you try to defy this the police will generally beat you and throw you in jail. And these are actually peaceful protests here.

As for the violence so far associated with the protests since they started on Feburary 12, the statistics show that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces:

Of the 29 people killed (full details here),

— 3 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by security forces; 1 other was killed by security forces but it’s not clear if he was a protester.

— 5 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by civilians (the opposition always alleges that these civilians are somehow taking orders from the government, but there has not been any evidence linking the government to any killings by armed civilians; and in a country where there are on average more than 65 homicides per day, it is most likely that these armed civilians are acting on their own).

— 11 civilians appear to have died at the hands of protestors: four of them shot, and the rest killed by various barricades or other obstructions (e.g. motorcyclist beheaded by wire allegedly strung by protesters).

— 3 national guard appear to have been killed by protesters

— 1 pro-government activist appears to have been killed by security forces

— 5 have died in circumstances that are too unclear to determine if they were really related to protests, but they are often included in press reports.

At least 21 security officers have been arrested and remain in jail for alleged violence against protesters, including the incidents described above.

[Editor’s Note, 3/16/2014: This post has been edited slightly for accuracy.]

Today’s report from the New York Times trashes the government for “combative tactics” and “cracking down” on protesters, but if you watch the accompanying video, all you see are protesters attacking police, and the police – without venturing forward, defending themselves with water cannon and tear gas.

One can criticize the decision of the government to block the march from going to hostile territory, but given the continuous presence of violent elements among the protestors, and that Venezuela is a country with a very high homicide rate and many armed civilians, it could have been the prudent thing to do. The government also believes, with some justification, that these protests seek to provoke violence in order to de-legitimize the government. Their stated goal is to overthrow the democratically elected government, and given that the vast majority of the country is against the protests, this really is their only chance of getting anywhere. And the government also knows that the media (both national private and international) will generally blame them for any violence.

In the United States, and especially here in Washington DC, you have to get a permit for marches like this, and they are often denied or re-routed; and if you try to defy this the police will generally beat you and throw you in jail. And these are actually peaceful protests here.

As for the violence so far associated with the protests since they started on Feburary 12, the statistics show that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces:

Of the 29 people killed (full details here),

— 3 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by security forces; 1 other was killed by security forces but it’s not clear if he was a protester.

— 5 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by civilians (the opposition always alleges that these civilians are somehow taking orders from the government, but there has not been any evidence linking the government to any killings by armed civilians; and in a country where there are on average more than 65 homicides per day, it is most likely that these armed civilians are acting on their own).

— 11 civilians appear to have died at the hands of protestors: four of them shot, and the rest killed by various barricades or other obstructions (e.g. motorcyclist beheaded by wire allegedly strung by protesters).

— 3 national guard appear to have been killed by protesters

— 1 pro-government activist appears to have been killed by security forces

— 5 have died in circumstances that are too unclear to determine if they were really related to protests, but they are often included in press reports.

At least 21 security officers have been arrested and remain in jail for alleged violence against protesters, including the incidents described above.

[Editor’s Note, 3/16/2014: This post has been edited slightly for accuracy.]

Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, released a statement in support of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez. In the letter, Lula discusses Chávez’s legacy in the region, saying that he fought for “a more just and sovereign Latin America,” and expresses his confidence in Maduro as a leader who is defending the principles of Venezuelan democracy. Of course, Lula’s message comes at a time when tensions are high in Venezuela as segments of the opposition wrestle for power after having lost two major elections in 2013.

Below is a translation, you can read the original in Spanish here.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Ex President of the Federative Republic of Brazil to His Excellency

President Nicolás Maduro Moros

Sao Paulo, 5 March 2014

To my friend President Nicolás Maduro:

I am writing to you on this sad date for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to offer my vows of respect and sorrow over the death, one year ago, of the unforgettable and beloved friend, Hugo Chávez Frías.

We fought together in the battles for a more just and sovereign Latin America, for the integration of our nations, for the building of an independent and democratic continent. In good times and in bad, in agreement or in divergence, Chávez was a great friend, a brother who shared in my struggle and dreams for the future.

He exited the scene too young, carried by a malaise that he fought like a warrior, but his legacy will be eternal. Under his leadership, Venezuela broke with an economic and social model that concentrated wealth in the hands of a few groups and relegated the majority of the country to misery and poverty.

For 15 years Venezuelans have traveled a path of socially inclusive development, deepening democracy and distribution of income. Along this trajectory Venezuelans have confronted crises and difficulties that they knew how to confront with popular participation, with respect for the Constitution and with the determination to defend popular interests.

Never did Venezuelans depart from path that respected democracy and the sovereignty of one’s vote. Perhaps no other country, in the last decades, has had so many elections and consultations at the ballot box. Even when they had to confront forces ready to violate the constitutional order, they maintained their promise of peace and legality.

These are some of the conquests and lessons we inherit from our friend Chávez. I have no doubt, my friend Maduro, that this body of ideas and experiences constitutes a guide of conduct for your government and for the Venezuelan people in this delicate moment in your history. At this time a dialogue is necessary among all the democrats that want the best for the country. Only in that way will Venezuela realize her dream of a just, fraternal and egalitarian society.

The best way to honor the memory of El Comandante is to continue onward in the direction of peace, of social justice and of democracy, in the direction of continental integration and of autonomy for our countries. In this struggle we are always united.

I leave you with a brotherly hug and send my greetings to the Venezuelan people.

Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, released a statement in support of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez. In the letter, Lula discusses Chávez’s legacy in the region, saying that he fought for “a more just and sovereign Latin America,” and expresses his confidence in Maduro as a leader who is defending the principles of Venezuelan democracy. Of course, Lula’s message comes at a time when tensions are high in Venezuela as segments of the opposition wrestle for power after having lost two major elections in 2013.

Below is a translation, you can read the original in Spanish here.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Ex President of the Federative Republic of Brazil to His Excellency

President Nicolás Maduro Moros

Sao Paulo, 5 March 2014

To my friend President Nicolás Maduro:

I am writing to you on this sad date for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to offer my vows of respect and sorrow over the death, one year ago, of the unforgettable and beloved friend, Hugo Chávez Frías.

We fought together in the battles for a more just and sovereign Latin America, for the integration of our nations, for the building of an independent and democratic continent. In good times and in bad, in agreement or in divergence, Chávez was a great friend, a brother who shared in my struggle and dreams for the future.

He exited the scene too young, carried by a malaise that he fought like a warrior, but his legacy will be eternal. Under his leadership, Venezuela broke with an economic and social model that concentrated wealth in the hands of a few groups and relegated the majority of the country to misery and poverty.

For 15 years Venezuelans have traveled a path of socially inclusive development, deepening democracy and distribution of income. Along this trajectory Venezuelans have confronted crises and difficulties that they knew how to confront with popular participation, with respect for the Constitution and with the determination to defend popular interests.

Never did Venezuelans depart from path that respected democracy and the sovereignty of one’s vote. Perhaps no other country, in the last decades, has had so many elections and consultations at the ballot box. Even when they had to confront forces ready to violate the constitutional order, they maintained their promise of peace and legality.

These are some of the conquests and lessons we inherit from our friend Chávez. I have no doubt, my friend Maduro, that this body of ideas and experiences constitutes a guide of conduct for your government and for the Venezuelan people in this delicate moment in your history. At this time a dialogue is necessary among all the democrats that want the best for the country. Only in that way will Venezuela realize her dream of a just, fraternal and egalitarian society.

The best way to honor the memory of El Comandante is to continue onward in the direction of peace, of social justice and of democracy, in the direction of continental integration and of autonomy for our countries. In this struggle we are always united.

I leave you with a brotherly hug and send my greetings to the Venezuelan people.

Since February 23, CEPR has been keeping track of those who have died during the last month of protests in Venezuela. Below is the most recent available information on the location, causes and status of investigations into the deaths. This list will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. As of March 24, the list contains 37 individuals; however in some cases press reports indicate that the death was not directly associated with the protests. Never the less, as they have often been reported as such, they are included below.

There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum. In some cases, members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement. Over 10 individuals have reportedly been killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades. Six members of the National Guard have been killed.

–         Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, an opposition demonstrator was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed in Caracas during the opposition protest that took place on February 12.

–         Juan Montoya, a pro-government community activist, was reportedly shot in both the head and chest and died. Montoya’s body was found a short distance from the body of Da Costa. On February 26, the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, announced that 8 officers from SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, had been arrested for their role in the killing of Da Costa and Montoya. As of March 11, 6 SEBIN officers remain in jail. President Maduro has also removed the head of SEBIN.

–         On February 12, Roberto Redman, another opposition demonstrator was also shot, reportedly in the head, and killed. The killing took place in a neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Witnesses attributed his death to armed civilians. There has been no update on the status of any investigation.

–         On February 18 José Ernesto Méndez, a 17-year-old student who was participating in a demonstration in the Sucre department, was hit by a truck and later died. The Attorney General stated that the driver of the truck has been apprehended and charged with homicide.

–         On the same day Genesis Carmona, a student and beauty queen was shot and killed in the state of Carabobo. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the she was shot from behind, potentially from within the group she was protesting with, though others contest that version of events. The government has pledged a full investigation. There have been no further updates on the status of the investigation.

–         On February 19, Julio Gonzalez, a member of the public ministry in Carabobo reportedly died after crashing his vehicle while attempting to avoid a roadblock put up by protesters.  

–         On February 20, Arturo Alexis Martínez, the brother of a ruling party legislator, was reportedly shot in the chest as he attempted to clear a path for his car amidst the debris left by a barricade following an opposition protest in Lara state. Witnesses allege that the shot that killed him was fired from a nearby building. On March 6, the AG announced that an individual has been charged for their involvement in the death.

–         On February 20, Asdrúbal Rodríguez was reportedly arrested for attempting to steal a motorcycle and then was found dead the next day. The arrest and killing occurred in Chacao. Two members of the Chacao police have been arrested and remain in jail.

–         On the night of February 21, Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa was beheaded by a wire strung across the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas while driving a moto. The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening.

–         On February 21 that a 37-year-old woman named Delia Elena Lobo had died the previous evening in the city of Mérida in similar circumstances to De La Rosa. The woman was heading home on a motorbike and ran into barbed wire stretched across a street. Nobody has been arrested for the deaths of Lobo or De La Rosa. Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention.

–         On the evening of February 21, Jose Alejandro Márquez died due to injuries to the head suffered in clashes with the National Guard. Seven members of the National Guard are being investigated for the death.

–         On February 22nd, Geraldine Moreno, a 23-year-old protester who had been injured by bird shot during a protest in Carabobo state a few days earlier reportedly died from head injuries. There has been no update on the status of the investigation.

–         On February 23 in San Cristobal Danny Melgarejo, a local student, was stabbed to death. The mayor said that the killing was related to a robbery, and not the student’s participation in protests.

–         On February 24 Antonio José Valbuena Morales was shot and killed, reportedly while trying to remove barricades that had been set up by protesters.

–         On February 24 Wilmer Carballo was killed by a shot to the head in Sucre state. Reports suggest he was shot by individuals on motos. On February 25, the AG announced an investigation into the killing.

–         On February 24, Jimmy Vargas died after falling from a second story building. Press reports continue to state that he was killed “after being hit by a tear gas canister and falling from a balcony,” despite video evidence to the contrary.

–         On February 25, Eduardo Ramón Anzona Carmona died after crashing his moto into a barricade. The accident occurred in Valencia in the state of Carabobo

–         Also on February 25, in El Límon, Jhoan Gabriel Quintero Carrasco was shot and killed near a supermarket where looting was taking place.

–         Giovanny José Hernández Pantoja, a member of the GNB, was shot and killed in Valencia on February 28. News reports indicate he was removing a barricade when he was shot. At least three individuals have been detained for their alleged involvement.

–         On March 3 in Chacao, Deivis José Useche died after crashing his moto. Press reports indicate that a manhole cover had been removed during earlier protests, which caused the crash.

–         On Tuesday, March 4 Luis Gutiérrez Camargo crashed into a barricade and died in the state of Tachira.

–         On March 6, a National Guardsman, Acner López Lyon, was shot and killed during an altercation in Los Ruices, a neighborhood in Caracas. News reports indicate that the National Guard was removing a barricade that was blocking a main avenue.

–         In the same altercation that took the life of Lyon, a mototaxista, José Gregorio Amaris Castillo, was shot and killed. The AG announced an investigation into the deaths.

–         On March 7, Johan Alfonso Pineda Morales died after he lost control of his moto on an oil slick, allegedly intentionally created by protesters.

–         On the night of March 9, Giselle Rubilar Figueroa, a Chilean citizen, was reportedly shot and killed by protesters in Merida. The AG has announced an investigation.

–         On the night of March 10, a student protester, Daniel Tinoco was shot and killed in San Cristobal. It is unclear who was responsible, though press reports indicate that the killing occurred after a day of clashes between the National Guard which was trying to remove barricades in San Cristobal. The mayor indicated that it was armed civilians that shot Tinoco. The AG announced an investigation into the killing.

–         On March 12, university student Jesús Enrique Acosta was shot and killed in La Isabelica in the department of Carabobo. Family members told the press that Acosta was outside his house when armed civilians began firing. Reuters reports that “the state governor said the shot came from snipers among the protesters.”

–         On March 12, the Governor of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach reported that a captain of the National Guard, Ramso Ernesto Bracho Bravo was shot and killed during an altercation in the municipality of Naguanagua.

–         Also on March 12 in La Isabelica, Guillermo Alfonso Sánchez was shot and killed. The mayor told the press that Sánchez was painting his house when he was shot. The AG has announced an investigation into the three killings of March 12.

–         On March 16 in Maracay, José Guillen Araque, a member of the National Guard, was shot and killed. The circumstances remain unclear. 

–         On March 18 in in the Montalbán neighbourhood in Caracas a city worker, Francisco Alcides Madrid Rosendo was shot multiple times and killed, reportedly while removing barricades.

–         On March 19 in Tachira, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo was shot and killed while breaking up a protest, according to press reports.

–         On March 21 public bus-driver Wilfredo Rey, who was not participating in the protests, was shot and killed “during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen in the western city of San Cristobal,” reported Reuters.

–         On March 21, Argenis Hernandez was shot in the abdomen; he died in the morning of March 22. Press reports indicate that Hernandez was shot when a motorcyclist was prevented from passing a barricade and fired on those present.

–         On March 22 in Merida, Jesus Labrador was shot and killed “during a shoot-out between armed protesters burning tires and hooded gunmen on motorcycles, according to a resident of the area,” as reported by Reuters.

–         On March 23 a pregnant woman, Adriana Urquiola, was shot and killed in the city of Guaicaipuro. Press reports indicate she got off a bus that was blocked by a barricade and began walking when she was shot. Opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles tweeted that neither Urquiola, nor another woman who was injured, had been involved in the protests. The Attorney General has announced an investigation.

–         On March 24, in Merida, a member of the National Guard, Miguel Antonio Parra was shot and killed during a confrontation with protesters, according to press reports. Further details are not available.

Since February 23, CEPR has been keeping track of those who have died during the last month of protests in Venezuela. Below is the most recent available information on the location, causes and status of investigations into the deaths. This list will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. As of March 24, the list contains 37 individuals; however in some cases press reports indicate that the death was not directly associated with the protests. Never the less, as they have often been reported as such, they are included below.

There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum. In some cases, members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement. Over 10 individuals have reportedly been killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades. Six members of the National Guard have been killed.

–         Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, an opposition demonstrator was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed in Caracas during the opposition protest that took place on February 12.

–         Juan Montoya, a pro-government community activist, was reportedly shot in both the head and chest and died. Montoya’s body was found a short distance from the body of Da Costa. On February 26, the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, announced that 8 officers from SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, had been arrested for their role in the killing of Da Costa and Montoya. As of March 11, 6 SEBIN officers remain in jail. President Maduro has also removed the head of SEBIN.

–         On February 12, Roberto Redman, another opposition demonstrator was also shot, reportedly in the head, and killed. The killing took place in a neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Witnesses attributed his death to armed civilians. There has been no update on the status of any investigation.

–         On February 18 José Ernesto Méndez, a 17-year-old student who was participating in a demonstration in the Sucre department, was hit by a truck and later died. The Attorney General stated that the driver of the truck has been apprehended and charged with homicide.

–         On the same day Genesis Carmona, a student and beauty queen was shot and killed in the state of Carabobo. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the she was shot from behind, potentially from within the group she was protesting with, though others contest that version of events. The government has pledged a full investigation. There have been no further updates on the status of the investigation.

–         On February 19, Julio Gonzalez, a member of the public ministry in Carabobo reportedly died after crashing his vehicle while attempting to avoid a roadblock put up by protesters.  

–         On February 20, Arturo Alexis Martínez, the brother of a ruling party legislator, was reportedly shot in the chest as he attempted to clear a path for his car amidst the debris left by a barricade following an opposition protest in Lara state. Witnesses allege that the shot that killed him was fired from a nearby building. On March 6, the AG announced that an individual has been charged for their involvement in the death.

–         On February 20, Asdrúbal Rodríguez was reportedly arrested for attempting to steal a motorcycle and then was found dead the next day. The arrest and killing occurred in Chacao. Two members of the Chacao police have been arrested and remain in jail.

–         On the night of February 21, Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa was beheaded by a wire strung across the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas while driving a moto. The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening.

–         On February 21 that a 37-year-old woman named Delia Elena Lobo had died the previous evening in the city of Mérida in similar circumstances to De La Rosa. The woman was heading home on a motorbike and ran into barbed wire stretched across a street. Nobody has been arrested for the deaths of Lobo or De La Rosa. Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention.

–         On the evening of February 21, Jose Alejandro Márquez died due to injuries to the head suffered in clashes with the National Guard. Seven members of the National Guard are being investigated for the death.

–         On February 22nd, Geraldine Moreno, a 23-year-old protester who had been injured by bird shot during a protest in Carabobo state a few days earlier reportedly died from head injuries. There has been no update on the status of the investigation.

–         On February 23 in San Cristobal Danny Melgarejo, a local student, was stabbed to death. The mayor said that the killing was related to a robbery, and not the student’s participation in protests.

–         On February 24 Antonio José Valbuena Morales was shot and killed, reportedly while trying to remove barricades that had been set up by protesters.

–         On February 24 Wilmer Carballo was killed by a shot to the head in Sucre state. Reports suggest he was shot by individuals on motos. On February 25, the AG announced an investigation into the killing.

–         On February 24, Jimmy Vargas died after falling from a second story building. Press reports continue to state that he was killed “after being hit by a tear gas canister and falling from a balcony,” despite video evidence to the contrary.

–         On February 25, Eduardo Ramón Anzona Carmona died after crashing his moto into a barricade. The accident occurred in Valencia in the state of Carabobo

–         Also on February 25, in El Límon, Jhoan Gabriel Quintero Carrasco was shot and killed near a supermarket where looting was taking place.

–         Giovanny José Hernández Pantoja, a member of the GNB, was shot and killed in Valencia on February 28. News reports indicate he was removing a barricade when he was shot. At least three individuals have been detained for their alleged involvement.

–         On March 3 in Chacao, Deivis José Useche died after crashing his moto. Press reports indicate that a manhole cover had been removed during earlier protests, which caused the crash.

–         On Tuesday, March 4 Luis Gutiérrez Camargo crashed into a barricade and died in the state of Tachira.

–         On March 6, a National Guardsman, Acner López Lyon, was shot and killed during an altercation in Los Ruices, a neighborhood in Caracas. News reports indicate that the National Guard was removing a barricade that was blocking a main avenue.

–         In the same altercation that took the life of Lyon, a mototaxista, José Gregorio Amaris Castillo, was shot and killed. The AG announced an investigation into the deaths.

–         On March 7, Johan Alfonso Pineda Morales died after he lost control of his moto on an oil slick, allegedly intentionally created by protesters.

–         On the night of March 9, Giselle Rubilar Figueroa, a Chilean citizen, was reportedly shot and killed by protesters in Merida. The AG has announced an investigation.

–         On the night of March 10, a student protester, Daniel Tinoco was shot and killed in San Cristobal. It is unclear who was responsible, though press reports indicate that the killing occurred after a day of clashes between the National Guard which was trying to remove barricades in San Cristobal. The mayor indicated that it was armed civilians that shot Tinoco. The AG announced an investigation into the killing.

–         On March 12, university student Jesús Enrique Acosta was shot and killed in La Isabelica in the department of Carabobo. Family members told the press that Acosta was outside his house when armed civilians began firing. Reuters reports that “the state governor said the shot came from snipers among the protesters.”

–         On March 12, the Governor of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach reported that a captain of the National Guard, Ramso Ernesto Bracho Bravo was shot and killed during an altercation in the municipality of Naguanagua.

–         Also on March 12 in La Isabelica, Guillermo Alfonso Sánchez was shot and killed. The mayor told the press that Sánchez was painting his house when he was shot. The AG has announced an investigation into the three killings of March 12.

–         On March 16 in Maracay, José Guillen Araque, a member of the National Guard, was shot and killed. The circumstances remain unclear. 

–         On March 18 in in the Montalbán neighbourhood in Caracas a city worker, Francisco Alcides Madrid Rosendo was shot multiple times and killed, reportedly while removing barricades.

–         On March 19 in Tachira, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo was shot and killed while breaking up a protest, according to press reports.

–         On March 21 public bus-driver Wilfredo Rey, who was not participating in the protests, was shot and killed “during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen in the western city of San Cristobal,” reported Reuters.

–         On March 21, Argenis Hernandez was shot in the abdomen; he died in the morning of March 22. Press reports indicate that Hernandez was shot when a motorcyclist was prevented from passing a barricade and fired on those present.

–         On March 22 in Merida, Jesus Labrador was shot and killed “during a shoot-out between armed protesters burning tires and hooded gunmen on motorcycles, according to a resident of the area,” as reported by Reuters.

–         On March 23 a pregnant woman, Adriana Urquiola, was shot and killed in the city of Guaicaipuro. Press reports indicate she got off a bus that was blocked by a barricade and began walking when she was shot. Opposition presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles tweeted that neither Urquiola, nor another woman who was injured, had been involved in the protests. The Attorney General has announced an investigation.

–         On March 24, in Merida, a member of the National Guard, Miguel Antonio Parra was shot and killed during a confrontation with protesters, according to press reports. Further details are not available.

The United States government, as well as many in the media and punditry, has consistently laid blame for the rising death toll on the Venezuelan government. Last week, in prepared remarks for an OAS meeting on Venezuela, the U.S. representative stated:

The United States notes with concern that the situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate since the Permanent Council last met on February 19. The death toll was 13 then, it is now at least 19 and we are gravely disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.

There is no doubt that some members of the Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force – in fact, at least 14 of them have been arrested for these abuses. The Venezuelan government is not denying this fact, something recognized by the Secretary General of the OAS yesterday when he stated:

Much of this is recognized by both the Government and the opposition; nobody denies it, everyone says something must be done about it.

Far from trying to hide the role of some members of the security forces in human rights abuses or the deaths of citizens, the Venezuelan Attorney General (AG) has released statements to the press almost daily detailing exactly how many deaths there have been, how many individuals have been detained, released and remain in jail; how many human rights violations have been documented and are being investigated; and updates on the status of investigations into abuses.

Each death is as unnecessary and devastating as the one prior, but not all are the same and to portray the violence as one sided – from either side – is both incorrect and misleading. While the death toll tragically reached 21 on Thursday, March 6, it’s important to note that as many have been killed either crashing into barricades or by wires strung across streets as have been killed while protesting. In the last week, two members of the National Guard have been shot and killed while attempting to remove barricades blocking streets.

To be sure, more needs to be done to ensure that violations of human rights by both government security forces and protesters are stopped altogether. There have been allegations that some of those detained have been tortured, not provided access to lawyers or been subject to other forms of abuse. These should be properly investigated. However by holding those found responsible for earlier deaths accountable, it appears as though the most serious abuses on the part of security forces have at least begun to decrease. This may also be an indication that such violations are not state-sanctioned. While press reports often have varying accounts of the circumstances surrounding deaths, reports indicate that no protestor has been killed since February 24. Seven others have died since then, but there is no indication of the involvement of security forces in any of those deaths.

Earlier this week, the AG stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official that turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” On March 6, the AG, Luisa Ortega Díaz, met with PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights group. Following up on that meeting and at the urging of PROVEA, Díaz met with representatives from Foro Penal, another human rights group that has been documenting cases of abuse and torture during the protests.

Following the meeting with the AG, PROVEA stated that:

We believe that the most important things to come from this meeting were an opening up of direct channels of communication with senior officials of the Attorney General’s office to send complaints regarding [human rights] violations and a mutual spirit of dialogue for continuing to explore a closer cooperation to advance human rights protections in Venezuela.

On March 7, after the meeting with Foro Penal, El Universal reported that the AG “promised to review the information provided by the Foro Penal” and designated an official “to establish a direct channel of communication between the institution” and the human rights group. The meeting already seems to have had some impact, as the AG announced that it had requested the proceedings against 11 students detained in Carabobo to be nullified.

The United States government, as well as many in the media and punditry, has consistently laid blame for the rising death toll on the Venezuelan government. Last week, in prepared remarks for an OAS meeting on Venezuela, the U.S. representative stated:

The United States notes with concern that the situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate since the Permanent Council last met on February 19. The death toll was 13 then, it is now at least 19 and we are gravely disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.

There is no doubt that some members of the Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force – in fact, at least 14 of them have been arrested for these abuses. The Venezuelan government is not denying this fact, something recognized by the Secretary General of the OAS yesterday when he stated:

Much of this is recognized by both the Government and the opposition; nobody denies it, everyone says something must be done about it.

Far from trying to hide the role of some members of the security forces in human rights abuses or the deaths of citizens, the Venezuelan Attorney General (AG) has released statements to the press almost daily detailing exactly how many deaths there have been, how many individuals have been detained, released and remain in jail; how many human rights violations have been documented and are being investigated; and updates on the status of investigations into abuses.

Each death is as unnecessary and devastating as the one prior, but not all are the same and to portray the violence as one sided – from either side – is both incorrect and misleading. While the death toll tragically reached 21 on Thursday, March 6, it’s important to note that as many have been killed either crashing into barricades or by wires strung across streets as have been killed while protesting. In the last week, two members of the National Guard have been shot and killed while attempting to remove barricades blocking streets.

To be sure, more needs to be done to ensure that violations of human rights by both government security forces and protesters are stopped altogether. There have been allegations that some of those detained have been tortured, not provided access to lawyers or been subject to other forms of abuse. These should be properly investigated. However by holding those found responsible for earlier deaths accountable, it appears as though the most serious abuses on the part of security forces have at least begun to decrease. This may also be an indication that such violations are not state-sanctioned. While press reports often have varying accounts of the circumstances surrounding deaths, reports indicate that no protestor has been killed since February 24. Seven others have died since then, but there is no indication of the involvement of security forces in any of those deaths.

Earlier this week, the AG stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official that turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” On March 6, the AG, Luisa Ortega Díaz, met with PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights group. Following up on that meeting and at the urging of PROVEA, Díaz met with representatives from Foro Penal, another human rights group that has been documenting cases of abuse and torture during the protests.

Following the meeting with the AG, PROVEA stated that:

We believe that the most important things to come from this meeting were an opening up of direct channels of communication with senior officials of the Attorney General’s office to send complaints regarding [human rights] violations and a mutual spirit of dialogue for continuing to explore a closer cooperation to advance human rights protections in Venezuela.

On March 7, after the meeting with Foro Penal, El Universal reported that the AG “promised to review the information provided by the Foro Penal” and designated an official “to establish a direct channel of communication between the institution” and the human rights group. The meeting already seems to have had some impact, as the AG announced that it had requested the proceedings against 11 students detained in Carabobo to be nullified.

As a result of the recent events that have taken place in Venezuela, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have both called for discussions. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would like to see the conflicts resolved within the context of UNASUR and has rejected attempts by the OAS to address the situation.

Last week, the OAS held a private meeting to consider the request of Panama to convene a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs with regard to events in Venezuela, leading to the decision by President Maduro to break diplomatic relations with the Panamanian government.

Although the OAS meeting was held behind closed doors with no media allowed, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza made a lengthy public statement, which was posted on Thursday. Among other things, he stated, “For decades already, no single member has been able to dominate the will of the others.”

However, as was pointed out in the most recent Congressional Research Service report [PDF], historically, the OAS has acted consistently with U.S. foreign policy objectives. It’s also worth noting that the United States was the organizations largest donor, contributing nearly $65.7 million [PDF] in fiscal year 2013, which is equivalent to 41 percent of the total 2013 OAS budget. Considering these sizeable donations it would be safe to assume that the US plays a dominant role in defining the organizations foreign policy. 

The Congressional Research Service report states that:

Although OAS actions frequently reflected U.S. policy during the 20th Century, this has changed to a certain extent over the past decade as Latin American and Caribbean governments have adopted more independent foreign policies. While the organization’s goals and day-to-day activities are still generally consistent with U.S. policy toward the region, the United States’ ability to advance its policy initiatives within the OAS has declined.

Last Thursday, as the OAS debated Panama’s request to convene a meeting of foreign ministers, the U.S. released the prepared remarks from its permanent representative to the OAS Carmen Lomellin. In it, she expressed the U.S.’ support for Panama’s request, and called for a fact-finding mission from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to travel to Venezuela. Instead, the OAS issued a declaration of “Solidarity and Support for Democratic Institutions, Dialogue, and Peace” in Venezuela. Twenty-nine states approved the declaration and only Canada, Panama and the United States objected. This serves as another example of the U.S.’ growing political isolation within the hemisphere.

Newly-Found Independence in the Region and the Role of UNASUR

As the region experiences its second independence, other regional organizations have taken the lead in diffusing crises in the region. From CELAC to UNASUR, increasingly the region has chosen to address important issues without the presence of the United States.

Last month, Venezuela’s minister of foreign relations, Elías Jaua, visited several Latin American countries to inform state officials about the recent protests. An emergency foreign ministers meeting will be held in Chile following the inauguration of Michele Bachelet (who served as the first president of UNASUR during her first term as president of Chile.)

Previous UNASUR presidential emergency meetings have been reserved for extreme crises and serious threats to regional security. 

Here is a brief summary of previous emergency presidential council meetings:[i] 

September 15, 2008: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de UNASUR (Santiago de Chile)
In September of 2008, a series of riots, protests and killings were carried out by Bolivian anti-government protesters in an attempt de-stabilize the democratically elected government of Bolivia. The most severe incident occurred on September 11 in which armed opposition groups massacred 11 unarmed government supporters. Four days later, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet declared an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis. Following the meeting, 12 UNASUR governments signed the “Declaración de la Moneda.” The document condemned the acts of violence committed by the opposition and expressed full support for the Bolivian government.  

October 1, 2010: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
UNASUR arranged an emergency meeting after a faction of the Ecuadorian police kidnapped president Rafael Correa as a plot to try and overthrow the government. After the meeting, UNASUR issued a public statement denouncing the coup attempt and expressing support for the Ecuadorian government.

June 27, 2012 [PDF]: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado (Mendoza, Argentina)
UNASUR formed an emergency meeting in response to the ousting of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo. An official statement called on opposition leaders to respect democratic practices.

April 18, 2013: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministras y Ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de UNASUR (Lima, Peru)
This meeting was held after the most recent presidential elections in Venezuela in order to display solidarity and recognize the electoral process there.

July 4, 2013: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministras y Ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de UNASUR (Cochabamba, Bolivia)  
Last July several European countries closed their airspace to the presidential aircraft of Bolivian president Evo Morales, who was accused of harboring NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. Immediately following the incident, the Latin American leaders arranged an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia in which they described the actions as a form of neo-colonial intimidation. 



i] Since 2008, UNASUR has held ten emergency presidential meetings (five of which pertain to regional conflicts.)

As a result of the recent events that have taken place in Venezuela, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have both called for discussions. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would like to see the conflicts resolved within the context of UNASUR and has rejected attempts by the OAS to address the situation.

Last week, the OAS held a private meeting to consider the request of Panama to convene a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs with regard to events in Venezuela, leading to the decision by President Maduro to break diplomatic relations with the Panamanian government.

Although the OAS meeting was held behind closed doors with no media allowed, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza made a lengthy public statement, which was posted on Thursday. Among other things, he stated, “For decades already, no single member has been able to dominate the will of the others.”

However, as was pointed out in the most recent Congressional Research Service report [PDF], historically, the OAS has acted consistently with U.S. foreign policy objectives. It’s also worth noting that the United States was the organizations largest donor, contributing nearly $65.7 million [PDF] in fiscal year 2013, which is equivalent to 41 percent of the total 2013 OAS budget. Considering these sizeable donations it would be safe to assume that the US plays a dominant role in defining the organizations foreign policy. 

The Congressional Research Service report states that:

Although OAS actions frequently reflected U.S. policy during the 20th Century, this has changed to a certain extent over the past decade as Latin American and Caribbean governments have adopted more independent foreign policies. While the organization’s goals and day-to-day activities are still generally consistent with U.S. policy toward the region, the United States’ ability to advance its policy initiatives within the OAS has declined.

Last Thursday, as the OAS debated Panama’s request to convene a meeting of foreign ministers, the U.S. released the prepared remarks from its permanent representative to the OAS Carmen Lomellin. In it, she expressed the U.S.’ support for Panama’s request, and called for a fact-finding mission from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to travel to Venezuela. Instead, the OAS issued a declaration of “Solidarity and Support for Democratic Institutions, Dialogue, and Peace” in Venezuela. Twenty-nine states approved the declaration and only Canada, Panama and the United States objected. This serves as another example of the U.S.’ growing political isolation within the hemisphere.

Newly-Found Independence in the Region and the Role of UNASUR

As the region experiences its second independence, other regional organizations have taken the lead in diffusing crises in the region. From CELAC to UNASUR, increasingly the region has chosen to address important issues without the presence of the United States.

Last month, Venezuela’s minister of foreign relations, Elías Jaua, visited several Latin American countries to inform state officials about the recent protests. An emergency foreign ministers meeting will be held in Chile following the inauguration of Michele Bachelet (who served as the first president of UNASUR during her first term as president of Chile.)

Previous UNASUR presidential emergency meetings have been reserved for extreme crises and serious threats to regional security. 

Here is a brief summary of previous emergency presidential council meetings:[i] 

September 15, 2008: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado y de Gobierno de UNASUR (Santiago de Chile)
In September of 2008, a series of riots, protests and killings were carried out by Bolivian anti-government protesters in an attempt de-stabilize the democratically elected government of Bolivia. The most severe incident occurred on September 11 in which armed opposition groups massacred 11 unarmed government supporters. Four days later, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet declared an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis. Following the meeting, 12 UNASUR governments signed the “Declaración de la Moneda.” The document condemned the acts of violence committed by the opposition and expressed full support for the Bolivian government.  

October 1, 2010: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
UNASUR arranged an emergency meeting after a faction of the Ecuadorian police kidnapped president Rafael Correa as a plot to try and overthrow the government. After the meeting, UNASUR issued a public statement denouncing the coup attempt and expressing support for the Ecuadorian government.

June 27, 2012 [PDF]: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Jefas y Jefes de Estado (Mendoza, Argentina)
UNASUR formed an emergency meeting in response to the ousting of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo. An official statement called on opposition leaders to respect democratic practices.

April 18, 2013: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministras y Ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de UNASUR (Lima, Peru)
This meeting was held after the most recent presidential elections in Venezuela in order to display solidarity and recognize the electoral process there.

July 4, 2013: Reunión Extraordinaria del Consejo de Ministras y Ministros de Relaciones Exteriores de UNASUR (Cochabamba, Bolivia)  
Last July several European countries closed their airspace to the presidential aircraft of Bolivian president Evo Morales, who was accused of harboring NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. Immediately following the incident, the Latin American leaders arranged an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia in which they described the actions as a form of neo-colonial intimidation. 



i] Since 2008, UNASUR has held ten emergency presidential meetings (five of which pertain to regional conflicts.)

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