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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Yesterday the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that a meeting of the Permanent Council, would take place Thursday morning at 9:30 EST. It now appears that the meeting has been postponed, or that it may not occur at all, as a result of objections presented by Venezuela based on the OAS’ internal directives. The meeting would “consider the request of Panama to convene a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to consider the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” It would take 18 votes in favor of Panama’s request for the extraordinary session to move forward.

Ahead of the planned meeting, a spokesperson for the Brazilian Foreign Ministry told EFE that “Brazil understands that the principle of non-interference must be respected.” The official added that Brazil “perceived” willingness for dialogue on the part of the Venezuelan government, citing President Maduro’s calls for a “Peace Conference” today. It remains to be seen if opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who chose not to attend a meeting with the government on Monday will attend the meeting with the Venezuelan president today. Bloomberg reported that “Maduro called on a cross-section of Venezuelan society, including union workers, intellectuals, clergy, students and governors to come to Caracas today and sign an agreement condemning violence.”

The Brazilian official also referred to statements made by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff earlier this week, in which she stated, “for Brazil, it is very important that we always look at Venezuela from the point of view of the advances that the country has achieved, during this entire process, in terms of education and health for its people.”

Yesterday the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that a meeting of the Permanent Council, would take place Thursday morning at 9:30 EST. It now appears that the meeting has been postponed, or that it may not occur at all, as a result of objections presented by Venezuela based on the OAS’ internal directives. The meeting would “consider the request of Panama to convene a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to consider the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” It would take 18 votes in favor of Panama’s request for the extraordinary session to move forward.

Ahead of the planned meeting, a spokesperson for the Brazilian Foreign Ministry told EFE that “Brazil understands that the principle of non-interference must be respected.” The official added that Brazil “perceived” willingness for dialogue on the part of the Venezuelan government, citing President Maduro’s calls for a “Peace Conference” today. It remains to be seen if opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who chose not to attend a meeting with the government on Monday will attend the meeting with the Venezuelan president today. Bloomberg reported that “Maduro called on a cross-section of Venezuelan society, including union workers, intellectuals, clergy, students and governors to come to Caracas today and sign an agreement condemning violence.”

The Brazilian official also referred to statements made by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff earlier this week, in which she stated, “for Brazil, it is very important that we always look at Venezuela from the point of view of the advances that the country has achieved, during this entire process, in terms of education and health for its people.”

[3/12: This post is no longer being updated. For a updated list, please click here.]

The morning of February 22, Venezuela Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz stated that so far eight deaths and 137 injuries had occurred during the protests that have taken place over the last ten days. Díaz added that “the investigations [into the killings] are advanced.” Many press and NGOs have simply reported that “demonstrators” were killed.  For example the International Crisis Group states in its February 21 report: “confrontation in Venezuela has turned violent in the past few days with the killing of six demonstrators.” However, a closer look at the individuals identified as having been killed reveals that the political allegiances of the victims and their causes of death are varied.  

Since Díaz’s announcement more deaths related to the protests have been reported in the media. Here, first, are details regarding seven of the deaths that Díaz referred to in her statements:

–          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. The Attorney General announced Friday that an investigation into the killing is close to finished and will be made public in the coming days. An analysis of amateur video and images by the Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias alleges that uniformed and plainclothes members of the Venezuelan intelligence service (SEBIN) were responsible.  The video images show what appear to be SEBIN agents in uniform as well as individuals in plain-clothes firing handguns toward the demonstration after demonstrators had charged at them while throwing rocks.  President Maduro later stated that SEBIN agents weren’t authorized to be present at the protest and replaced the  head of SEBIN.  At least one of the SEBIN officers seen discharging his weapon has reportedly been arrested and, according to Venezuelan media, authorities are engaged in a manhunt to apprehend the other individuals observed firing their handguns. [Update 2/25: According to Attorney General Díaz, three SEBIN officers have been arrested in relation to the killing of Da Costa and Montoya, see below for more.] [Update 3/4: On February 26, the Attorney General announced additional arrests in relation to the deaths of Da Costa and Montoya. In total, at least 8 individuals have been arrested.]

–          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. It remains unclear how he was killed but Maduro stated that the same gun killed both Montoya and Da Costa.

–          Later in the day 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. Redman was allegedly shot by an unidentified gunman on a motorbike.

 –         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.  

–          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. 

–          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.   The exact date of his death has not been reported.

–          The identity of the eighth deceased individual in the Attorney General’s tally remains unclear.  Additional deaths have reportedly occurred since Díaz made her statement. [Update 2/25: The individual has been identified as Asdrúbal Rodríguez. He was reportedly arrested for attempting to steal a motorcycle and then was found dead the next day. The arrest and killing occurred in Chacao. It is unclear if the police officers from Chacao that have been arrested were found responsible for this. More details, below.]

–          On the night of February 21, a 29-year-old man on a motorbike was beheaded by a wire strung across the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas.  The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening.  It is unclear whether the deceased man, identified as Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa*, has links to the opposition or to the government.  Photos have been published of other locations in Caracas where protesters have stretched wires across the streets in an apparent effort to impede the passage of motorcyclists who are alleged to attack motorists.  Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention. 

–          The governor of Mérida state announced 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.  Those responsible are still at large.

–          On the evening of February 21, Jose Alejandro Márquez*, a protester who had his skull fractured in a clash with National Guard units earlier that day in Caracas was pronounced brain dead. 

–          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. 

Additionally, there have been reports of emergency vehicles being prevented from reaching hospitals by roadblocks and protesters, resulting in at least one death.

[Update 2/25: On Feb. 24, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz made another statement with more updates on the deaths, as well as the status of investigations and arrests. Díaz stated that there had been 13 deaths (one more than listed above) and 149 injuries. She added that 579 people had been detained, with 45 remaining in jail. Of the 45 that remain in jail, 9 are members of the Venezuela security forces, including three members of SEBIN, three members of the GNB, two from themetropolitan police in Chacao and one member Mérida police force. Further, Díaz confirmed that the Public Ministry has processed 12 human rights violations in relation to the protests. The additional death confirmed by Díaz:

–           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.

Also yesterday, local and international media reported two more deaths. Attorney General Díaz announced today that the Public Ministry is launching an investigation into both of the deaths.

–           The Public Ministry stated that a preliminary investigation found that Wilmer Carballo was killed by a shot to the head in Sucre state. Local press reports that he was killed while protesting.

–           The other death reported by the Public Ministry was Jimmy Vargas. The New York Times reported today that, “Two people were killed on Monday, including a man here in San Cristóbal who, according to his family, fell from a roof after guardsmen shot tear gas at him.” An accompanying photo gallery contains photos of Vargas’s family. The caption reads, “Carmen Gonzalez, 58, cried over the body of her son, who was killed Monday in clashes with the police.” Exclusive video released by CNN en Espanol, however, shows that the death of Vargas was an accident.]

[Update 3/4: The Attorney General announced on Friday, February 28 that there had been 17 killed in violence associated with the protests. Further, that there had been 261 injured and that 72 people have been arrested, of which 35 percent are students. Many more have been detained and subsequently released. With the killing of a National Guardsman on February 28, the total now stands at 18.]

–             On the night February 25, a 29-year old motorcycle driver crashed into a barricade set up by protesters and died. The public ministry has identified the individual as Eduardo Ramón Anzona Carmona

–             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. News reports indicate he was removing a barricade when he was shot. The death occurred on Friday, February 28.

[Update 3/7]:

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

–             On Thursday, 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 Attorney General has announced an investigation into the two deaths.

[Update 3/11]:

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

–             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, and protesters.

*The name has been changed as it was originally misreported.

[3/12: This post is no longer being updated. For a updated list, please click here.]

The morning of February 22, Venezuela Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz stated that so far eight deaths and 137 injuries had occurred during the protests that have taken place over the last ten days. Díaz added that “the investigations [into the killings] are advanced.” Many press and NGOs have simply reported that “demonstrators” were killed.  For example the International Crisis Group states in its February 21 report: “confrontation in Venezuela has turned violent in the past few days with the killing of six demonstrators.” However, a closer look at the individuals identified as having been killed reveals that the political allegiances of the victims and their causes of death are varied.  

Since Díaz’s announcement more deaths related to the protests have been reported in the media. Here, first, are details regarding seven of the deaths that Díaz referred to in her statements:

–          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. The Attorney General announced Friday that an investigation into the killing is close to finished and will be made public in the coming days. An analysis of amateur video and images by the Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias alleges that uniformed and plainclothes members of the Venezuelan intelligence service (SEBIN) were responsible.  The video images show what appear to be SEBIN agents in uniform as well as individuals in plain-clothes firing handguns toward the demonstration after demonstrators had charged at them while throwing rocks.  President Maduro later stated that SEBIN agents weren’t authorized to be present at the protest and replaced the  head of SEBIN.  At least one of the SEBIN officers seen discharging his weapon has reportedly been arrested and, according to Venezuelan media, authorities are engaged in a manhunt to apprehend the other individuals observed firing their handguns. [Update 2/25: According to Attorney General Díaz, three SEBIN officers have been arrested in relation to the killing of Da Costa and Montoya, see below for more.] [Update 3/4: On February 26, the Attorney General announced additional arrests in relation to the deaths of Da Costa and Montoya. In total, at least 8 individuals have been arrested.]

–          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. It remains unclear how he was killed but Maduro stated that the same gun killed both Montoya and Da Costa.

–          Later in the day 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. Redman was allegedly shot by an unidentified gunman on a motorbike.

 –         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.  

–          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. 

–          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.   The exact date of his death has not been reported.

–          The identity of the eighth deceased individual in the Attorney General’s tally remains unclear.  Additional deaths have reportedly occurred since Díaz made her statement. [Update 2/25: The individual has been identified as Asdrúbal Rodríguez. He was reportedly arrested for attempting to steal a motorcycle and then was found dead the next day. The arrest and killing occurred in Chacao. It is unclear if the police officers from Chacao that have been arrested were found responsible for this. More details, below.]

–          On the night of February 21, a 29-year-old man on a motorbike was beheaded by a wire strung across the Rómulo Gallegos Avenue in Caracas.  The wire had allegedly been put there by protesters who had set up a road block in the same location earlier that evening.  It is unclear whether the deceased man, identified as Elvis Rafael Durán De La Rosa*, has links to the opposition or to the government.  Photos have been published of other locations in Caracas where protesters have stretched wires across the streets in an apparent effort to impede the passage of motorcyclists who are alleged to attack motorists.  Authorities have accused retired general Angél Omar Vivas Perdomo of having encouraged protesters to put wires across streets and have ordered his detention. 

–          The governor of Mérida state announced 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.  Those responsible are still at large.

–          On the evening of February 21, Jose Alejandro Márquez*, a protester who had his skull fractured in a clash with National Guard units earlier that day in Caracas was pronounced brain dead. 

–          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. 

Additionally, there have been reports of emergency vehicles being prevented from reaching hospitals by roadblocks and protesters, resulting in at least one death.

[Update 2/25: On Feb. 24, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz made another statement with more updates on the deaths, as well as the status of investigations and arrests. Díaz stated that there had been 13 deaths (one more than listed above) and 149 injuries. She added that 579 people had been detained, with 45 remaining in jail. Of the 45 that remain in jail, 9 are members of the Venezuela security forces, including three members of SEBIN, three members of the GNB, two from themetropolitan police in Chacao and one member Mérida police force. Further, Díaz confirmed that the Public Ministry has processed 12 human rights violations in relation to the protests. The additional death confirmed by Díaz:

–           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.

Also yesterday, local and international media reported two more deaths. Attorney General Díaz announced today that the Public Ministry is launching an investigation into both of the deaths.

–           The Public Ministry stated that a preliminary investigation found that Wilmer Carballo was killed by a shot to the head in Sucre state. Local press reports that he was killed while protesting.

–           The other death reported by the Public Ministry was Jimmy Vargas. The New York Times reported today that, “Two people were killed on Monday, including a man here in San Cristóbal who, according to his family, fell from a roof after guardsmen shot tear gas at him.” An accompanying photo gallery contains photos of Vargas’s family. The caption reads, “Carmen Gonzalez, 58, cried over the body of her son, who was killed Monday in clashes with the police.” Exclusive video released by CNN en Espanol, however, shows that the death of Vargas was an accident.]

[Update 3/4: The Attorney General announced on Friday, February 28 that there had been 17 killed in violence associated with the protests. Further, that there had been 261 injured and that 72 people have been arrested, of which 35 percent are students. Many more have been detained and subsequently released. With the killing of a National Guardsman on February 28, the total now stands at 18.]

–             On the night February 25, a 29-year old motorcycle driver crashed into a barricade set up by protesters and died. The public ministry has identified the individual as Eduardo Ramón Anzona Carmona

–             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. News reports indicate he was removing a barricade when he was shot. The death occurred on Friday, February 28.

[Update 3/7]:

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

–             On Thursday, 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 Attorney General has announced an investigation into the two deaths.

[Update 3/11]:

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

–             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, and protesters.

*The name has been changed as it was originally misreported.

On the night of February 22nd, a bizarre incident took place in the Venezuela media-sphere. At around 4:00 pm Venezuela time, a number of the country’s private media outlets posted a release from a protest group identified only as the “student movement.” The rhetoric and tone of the statement matches the positions often expressed by extreme rightwing factions within Venezuela’s opposition over the last 14 years. Venezuela, it alleges, is in the grip of Cuban communists:

Foreign forces have laid a military siege on Venezuela. Their mercenaries attack us in a vile and savage manner. Their goal is to enslave us and be the masters of our existence, dishonoring the flags that we have held up in the street and that we will defend with our lives.

We want our Freedom. To protect it it’s vital to defend the Sovereignty of the Nation, expelling the Cuban communists that are here usurping the government and the Armed Forces.

The release demands that “the usurper [Venezuelan president] Nicolas Maduro and all of his cabinet be deposed” and states that the protests will continue until this and other demands are met. The statement also calls for defensive action against state security:

The regime has declared war on any civilian who doesn’t accept its marxist ideology. Our call is for defense: to not allow the invaders profane your street, your avenue, your property. Prevent their access so that they don’t shoot up your neighborhood, don’t destroy your properties, don’t hurt your loved ones and, above all, so that they know that here there are battle-seasoned Venezuelans, who won’t allow themselves to be enslaved through the use of force.

The rhetoric found in this release is reminiscent of the language used by the promoters of the “guarimba” protests in 2004 which – similarly to many of the protests that have been occurring in Venezuela over the last two weeks – involved protesters blocking major roads with bonfires and barricades and damaging public property. The explicit goal of the 2004 guarimba protests was to create enormous chaos in city streets thereby forcing the government to either step down or engage in mass repression. Or, in the words of Luis Alonso, the main promoter of the guarimba ten years ago:

THE ONLY objective of “THE GUARIMBA” (…) is to create anarchistic chaos on the national level with the help of all citizens and in the main cities of Venezuela, so as to force the CASTRO-COMMUNIST regime of Venezuela to order “PLAN AVILA [a military contingency plan to enforce public order that was used during the 1989 Caracazo protests and that left thousands dead].”

If mass repression occurred, the guarimberos believed that elements of the military opposed to the “Castro-communist” project would rebel and oust the government.

Needless to say, the terminology and goals of the students’ release probably doesn’t reflect the point of view of most Venezuelan opposition supporters and it certainly doesn’t reinforce the common portrayal of the young protesters as peaceful and reasonable.

But then, as if by magic, the original release of the unnamed “students’ movement” was removed from many sites and in a few cases replaced with a much less polemical text. Here is a link to the early version of an El Nacional article on the student movement release that contains the text of the original statement. Later that evening the editors quietly replaced the original statement with the second one, as you can see in this updated version of the same article. El Nacional, one of the largest newspapers in the country, and other outlets that made the switch, never informed their readers of having done so. Here’s a translation of a few key excerpts from the second release:

[Venezuela’s] youth can’t stay silent in the face of the profound pain in all Venezuelans’ hearts resulting from the hate and division that is being sowed. Our consciences remain clear in protesting those who wish to establish violence, ignore the country’s most urgent problems and trample human rights.

The exacerbation of insecurity, the deterioration of the quality of life of Venezuelans, the economic crisis, the repression and criminalization of citizens’ protests cause us to raise our voices. We want reconciliation and respect for democratic principles and the Constitution.

(…) We dream of a Venezuela where inclusion, peace and prosperity are possible.

No more talk of “Cuban communists” that have taken over the government and army or of the need to remove the “usurper” Nicolás Maduro.  Instead, we see a series of demands that, while based at times on highly questionable premises, appear to be more reasonable, e.g., “liberty for all of the detained young people, (…) the disarming of violent groups, (…) the end of media censorship [regarding the claim of censorship, I recommend reading Mark Weisbrot’s latest post on the Venezuelan media].”

However, one demand from the re-worked release is similar to the main demand of the original release: the second release calls for “the renovation and re-legitimizing of public powers.” Though this language may seem innocuous at full glance, the basic meaning is clear: those in power are not legitimate and should be removed. In the most charitable interpretation, this can be read as a call for immediate elections, despite the fact that Maduro was elected less than a year ago and that his popular legitimacy was reaffirmed in municipal elections last December in which pro-government parties won the total vote by a ten-point margin.

It is also interesting to note that, unlike most recent youth protest movements like the 2011-2013 Chilean movement, the 2012 Quebec student protests or even the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, the demands of the Venezuelan students who have taken to the streets focus neither on social justice issues nor on the government’s education policies. It is telling that the University of Chile Student Federation which was instrumental in ending the Pinochet dictatorship and played a key role in the 2011-2013 protests, released a statement which had the following to say about the Venezuelan student movement:

We reject any attempt at destabilization, hoarding of food and of coup-mongering that aims to bypass the sovereign decisions of the people of Venezuela (…) Similarly, we don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that have taken the side of the defense of the old order and are opposed to the path that the people have defined. 

On the night of February 22nd, a bizarre incident took place in the Venezuela media-sphere. At around 4:00 pm Venezuela time, a number of the country’s private media outlets posted a release from a protest group identified only as the “student movement.” The rhetoric and tone of the statement matches the positions often expressed by extreme rightwing factions within Venezuela’s opposition over the last 14 years. Venezuela, it alleges, is in the grip of Cuban communists:

Foreign forces have laid a military siege on Venezuela. Their mercenaries attack us in a vile and savage manner. Their goal is to enslave us and be the masters of our existence, dishonoring the flags that we have held up in the street and that we will defend with our lives.

We want our Freedom. To protect it it’s vital to defend the Sovereignty of the Nation, expelling the Cuban communists that are here usurping the government and the Armed Forces.

The release demands that “the usurper [Venezuelan president] Nicolas Maduro and all of his cabinet be deposed” and states that the protests will continue until this and other demands are met. The statement also calls for defensive action against state security:

The regime has declared war on any civilian who doesn’t accept its marxist ideology. Our call is for defense: to not allow the invaders profane your street, your avenue, your property. Prevent their access so that they don’t shoot up your neighborhood, don’t destroy your properties, don’t hurt your loved ones and, above all, so that they know that here there are battle-seasoned Venezuelans, who won’t allow themselves to be enslaved through the use of force.

The rhetoric found in this release is reminiscent of the language used by the promoters of the “guarimba” protests in 2004 which – similarly to many of the protests that have been occurring in Venezuela over the last two weeks – involved protesters blocking major roads with bonfires and barricades and damaging public property. The explicit goal of the 2004 guarimba protests was to create enormous chaos in city streets thereby forcing the government to either step down or engage in mass repression. Or, in the words of Luis Alonso, the main promoter of the guarimba ten years ago:

THE ONLY objective of “THE GUARIMBA” (…) is to create anarchistic chaos on the national level with the help of all citizens and in the main cities of Venezuela, so as to force the CASTRO-COMMUNIST regime of Venezuela to order “PLAN AVILA [a military contingency plan to enforce public order that was used during the 1989 Caracazo protests and that left thousands dead].”

If mass repression occurred, the guarimberos believed that elements of the military opposed to the “Castro-communist” project would rebel and oust the government.

Needless to say, the terminology and goals of the students’ release probably doesn’t reflect the point of view of most Venezuelan opposition supporters and it certainly doesn’t reinforce the common portrayal of the young protesters as peaceful and reasonable.

But then, as if by magic, the original release of the unnamed “students’ movement” was removed from many sites and in a few cases replaced with a much less polemical text. Here is a link to the early version of an El Nacional article on the student movement release that contains the text of the original statement. Later that evening the editors quietly replaced the original statement with the second one, as you can see in this updated version of the same article. El Nacional, one of the largest newspapers in the country, and other outlets that made the switch, never informed their readers of having done so. Here’s a translation of a few key excerpts from the second release:

[Venezuela’s] youth can’t stay silent in the face of the profound pain in all Venezuelans’ hearts resulting from the hate and division that is being sowed. Our consciences remain clear in protesting those who wish to establish violence, ignore the country’s most urgent problems and trample human rights.

The exacerbation of insecurity, the deterioration of the quality of life of Venezuelans, the economic crisis, the repression and criminalization of citizens’ protests cause us to raise our voices. We want reconciliation and respect for democratic principles and the Constitution.

(…) We dream of a Venezuela where inclusion, peace and prosperity are possible.

No more talk of “Cuban communists” that have taken over the government and army or of the need to remove the “usurper” Nicolás Maduro.  Instead, we see a series of demands that, while based at times on highly questionable premises, appear to be more reasonable, e.g., “liberty for all of the detained young people, (…) the disarming of violent groups, (…) the end of media censorship [regarding the claim of censorship, I recommend reading Mark Weisbrot’s latest post on the Venezuelan media].”

However, one demand from the re-worked release is similar to the main demand of the original release: the second release calls for “the renovation and re-legitimizing of public powers.” Though this language may seem innocuous at full glance, the basic meaning is clear: those in power are not legitimate and should be removed. In the most charitable interpretation, this can be read as a call for immediate elections, despite the fact that Maduro was elected less than a year ago and that his popular legitimacy was reaffirmed in municipal elections last December in which pro-government parties won the total vote by a ten-point margin.

It is also interesting to note that, unlike most recent youth protest movements like the 2011-2013 Chilean movement, the 2012 Quebec student protests or even the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement, the demands of the Venezuelan students who have taken to the streets focus neither on social justice issues nor on the government’s education policies. It is telling that the University of Chile Student Federation which was instrumental in ending the Pinochet dictatorship and played a key role in the 2011-2013 protests, released a statement which had the following to say about the Venezuelan student movement:

We reject any attempt at destabilization, hoarding of food and of coup-mongering that aims to bypass the sovereign decisions of the people of Venezuela (…) Similarly, we don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that have taken the side of the defense of the old order and are opposed to the path that the people have defined. 

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been thrust onto the international stage during the past week of protests in Venezuela and his arrest on February 21. López is mentioned at least 77 times in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. Many of the cables focus on internal disputes within the opposition, with Lopez often in conflict with others both within his party and others in the opposition. Given this history, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the current protests that he has been leading, calling for “la salida” – the exit – of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro have also caused internal divisions within the opposition. David Smilde, a Senior Fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America wrote last week:

While Capriles shook hands with Maduro in January, signifying not only a more conciliatory stance but tacitly recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado have both taken a harder line and are working outside of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD).

…..

Without a doubt, in immediate political terms the biggest beneficiary of yesterday’s [Feb.12] violence was López.

This week, Smilde added in a quote to USA Today, “Before this happened, Lopez was playing second fiddle to Capriles… I think his goal is to try and leapfrog over Capriles. The student protests have put him in the spotlight.”

The Wikileaks Cables show an interesting history of Lopez’s rise to leadership and also show some of the divisions within the opposition. Below, one party leader is quoted as saying that “for the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez, joking that ‘the only difference between the two is that Lopez is a lot better looking.’” And also, “During a party event December 6, Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary-General Tomas Guanipa called on Lopez to respect the unity table and its agreements and consensus. Guanipa urged Lopez to ‘not continue dividing us, we should not go through life like crashing cars, fighting with the whole world.’”

The U.S. government has been funding the Venezuelan opposition for at least 12 years, including, as the State Department has acknowledged, some of the people and organizations involved in the 2002 military coup. Their goal has always been to get rid of the Chávez government and replace it with something more to their liking. However, their funding is probably not their most important contribution in Venezuela, since the Venezuelan opposition has most of the wealth and income of the country. A more important role is the outside pressure for unity, which, as these cables and the history of the past 15 years show, has been a serious problem for the Venezuelan opposition. The cables also show that this is a serious concern for the U.S. government.

Below are relevant cables, in chronological order:

February 2, 2006: “On January 27, poloff [the U.S. Embassy Political Officer] met with Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary General Gerardo Blyde to discuss rumors that an ongoing power struggle among PJ leaders–Blyde and Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez against party president and presidential candidate Julio Borges and Baruta Mayor Henrique Caprilles–may lead to a split in the party (refs a and b).”

December 8, 2006: The cable reports on “winners” and “losers” from the 2006 presidential election. One of the “winners” is López. “Thirty-five year-old Leopoldo Lopez, the Primero Justicia Mayor of the Chacao Burrough of Caracas, distinguished himself on the Rosales campaign. He played a big role in organizing Rosales’ three successful mass rallies in Caracas, including the enormous November 25 rally on the Francisco Fajardo highway. Rosales won 76 percent of the vote in Chacao and won big in adjoining upper middle class neighborhoods.” Chacao has been the center of the current protests.

June 8, 2007: During a period of large student demonstrations, the cables states, “Political parties, however, are eager to try to co-opt the [student] movement. The young, dynamic opposition mayor of Chacao Municipality in Caracas, Leopoldo Lopez, addressed students during early demonstrations in his jurisdiction, and he is actively advising them behind-the-scenes (Ref A).

December 6, 2007: From the cable: “Despite Chavez’ continued opposition-bashing, Arreaza [Chief of Staff to former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel] said the Venezuelan president has asked former VP Rangel to reach out to the opposition. Arreaza said Rangel this week met with Primero Justicia leader Julio Borges, and Un Nuevo Tiempo leaders, including Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez. The government sees Lopez as the best channel to the student movement, added Arreaza.”

March 28, 2008: The cable reports on a meeting between U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D – OR) and López, noting that “The Senator and his staff discussed possible media strategies with Lopez and methods for getting his positive message to audiences in the U.S.”

April 11, 2008: The U.S. embassy met with a legal advisor to López, who outlined his legal strategy in fighting his ban from political office. She noted that she “believes making Lopez a victim of the BRV’s machinations is making him a more popular candidate.”

July 17, 2008: The U.S. agrees with the analysis of the legal advisor, writing, “Interestingly, the disqualifications appear to be turning Leopoldo Lopez into a national opposition figure, rather than just a rising star in Caracas.”

July 18, 2008: “There is widespread concern within the opposition that a growing rivalry between Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales and Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez is futher [sic] undermining opposition unity.”

July 31, 2008: “Increased international interest this week on the ineligibles’ cause suggests that Lopez and other opposition leaders have had some success is rallying support on the international scene, maybe even more so than at home.”

March 28, 2009: “UNT activists report that there was increasing friction between Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales and former Chacao mayor Leopoldo Lopez over leadership of the party. She complained that the older politicians in control of UNT — namely Rosales — are only interested in claiming power for themselves, rather than grooming rising stars in the party who may generate broader public appeal.”

June 10, 2009: “Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) activist Yenny De Freitas told Poloffs June 8 that the party continues to suffer from a major schism between its self-exiled leader, Manuel Rosales, and Leopoldo Lopez. She said that Lopez, who is currently in charge of UNT’s outreach, is scheming to create his own opposition “movement” outside of the current party system — likely taking advantage of the networks he has developed in his current role and his personal popularity within Caracas.” The cable added, “The absence of the more popular younger generation of opposition leaders almost certainly will feed speculation that all is not well within the parties, and that disgruntled figures like Leopoldo Lopez may be preparing to launch their own self-serving “movement” at the expense of whatever cohesion the current opposition parties are able to achieve.”

September 2, 2009: “Lopez announced September 1, however, that he had in fact been ejected from UNT due to “differences” with party officials over how to proceed in advance of National Assembly (AN) and municipal council elections expected in 2010. Conversations with party rank and file indicate that Lopez, who headed UNT’s grassroots “popular networks” outreach initiative, may attract a broad following to his “movement of movements” — likely creating yet another obstacle to the opposition’s limping attempts to achieve electoral unity. Lopez seems to be saying that he has a better idea of what it will take to beat Chavez and is willing to break with his party to get his way.”

September 2, 2009: “Lopez’s much-publicized rebelliousness is likely to complicate the opposition’s efforts to create a unity slate of candidates for elections in 2010. Lopez seems to believe he knows better how to beat Chavez and will not hesitate to break with his opposition colleagues to get his way.”

October 15, 2009: “[Pollster Luis Vicente] Leon emphasized that the opposition lacks a unifying leader who can transmit its message to the Venezuelan people. He assessed that Leopoldo Lopez was probably hoping to catapult himself into that type of leadership role with his “popular networks” (“redes populares”) initiative.”

November 3, 2009: “Former Mayor of Chacao Leopoldo Lopez, who split with UNT over his support for a “unity ticket,” told [the Political Counselor, “Polcouns”] October 16 that the parties are too comfortable with the status quo to take risks. He also rejected the idea that there were “major parties,” arguing that within the opposition, “all the parties are small parties.”

“Former Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez has become a divisive figure within the opposition, particularly since his very public split with UNT in September. He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry — but party officials also concede his enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organizer. PJ’s Ponte said she had worked for Lopez when he was mayor and was impressed by his ability to organize his staff and effectively implement programs. Nevertheless, she said he summarily fired her when her husband opposed Lopez during an internal party conflict while he was still a member of PJ. (Note: Lopez co-founded PJ but left the party to join UNT in 2007. End Note.)”

November 3, 2009: “While the parties need Lopez’s following to expand their narrow electoral base, they appear frustrated with his uncompromising approach and do not trust his motives. Ponte said that for the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez, joking that “the only difference between the two is that Lopez is a lot better looking.” PJ’s Caldera minimized Lopez’s “social networks” as “political proselytizing” and his projects as no different than those often carried out by opposition parties trying to build public support.”

December 22, 2009: “During a party event December 6, Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary-General Tomas Guanipa called on Lopez to respect the unity table and its agreements and consensus. Guanipa urged Lopez to “not continue dividing us, we should not go through life like crashing cars, fighting with the whole world. It is not good for the country that you are hoping for something different than us.””

               

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been thrust onto the international stage during the past week of protests in Venezuela and his arrest on February 21. López is mentioned at least 77 times in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. Many of the cables focus on internal disputes within the opposition, with Lopez often in conflict with others both within his party and others in the opposition. Given this history, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the current protests that he has been leading, calling for “la salida” – the exit – of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro have also caused internal divisions within the opposition. David Smilde, a Senior Fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America wrote last week:

While Capriles shook hands with Maduro in January, signifying not only a more conciliatory stance but tacitly recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado have both taken a harder line and are working outside of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD).

…..

Without a doubt, in immediate political terms the biggest beneficiary of yesterday’s [Feb.12] violence was López.

This week, Smilde added in a quote to USA Today, “Before this happened, Lopez was playing second fiddle to Capriles… I think his goal is to try and leapfrog over Capriles. The student protests have put him in the spotlight.”

The Wikileaks Cables show an interesting history of Lopez’s rise to leadership and also show some of the divisions within the opposition. Below, one party leader is quoted as saying that “for the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez, joking that ‘the only difference between the two is that Lopez is a lot better looking.’” And also, “During a party event December 6, Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary-General Tomas Guanipa called on Lopez to respect the unity table and its agreements and consensus. Guanipa urged Lopez to ‘not continue dividing us, we should not go through life like crashing cars, fighting with the whole world.’”

The U.S. government has been funding the Venezuelan opposition for at least 12 years, including, as the State Department has acknowledged, some of the people and organizations involved in the 2002 military coup. Their goal has always been to get rid of the Chávez government and replace it with something more to their liking. However, their funding is probably not their most important contribution in Venezuela, since the Venezuelan opposition has most of the wealth and income of the country. A more important role is the outside pressure for unity, which, as these cables and the history of the past 15 years show, has been a serious problem for the Venezuelan opposition. The cables also show that this is a serious concern for the U.S. government.

Below are relevant cables, in chronological order:

February 2, 2006: “On January 27, poloff [the U.S. Embassy Political Officer] met with Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary General Gerardo Blyde to discuss rumors that an ongoing power struggle among PJ leaders–Blyde and Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez against party president and presidential candidate Julio Borges and Baruta Mayor Henrique Caprilles–may lead to a split in the party (refs a and b).”

December 8, 2006: The cable reports on “winners” and “losers” from the 2006 presidential election. One of the “winners” is López. “Thirty-five year-old Leopoldo Lopez, the Primero Justicia Mayor of the Chacao Burrough of Caracas, distinguished himself on the Rosales campaign. He played a big role in organizing Rosales’ three successful mass rallies in Caracas, including the enormous November 25 rally on the Francisco Fajardo highway. Rosales won 76 percent of the vote in Chacao and won big in adjoining upper middle class neighborhoods.” Chacao has been the center of the current protests.

June 8, 2007: During a period of large student demonstrations, the cables states, “Political parties, however, are eager to try to co-opt the [student] movement. The young, dynamic opposition mayor of Chacao Municipality in Caracas, Leopoldo Lopez, addressed students during early demonstrations in his jurisdiction, and he is actively advising them behind-the-scenes (Ref A).

December 6, 2007: From the cable: “Despite Chavez’ continued opposition-bashing, Arreaza [Chief of Staff to former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel] said the Venezuelan president has asked former VP Rangel to reach out to the opposition. Arreaza said Rangel this week met with Primero Justicia leader Julio Borges, and Un Nuevo Tiempo leaders, including Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez. The government sees Lopez as the best channel to the student movement, added Arreaza.”

March 28, 2008: The cable reports on a meeting between U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D – OR) and López, noting that “The Senator and his staff discussed possible media strategies with Lopez and methods for getting his positive message to audiences in the U.S.”

April 11, 2008: The U.S. embassy met with a legal advisor to López, who outlined his legal strategy in fighting his ban from political office. She noted that she “believes making Lopez a victim of the BRV’s machinations is making him a more popular candidate.”

July 17, 2008: The U.S. agrees with the analysis of the legal advisor, writing, “Interestingly, the disqualifications appear to be turning Leopoldo Lopez into a national opposition figure, rather than just a rising star in Caracas.”

July 18, 2008: “There is widespread concern within the opposition that a growing rivalry between Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales and Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez is futher [sic] undermining opposition unity.”

July 31, 2008: “Increased international interest this week on the ineligibles’ cause suggests that Lopez and other opposition leaders have had some success is rallying support on the international scene, maybe even more so than at home.”

March 28, 2009: “UNT activists report that there was increasing friction between Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales and former Chacao mayor Leopoldo Lopez over leadership of the party. She complained that the older politicians in control of UNT — namely Rosales — are only interested in claiming power for themselves, rather than grooming rising stars in the party who may generate broader public appeal.”

June 10, 2009: “Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) activist Yenny De Freitas told Poloffs June 8 that the party continues to suffer from a major schism between its self-exiled leader, Manuel Rosales, and Leopoldo Lopez. She said that Lopez, who is currently in charge of UNT’s outreach, is scheming to create his own opposition “movement” outside of the current party system — likely taking advantage of the networks he has developed in his current role and his personal popularity within Caracas.” The cable added, “The absence of the more popular younger generation of opposition leaders almost certainly will feed speculation that all is not well within the parties, and that disgruntled figures like Leopoldo Lopez may be preparing to launch their own self-serving “movement” at the expense of whatever cohesion the current opposition parties are able to achieve.”

September 2, 2009: “Lopez announced September 1, however, that he had in fact been ejected from UNT due to “differences” with party officials over how to proceed in advance of National Assembly (AN) and municipal council elections expected in 2010. Conversations with party rank and file indicate that Lopez, who headed UNT’s grassroots “popular networks” outreach initiative, may attract a broad following to his “movement of movements” — likely creating yet another obstacle to the opposition’s limping attempts to achieve electoral unity. Lopez seems to be saying that he has a better idea of what it will take to beat Chavez and is willing to break with his party to get his way.”

September 2, 2009: “Lopez’s much-publicized rebelliousness is likely to complicate the opposition’s efforts to create a unity slate of candidates for elections in 2010. Lopez seems to believe he knows better how to beat Chavez and will not hesitate to break with his opposition colleagues to get his way.”

October 15, 2009: “[Pollster Luis Vicente] Leon emphasized that the opposition lacks a unifying leader who can transmit its message to the Venezuelan people. He assessed that Leopoldo Lopez was probably hoping to catapult himself into that type of leadership role with his “popular networks” (“redes populares”) initiative.”

November 3, 2009: “Former Mayor of Chacao Leopoldo Lopez, who split with UNT over his support for a “unity ticket,” told [the Political Counselor, “Polcouns”] October 16 that the parties are too comfortable with the status quo to take risks. He also rejected the idea that there were “major parties,” arguing that within the opposition, “all the parties are small parties.”

“Former Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez has become a divisive figure within the opposition, particularly since his very public split with UNT in September. He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry — but party officials also concede his enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organizer. PJ’s Ponte said she had worked for Lopez when he was mayor and was impressed by his ability to organize his staff and effectively implement programs. Nevertheless, she said he summarily fired her when her husband opposed Lopez during an internal party conflict while he was still a member of PJ. (Note: Lopez co-founded PJ but left the party to join UNT in 2007. End Note.)”

November 3, 2009: “While the parties need Lopez’s following to expand their narrow electoral base, they appear frustrated with his uncompromising approach and do not trust his motives. Ponte said that for the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez, joking that “the only difference between the two is that Lopez is a lot better looking.” PJ’s Caldera minimized Lopez’s “social networks” as “political proselytizing” and his projects as no different than those often carried out by opposition parties trying to build public support.”

December 22, 2009: “During a party event December 6, Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary-General Tomas Guanipa called on Lopez to respect the unity table and its agreements and consensus. Guanipa urged Lopez to “not continue dividing us, we should not go through life like crashing cars, fighting with the whole world. It is not good for the country that you are hoping for something different than us.””

               

Carl Meacham, the former Republican senior advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared last night on PBS’ Newshour. When asked by host Gwen Ifill what “is really behind all of this right now?” Meacham responded by questioning the legitimacy of the Maduro government in Venezuela:

Let’s remember this has been probably — it’s been a year since Mr. Maduro — roughly a year since Mr. Maduro was elected — some people say that he won, some people say that he didn’t win — to office.

A statistical analysis shows just how unlikely it was that, as Meachem says “he didn’t win.” In Venezuela’s elections, the electoral authority conducts a rapid recount of 53 percent of the voting machines, selected at random. The probability of getting the audit result, if in fact the opposition candidate had received the majority of the votes, was found to be less than 1 in 25 thousand trillion.

While Meacham is correct in stating that “some people say that he didn’t win”, it is also true that “some people,” – in fact many people – say that President Obama is a Muslim who is holding office illegally because he was not born in the United States. The statement from Meacham is revealing because it is indicative of his close ties to prominent right-wing Venezuelan politicians.

It is unfortunate that PBS did not offer its listeners anything other than a far-right point of view in this broadcast.

Carl Meacham, the former Republican senior advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared last night on PBS’ Newshour. When asked by host Gwen Ifill what “is really behind all of this right now?” Meacham responded by questioning the legitimacy of the Maduro government in Venezuela:

Let’s remember this has been probably — it’s been a year since Mr. Maduro — roughly a year since Mr. Maduro was elected — some people say that he won, some people say that he didn’t win — to office.

A statistical analysis shows just how unlikely it was that, as Meachem says “he didn’t win.” In Venezuela’s elections, the electoral authority conducts a rapid recount of 53 percent of the voting machines, selected at random. The probability of getting the audit result, if in fact the opposition candidate had received the majority of the votes, was found to be less than 1 in 25 thousand trillion.

While Meacham is correct in stating that “some people say that he didn’t win”, it is also true that “some people,” – in fact many people – say that President Obama is a Muslim who is holding office illegally because he was not born in the United States. The statement from Meacham is revealing because it is indicative of his close ties to prominent right-wing Venezuelan politicians.

It is unfortunate that PBS did not offer its listeners anything other than a far-right point of view in this broadcast.

Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern, and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez, and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos.  As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then – as now – the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections. An important difference this time of course is that Venezuela has its first post-Chávez president, and a key part of the opposition’s strategy overall has been to depict Nicolás Maduro as a pale imitation of his predecessor and a president ill-equipped to deal with the country’s problems (many of which are exaggerated in the Venezuelan private media, which is still largely opposition-owned, as well as the international media).

Following Maduro’s electoral victory in April last year (with much of the opposition crying “fraud” despite there being no reasonable doubts about the validity of the results), the opposition looked to the December municipal elections as a referendum on Maduro’s government, vowing to defeat governing party PSUV and allied candidates. The outcome, which left the pro-Maduro parties with a 10 point margin of victory, was a stunning defeat for the opposition, and this time they did not even bother claiming the elections were rigged. According to the opposition’s own pre-election analysis, support for Maduro had apparently grown over the months preceding the election. As we have pointed out, this may be due in part to the large reduction in poverty in 2012 and other economic and social gains that preceded the more recent economic problems.

Defeated at the polls, the anti-democratic faction of the opposition prepared for a new attempt at destabilizing the elected government, and promoted relatively small, but often violent student protests in early February.  They then called for a massive protest on February 12, Venezuela’s Youth Day in the center of Caracas.  The demonstrations have been accompanied by a social media campaign that has spread misinformation in an attempt to depict the Maduro administration as a violent dictatorship instead of a popular elected government. Images of police violence from other countries and past protests – some several years old – have been presented on social media as having occurred in recent days in Venezuela. A YouTube video that has been watched by almost 2 million viewers presents a one-sided portrayal of the situation and falsely states that the Venezuelan government controls all radio and television in the country, among other distortions. Similar disinformation occurred in April 2002 and in other past incidents in Venezuela, most notably when manipulated video footage was used to provide political justification for the coup d’etat.

While some in Washington foreign policy circles may attempt to portray the leaders of this new wave of protests as persecuted pro-democracy heroes, they in fact have histories of supporting anti-democratic and unconstitutional efforts to oust the government. Both Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado supported the 2002 coup; in López’s case he participated in it by supervising the arrest of then-Minister of Justice and the Interior Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, when López was mayor of Chacao. Police dragged Rodríguez Chacín out of the building where he had sought refuge into an angry mob, who physically attacked him. Corina Machado notably was present when the coup government of Pedro Carmona was sworn in, and signed the infamous “Carmona decree” dissolving the congress, the constitution and the Supreme Court. The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday:

the opposition has a touchy protest history in Venezuela. Early on in former President Hugo Chavez’s administration, the opposition was consistently on the streets calling for an end to his presidency. In 2002, they organized a coup that briefly unseated the president. Though the opposition leadership is not calling for a coup, the reputation the group made for itself barely a decade ago may be haunting it as it vocally pushes back against Maduro’s administration.

Venezuela’s opposition receives funding from U.S. “democracy promotion” groups including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and core grantees such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NED, which the Washington Post noted was set up to conduct activities “much of” which “[t]he CIA used to fund covertly” has made a number of grants directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, and USAID has also given money to IRI, NDI and other groups for Venezuela programs. These organizations have a history of destabilizing elected governments and working to unify and strengthen political opposition to left-wing parties and governments. IRI notably played a key role in destabilizing Haiti ahead of the 2004 coup there, and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, to name a few. In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 coup, and IRI spokespersons infamously praised the coup after it happened.

The Haiti example is instructive. The parallels are numerous: notably, a key part of the strategy was to exaggerate and fabricate killings and other human rights abuses, which were blamed on the elected government (while truly horrific atrocities committed by the armed wing of the opposition were generally ignored). Researchers – including some from the U.N. — have since debunked the most widely-circulated accounts of rights violations, but of course the democratically-elected president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) had long since been forced from office by then.

The U.S.-funded destabilization of Haiti in the early 2000s also offers lessons as to the endgame of this strategy. As the New York Times reported and as scholars such as Peter Hallward and Jeb Sprague have documented, the IRI counseled its Haitian partners not to accept any compromises from the Aristide government (which made many concessions, including agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement), but to continue to press further.

But the Maduro government is of course in a much stronger position than Haiti’s government ten years ago. A key factor is that while Aristide was relatively isolated politically, Latin American governments, through UNASUR and MERCOSUR, have condemned the violent protests and the opposition’s calls for Maduro to leave office and have expressed support for the Venezuelan government. In this case, when the Obama administration continues to signal that it sides with the violent protests, it is an outlier in the region.

Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern, and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez, and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos.  As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then – as now – the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections. An important difference this time of course is that Venezuela has its first post-Chávez president, and a key part of the opposition’s strategy overall has been to depict Nicolás Maduro as a pale imitation of his predecessor and a president ill-equipped to deal with the country’s problems (many of which are exaggerated in the Venezuelan private media, which is still largely opposition-owned, as well as the international media).

Following Maduro’s electoral victory in April last year (with much of the opposition crying “fraud” despite there being no reasonable doubts about the validity of the results), the opposition looked to the December municipal elections as a referendum on Maduro’s government, vowing to defeat governing party PSUV and allied candidates. The outcome, which left the pro-Maduro parties with a 10 point margin of victory, was a stunning defeat for the opposition, and this time they did not even bother claiming the elections were rigged. According to the opposition’s own pre-election analysis, support for Maduro had apparently grown over the months preceding the election. As we have pointed out, this may be due in part to the large reduction in poverty in 2012 and other economic and social gains that preceded the more recent economic problems.

Defeated at the polls, the anti-democratic faction of the opposition prepared for a new attempt at destabilizing the elected government, and promoted relatively small, but often violent student protests in early February.  They then called for a massive protest on February 12, Venezuela’s Youth Day in the center of Caracas.  The demonstrations have been accompanied by a social media campaign that has spread misinformation in an attempt to depict the Maduro administration as a violent dictatorship instead of a popular elected government. Images of police violence from other countries and past protests – some several years old – have been presented on social media as having occurred in recent days in Venezuela. A YouTube video that has been watched by almost 2 million viewers presents a one-sided portrayal of the situation and falsely states that the Venezuelan government controls all radio and television in the country, among other distortions. Similar disinformation occurred in April 2002 and in other past incidents in Venezuela, most notably when manipulated video footage was used to provide political justification for the coup d’etat.

While some in Washington foreign policy circles may attempt to portray the leaders of this new wave of protests as persecuted pro-democracy heroes, they in fact have histories of supporting anti-democratic and unconstitutional efforts to oust the government. Both Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado supported the 2002 coup; in López’s case he participated in it by supervising the arrest of then-Minister of Justice and the Interior Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, when López was mayor of Chacao. Police dragged Rodríguez Chacín out of the building where he had sought refuge into an angry mob, who physically attacked him. Corina Machado notably was present when the coup government of Pedro Carmona was sworn in, and signed the infamous “Carmona decree” dissolving the congress, the constitution and the Supreme Court. The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday:

the opposition has a touchy protest history in Venezuela. Early on in former President Hugo Chavez’s administration, the opposition was consistently on the streets calling for an end to his presidency. In 2002, they organized a coup that briefly unseated the president. Though the opposition leadership is not calling for a coup, the reputation the group made for itself barely a decade ago may be haunting it as it vocally pushes back against Maduro’s administration.

Venezuela’s opposition receives funding from U.S. “democracy promotion” groups including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and core grantees such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NED, which the Washington Post noted was set up to conduct activities “much of” which “[t]he CIA used to fund covertly” has made a number of grants directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, and USAID has also given money to IRI, NDI and other groups for Venezuela programs. These organizations have a history of destabilizing elected governments and working to unify and strengthen political opposition to left-wing parties and governments. IRI notably played a key role in destabilizing Haiti ahead of the 2004 coup there, and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, to name a few. In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 coup, and IRI spokespersons infamously praised the coup after it happened.

The Haiti example is instructive. The parallels are numerous: notably, a key part of the strategy was to exaggerate and fabricate killings and other human rights abuses, which were blamed on the elected government (while truly horrific atrocities committed by the armed wing of the opposition were generally ignored). Researchers – including some from the U.N. — have since debunked the most widely-circulated accounts of rights violations, but of course the democratically-elected president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) had long since been forced from office by then.

The U.S.-funded destabilization of Haiti in the early 2000s also offers lessons as to the endgame of this strategy. As the New York Times reported and as scholars such as Peter Hallward and Jeb Sprague have documented, the IRI counseled its Haitian partners not to accept any compromises from the Aristide government (which made many concessions, including agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement), but to continue to press further.

But the Maduro government is of course in a much stronger position than Haiti’s government ten years ago. A key factor is that while Aristide was relatively isolated politically, Latin American governments, through UNASUR and MERCOSUR, have condemned the violent protests and the opposition’s calls for Maduro to leave office and have expressed support for the Venezuelan government. In this case, when the Obama administration continues to signal that it sides with the violent protests, it is an outlier in the region.

Greg Weeks, a professor who specializes in Latin America at UNC Charlotte, did not seem to understand my column yesterday in the Guardian.  He dismissed the recent statements from the U.S. government about Venezuela as meaningless.  Since he is Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, perhaps there were others who did not understand these statements as well.  So I wrote some further explanation for him and posted it on his blog.  Today, of course, U.S. statements got even more hostile, after Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats. But as explained below, these are not just unfriendly comments by administration officials, but words chosen carefully and deliberately to encourage certain actions by Venezuela’s opposition.   Below is what I wrote yesterday:

Greg, maybe this will help your readers to understand what these statements mean. I wanted to include the White House statement on the Honduran coup for comparison but didn’t have room.

You can find it here:

https://www.cepr.net/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/top-ten-ways

The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.

This diplomatic language is very important. As any diplomat in this town will testify, this is one way in which governments communicate their positions and alliances. Everybody I know realized immediately from the White House statement after the Honduran coup that Washington supported the coup, and there were no surprises for us in what the Obama administration did in the months and years that followed.

So you see, these statements from Kerry and the State Department are not just random “vanilla” comments on the state of democracy or the economy in Venezuela or concern about arrests. (Maybe you didn’t read the piece very carefully, but my point on the arrests was that in other countries, if protesters are arrested for violent acts, the U.S. does not call for their immediate release.) These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do. They have enormous impact, as you can understand. When Kerry changed his position on the April elections, he didn’t have to say “these elections were free and fair and the opposition should give up its attempt to pretend that they were stolen.” He just implicitly recognized the result and that was the end of the opposition’s campaign, since U.S. allies Spain and José Miguel Insulza at the OAS had already given up, so the Obama administration was the last ally that the Venezuelan opposition had holding out for non-recognition of the election results.

I hope this makes it clearer for you and your readers.

Mark Weisbrot

 

Greg Weeks, a professor who specializes in Latin America at UNC Charlotte, did not seem to understand my column yesterday in the Guardian.  He dismissed the recent statements from the U.S. government about Venezuela as meaningless.  Since he is Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, perhaps there were others who did not understand these statements as well.  So I wrote some further explanation for him and posted it on his blog.  Today, of course, U.S. statements got even more hostile, after Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats. But as explained below, these are not just unfriendly comments by administration officials, but words chosen carefully and deliberately to encourage certain actions by Venezuela’s opposition.   Below is what I wrote yesterday:

Greg, maybe this will help your readers to understand what these statements mean. I wanted to include the White House statement on the Honduran coup for comparison but didn’t have room.

You can find it here:

https://www.cepr.net/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/top-ten-ways

The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.

This diplomatic language is very important. As any diplomat in this town will testify, this is one way in which governments communicate their positions and alliances. Everybody I know realized immediately from the White House statement after the Honduran coup that Washington supported the coup, and there were no surprises for us in what the Obama administration did in the months and years that followed.

So you see, these statements from Kerry and the State Department are not just random “vanilla” comments on the state of democracy or the economy in Venezuela or concern about arrests. (Maybe you didn’t read the piece very carefully, but my point on the arrests was that in other countries, if protesters are arrested for violent acts, the U.S. does not call for their immediate release.) These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do. They have enormous impact, as you can understand. When Kerry changed his position on the April elections, he didn’t have to say “these elections were free and fair and the opposition should give up its attempt to pretend that they were stolen.” He just implicitly recognized the result and that was the end of the opposition’s campaign, since U.S. allies Spain and José Miguel Insulza at the OAS had already given up, so the Obama administration was the last ally that the Venezuelan opposition had holding out for non-recognition of the election results.

I hope this makes it clearer for you and your readers.

Mark Weisbrot

 

The Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released its “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” [PDF] for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today. The assessment takes what is probably a much more realistic and beneficial stance (for both the people of the U.S. and of Latin America) on Latin America than previously. In contrast to last year’s assessment, which fretted over perceived political instability in Venezuela, the only South American threat noted this year – and mentioned only in passing – is “cocaine from source countries in South America.” (This is in the context of “[d]omestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups” operating in Central America.)

On Honduras, the assessment states:

Central America’s northern tier countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—will likely struggle to overcome the economic and security problems that plague the region.  All three countries are facing debt crises and falling government revenues because of slow economic growth, widespread tax evasion, and large informal economies.  Entrenched political, economic, and public-sector interests resist reforms.   Domestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups, as well as Central America’s status as a major transit area for cocaine from source countries in South America, are fueling record levels of violence in the region.  Regional governments have worked to improve citizen security but with little-to-moderate success.  

The homicide rate in Honduras remains the highest in the world.  New Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will likely prioritize security policy and seek to build a coalition within the divided legislature to push his economic reform agenda.  However, weak governance, widespread corruption, and debt problems will limit prospects for a turnaround.

In this case the assessment seems to be overstating the extent of Honduras’ “debt crisis.” As we noted ahead of the November elections last year, “the country’s debt burden is still relatively low, with interest payments on the debt totaling less than 1.7 percent, and much of the debt is internal and denominated in domestic currency.” This means that the new government “will have ample room to pursue expansionary fiscal policies, increase employment, and invest in infrastructure, education and development” if it chooses to do so. But economics does not seem to be the DNI’s strong suit. Last year’s assessment described an “increasingly deteriorating business environment and growing macroeconomic imbalances” in Venezuela and warned that “[d]ebt obligations will consume a growing share of Venezuela’s oil revenues, even if oil prices remain high.” But as CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot pointed out in a November column for The Guardian:

Interest payments on the public foreign debt, which is the most important measure of public indebtedness, were just $3.7 billion. This government is not going to run out of dollars. The Bank of America’s analysis of Venezuela last month recognized this, and decided as a result that Venezuelan government bonds were a good buy.

(It’s also notable that this time around the assessment states that the proposed U.S.-E.U. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) “has high potential for generating economic growth for both the United States and Europe.” In fact, projected GDP gains for the U.S. would be on the order of just 0.015 percentage points annually.)

The absence of South America (or Cuba, which received two paragraphs in last year’s assessment) in the threat assessment comes just hours after President Obama’s State of the Union speech in which he too, notably barely mentioned “the Americas,” simply saying “…we’re building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.” While Obama notably pressed for “Fast Track” trade promotion authority that he needs in order to pass the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), there was no other mention of Latin America. This has provoked the ire of extreme rightwing congressional opponents of Latin America’s left governments, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – FL) who fumed:

“We have important elections coming up throughout Latin America … There are a lot of thugs who call themselves democratically elected but who don’t govern in a democratic way. Past State of the Unions have talked a little bit more about freedom and democracy. I thought that’s what the president would do this year.”

No doubt the threat assessment’s failure to imagine threats in Venezuela and other South American countries will also draw flak from certain quarters.

The threat assessment again covers Haiti – and the U.N. mission there (MINUSTAH), which is new. See our analysis here.

The Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released its “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” [PDF] for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today. The assessment takes what is probably a much more realistic and beneficial stance (for both the people of the U.S. and of Latin America) on Latin America than previously. In contrast to last year’s assessment, which fretted over perceived political instability in Venezuela, the only South American threat noted this year – and mentioned only in passing – is “cocaine from source countries in South America.” (This is in the context of “[d]omestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups” operating in Central America.)

On Honduras, the assessment states:

Central America’s northern tier countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—will likely struggle to overcome the economic and security problems that plague the region.  All three countries are facing debt crises and falling government revenues because of slow economic growth, widespread tax evasion, and large informal economies.  Entrenched political, economic, and public-sector interests resist reforms.   Domestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups, as well as Central America’s status as a major transit area for cocaine from source countries in South America, are fueling record levels of violence in the region.  Regional governments have worked to improve citizen security but with little-to-moderate success.  

The homicide rate in Honduras remains the highest in the world.  New Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will likely prioritize security policy and seek to build a coalition within the divided legislature to push his economic reform agenda.  However, weak governance, widespread corruption, and debt problems will limit prospects for a turnaround.

In this case the assessment seems to be overstating the extent of Honduras’ “debt crisis.” As we noted ahead of the November elections last year, “the country’s debt burden is still relatively low, with interest payments on the debt totaling less than 1.7 percent, and much of the debt is internal and denominated in domestic currency.” This means that the new government “will have ample room to pursue expansionary fiscal policies, increase employment, and invest in infrastructure, education and development” if it chooses to do so. But economics does not seem to be the DNI’s strong suit. Last year’s assessment described an “increasingly deteriorating business environment and growing macroeconomic imbalances” in Venezuela and warned that “[d]ebt obligations will consume a growing share of Venezuela’s oil revenues, even if oil prices remain high.” But as CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot pointed out in a November column for The Guardian:

Interest payments on the public foreign debt, which is the most important measure of public indebtedness, were just $3.7 billion. This government is not going to run out of dollars. The Bank of America’s analysis of Venezuela last month recognized this, and decided as a result that Venezuelan government bonds were a good buy.

(It’s also notable that this time around the assessment states that the proposed U.S.-E.U. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) “has high potential for generating economic growth for both the United States and Europe.” In fact, projected GDP gains for the U.S. would be on the order of just 0.015 percentage points annually.)

The absence of South America (or Cuba, which received two paragraphs in last year’s assessment) in the threat assessment comes just hours after President Obama’s State of the Union speech in which he too, notably barely mentioned “the Americas,” simply saying “…we’re building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.” While Obama notably pressed for “Fast Track” trade promotion authority that he needs in order to pass the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), there was no other mention of Latin America. This has provoked the ire of extreme rightwing congressional opponents of Latin America’s left governments, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – FL) who fumed:

“We have important elections coming up throughout Latin America … There are a lot of thugs who call themselves democratically elected but who don’t govern in a democratic way. Past State of the Unions have talked a little bit more about freedom and democracy. I thought that’s what the president would do this year.”

No doubt the threat assessment’s failure to imagine threats in Venezuela and other South American countries will also draw flak from certain quarters.

The threat assessment again covers Haiti – and the U.N. mission there (MINUSTAH), which is new. See our analysis here.

On Thursday, the Brookings Institution issued a memo to President Obama titled “Venezuela Breaks Down in Violence.” As might be expected from the title, the memo (and an accompanying video) depicts an alarming situation where

Venezuela is experiencing declining export revenues, accelerating inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods. At the same time, the Maduro administration has foreclosed peaceful options for Venezuelans to bring about a change in its current policies.

But, contrary to the alarmist title, the violence is only a possibility in the future: “Economic mismanagement in Venezuela has reached such a level that it risks inciting a violent popular reaction,” and further on the reader learns that actually “[t]he risk of a violent outcome may still be low…”

The possibility of such chaos is troubling to the author, Harold Trinkunas since “it is in the U.S. interest that Venezuela remain a reliable source of oil,” while “[p]opular unrest in a country with multiple armed actors, including the military, the militia, organized crime and pro-government gangs, is a recipe for unwelcome chaos and risks an interruption of oil production.”

Trinkunas, who “previously served as an associate professor and chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California” urges the Obama administration to take action. At the top of his recommendations is for the U.S. to enlist Brazil – “whose interests are also at risk” – in an attempt “to convince the Maduro administration to shift course.”

Trinkunas makes clear what course he wants the U.S. government to take should a crisis result in Maduro being removed from power. While one might think that such a hypothetical scenario would indeed be one when the Inter-American Democratic Charter should be invoked (Trinkunas suggests that it be used against Maduro now), that would be naïve. Instead:

…we should also begin quiet conversations with others in the hemisphere on what steps to take should Venezuela experience a violent breakdown of political order. Such an event could potentially fracture the regional consensus on democracy on a scale much greater than that of the Honduran coup in 2009. Maduro’s allies in the region would most likely push for his immediate restoration, but in the absence of functioning democratic institutions, this would only compound Venezuela’s internal crisis. The United States would need to work with key states in the region—Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia—on a regional consensus in favor of rebuilding democracy in Venezuela.

In other words, should a coup occur, Trinkunas wants the U.S. to “work with” the Latin American countries it is closer to politically – and also Brazil – to help it succeed. This is in fact what the Bush administration attempted to do during the short-lived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez, and the Obama administration worked to ensure that the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected government of Honduras would succeed.

Of course Trinkunas seems to be unaware – despite a passing reference to “distance from the United States over NSA surveillance issues” – that in recent years Brazil’s government has not shied from challenging U.S. foreign policy on a variety of hot-button issues, including over Iran’s nuclear program, the FTAA, and a planned U.S.-Colombia military bases agreement. Brazil led the South American opposition to the Honduran coup and refused to recognize the new government of Pepe Lobo following the November 2009 elections in Honduras. Former president Lula da Silva – who has hinted at another presidential run in 2018 – was always vocal about his support for the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez and released a video in support of Maduro ahead of the April elections last year.

Perhaps Trinkunas can be forgiven if he isn’t aware of these things; they aren’t talked about much in Washington foreign policy circles, where Brazil is still often referred to as part of the “good left” – unlike Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and other bad apples.

Why is Trinkunas so concerned that Venezuela could soon collapse into violence? He cites a number of economic factors, some vague, some not. He frets, for example, about “declining” output by state oil company PDVSA, and that Venezuela had “the highest inflation rate in the world in 2013.” But as CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot recently pointed out in a contribution to the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor:

inflation appears to have stabilized. Inflation data for November and December show a monthly rate of 4.8 percent and 2.2 percent, putting the three-month annualized rate at 60.6 percent; the annual rate for 2013 was 56.1 percent.

Further, citing an analysis by Bank of America, Weisbrot states:

BOA sees Venezuela’s current debt as sustainable. A devaluation would not likely have much effect on the economy, as previous devaluations did not. Nor is social unrest a likely prospect, as there are no elections for two years, and most opposition protests in Venezuela tend to focus on elections…

Trinkunas attempts to cast doubt on Venezuela’s electoral process (the same one that former president Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world” ahead of the October 2012 elections). He writes, “A now unified national opposition continues to emphasize elections as the solution, but the playing field is hardly level, and elections are not scheduled to take place again until 2015.” Venezuela observers know that the opposition has been relatively unified for some time now, coming together to support the presidential candidacy of Henrique Capriles in both October 2012 and April 2013. Capriles lost both times, and last month the opposition was dealt a blow by a poorer showing in municipal elections than it had hoped. Analysts and some members and supporters of the opposition now question Capriles’ status as an opposition leader, so if anything the opposition is probably now less unified than it was prior to these recent elections.

Ironically – perhaps unaware that Brookings’ website is available to the public, as is YouTube – Trinkunas writes, “Overt U.S. criticism of the Maduro administration or efforts to exert our limited economic leverage would be grist for the mill of the Venezuelan propaganda machine; we should avoid that.” Certainly if one of the most prominent Venezuelan think-tanks called for supporting the overthrow of the U.S. government, that would simply be ignored by the U.S. “propaganda machine,” right?

On Thursday, the Brookings Institution issued a memo to President Obama titled “Venezuela Breaks Down in Violence.” As might be expected from the title, the memo (and an accompanying video) depicts an alarming situation where

Venezuela is experiencing declining export revenues, accelerating inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods. At the same time, the Maduro administration has foreclosed peaceful options for Venezuelans to bring about a change in its current policies.

But, contrary to the alarmist title, the violence is only a possibility in the future: “Economic mismanagement in Venezuela has reached such a level that it risks inciting a violent popular reaction,” and further on the reader learns that actually “[t]he risk of a violent outcome may still be low…”

The possibility of such chaos is troubling to the author, Harold Trinkunas since “it is in the U.S. interest that Venezuela remain a reliable source of oil,” while “[p]opular unrest in a country with multiple armed actors, including the military, the militia, organized crime and pro-government gangs, is a recipe for unwelcome chaos and risks an interruption of oil production.”

Trinkunas, who “previously served as an associate professor and chair of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California” urges the Obama administration to take action. At the top of his recommendations is for the U.S. to enlist Brazil – “whose interests are also at risk” – in an attempt “to convince the Maduro administration to shift course.”

Trinkunas makes clear what course he wants the U.S. government to take should a crisis result in Maduro being removed from power. While one might think that such a hypothetical scenario would indeed be one when the Inter-American Democratic Charter should be invoked (Trinkunas suggests that it be used against Maduro now), that would be naïve. Instead:

…we should also begin quiet conversations with others in the hemisphere on what steps to take should Venezuela experience a violent breakdown of political order. Such an event could potentially fracture the regional consensus on democracy on a scale much greater than that of the Honduran coup in 2009. Maduro’s allies in the region would most likely push for his immediate restoration, but in the absence of functioning democratic institutions, this would only compound Venezuela’s internal crisis. The United States would need to work with key states in the region—Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia—on a regional consensus in favor of rebuilding democracy in Venezuela.

In other words, should a coup occur, Trinkunas wants the U.S. to “work with” the Latin American countries it is closer to politically – and also Brazil – to help it succeed. This is in fact what the Bush administration attempted to do during the short-lived 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez, and the Obama administration worked to ensure that the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected government of Honduras would succeed.

Of course Trinkunas seems to be unaware – despite a passing reference to “distance from the United States over NSA surveillance issues” – that in recent years Brazil’s government has not shied from challenging U.S. foreign policy on a variety of hot-button issues, including over Iran’s nuclear program, the FTAA, and a planned U.S.-Colombia military bases agreement. Brazil led the South American opposition to the Honduran coup and refused to recognize the new government of Pepe Lobo following the November 2009 elections in Honduras. Former president Lula da Silva – who has hinted at another presidential run in 2018 – was always vocal about his support for the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez and released a video in support of Maduro ahead of the April elections last year.

Perhaps Trinkunas can be forgiven if he isn’t aware of these things; they aren’t talked about much in Washington foreign policy circles, where Brazil is still often referred to as part of the “good left” – unlike Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and other bad apples.

Why is Trinkunas so concerned that Venezuela could soon collapse into violence? He cites a number of economic factors, some vague, some not. He frets, for example, about “declining” output by state oil company PDVSA, and that Venezuela had “the highest inflation rate in the world in 2013.” But as CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot recently pointed out in a contribution to the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor:

inflation appears to have stabilized. Inflation data for November and December show a monthly rate of 4.8 percent and 2.2 percent, putting the three-month annualized rate at 60.6 percent; the annual rate for 2013 was 56.1 percent.

Further, citing an analysis by Bank of America, Weisbrot states:

BOA sees Venezuela’s current debt as sustainable. A devaluation would not likely have much effect on the economy, as previous devaluations did not. Nor is social unrest a likely prospect, as there are no elections for two years, and most opposition protests in Venezuela tend to focus on elections…

Trinkunas attempts to cast doubt on Venezuela’s electoral process (the same one that former president Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world” ahead of the October 2012 elections). He writes, “A now unified national opposition continues to emphasize elections as the solution, but the playing field is hardly level, and elections are not scheduled to take place again until 2015.” Venezuela observers know that the opposition has been relatively unified for some time now, coming together to support the presidential candidacy of Henrique Capriles in both October 2012 and April 2013. Capriles lost both times, and last month the opposition was dealt a blow by a poorer showing in municipal elections than it had hoped. Analysts and some members and supporters of the opposition now question Capriles’ status as an opposition leader, so if anything the opposition is probably now less unified than it was prior to these recent elections.

Ironically – perhaps unaware that Brookings’ website is available to the public, as is YouTube – Trinkunas writes, “Overt U.S. criticism of the Maduro administration or efforts to exert our limited economic leverage would be grist for the mill of the Venezuelan propaganda machine; we should avoid that.” Certainly if one of the most prominent Venezuelan think-tanks called for supporting the overthrow of the U.S. government, that would simply be ignored by the U.S. “propaganda machine,” right?

The new budget appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, and set to be taken up by the Senate in the coming days, includes several passages that are relevant for Honduras, including stronger restrictions on U.S. assistance for the police and military. It also includes language opposing involvement by international financial institutions like the World Bank and IADB in the financing of large dam projects, such as those planned in Rio Blanco, and other language that could help victims of the May 2012 DEA operation in Ahuas — that resulted in four villagers killed and several others injured — finally receive compensation.

Under the “Honduras” section, the bill [PDF] reads:

  1. Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the headings ‘‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’’ and ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’, 35 percent may not be made available for assistance for the Honduran military and police except in accordance with the procedures and requirements specified under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this consolidated Act).
  2. The restriction in paragraph (1) shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police.

This 35 percent is a significant increase from the 20 percent previously withheld over concerns about human rights violations by Honduran security forces.

The “procedures and requirements” appear under the section (Division J) titled “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014”:

Honduras. – The agreement modifies language in the Senate bill regarding Honduras in subsection (e). There is concern with the security challenges facing Honduras, which has become a transit hub for illicit drugs from South America. The assistance provided by this Act is intended to help stem the trafficking and address related violence, corruption, and impunity. The agreement recognizes the need for fundamental reform of Honduran law enforcement and judicial systems. In accordance with section 7045(e) of this Act, 35 percent of funds that are available for assistance for the Honduran military and police may be obligated only if the Secretary of State certifies that-

(1) the Government of Honduras is reducing corruption including by prosecuting corrupt officials and removing them from office;

(2) agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims of such operations, are being implemented;

(3) the Government of Honduras is protecting freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and due process of law, including in the Bajo Aguan Valley;

(4) the Government of Honduras is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, including forced evictions, or to have aided or abetted other armed groups involved in such acts; and

(5) the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases.

So, the language is intended to tackle ongoing corruption and impunity, target human rights violations in the Aguán Valley, and also provide assistance – it would seem – to the victims of the lethal May 2012 DEA-Honduran counternarcotics operation in Ahuas.  These new conditions are more numerous and more specific than the conditions outlined in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, the last piece of legislation to impose conditions on a portion of security assistance to Honduras. Here is the short section on Honduras in that legislation:

Honduras – Prior to the obligation of 20 percent of the funds appropriated by this Act that are available for assistance for Honduran military and police forces, the Secretary of State shall report in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that: the Government of Honduras is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law; and is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system, in accordance with Honduran and international law, military and police personnel who are credible alleged to have violated human rights, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases: Provided, that the restriction in this subsection shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption and the rule of law within the military and police forces.

The new bill also includes interesting and unprecedented language under the “International Financial Institutions” section, which appears relevant to World Bank programs in Honduras.   The following paragraph would seem to apply to the dam projects at Rio Blanco, where the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank has been offering financing for the projects through third parties:

(D) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution that it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam (as defined in ‘‘Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision- Making,’’ World Commission on Dams (November 2000)).

As we and many other observers have noted (as well as affected communities, including the residents of Rio Blanco), some past World Bank-funded dam projects have been human rights and environmental disasters, such as the infamous Chixoy dam in Guatemala (where over 440 people were massacred and over 3,500 forcibly displaced) and the Narmada dam project in India.

The World Bank has come under criticism recently after its ombudsman determined that the IFC’s financing of Miguel Facussé’s Dinant corporation in Honduras’ Aguán Valley “violated its own social and environmental rules,” as Al Jazeera put it. Another paragraph in the bill seems particularly relevant to this audit, which found that IFC staff failed to act on information linking Dinant to alleged killings and attacks on scores of campesino leaders, as well as other crimes:

(e) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to seek to ensure that each such institution responds to the findings and recommendations of its accountability mechanisms by providing just compensation or other appropriate redress to individuals and communities that suffer violations of human rights, including forced displacement, resulting from any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution.

Over 100 campesinos in the Aguán have been killed since June 2009 by private security forces and Honduran authorities, and many others have been forcibly evicted, according to Rights Action. Facussé and other wealthy land owners in the area dispute local farmers’ claims to land, and the June 2009 coup against democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya cut short a land reform process that sought to resolve the conflict in the Aguán Valley region.  In a January 10 release, Human Rights Watch noted that the IFC has provided an “inadequate response” to the audit, which may well be the most damning that the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman has made to date:

While the IFC agreed to address several of the findings, it largely avoided the findings of IFC’s systemic failures. And the IFC’s action plan falls well short of what is required by the IFC’s own standards. Further, there is no indication that the action plan was developed in consultation with the communities affected by the investment or the organizations that represent them.

The IFC’s action plan acknowledges that an investigation of the allegations against the company is needed and that it will “assess the feasibility of remediation to affected parties.” But it leaves it to the Honduran authorities and Dinant to deal with this, even though both parties are alleged to have participated in the violence.

The new budget appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, and set to be taken up by the Senate in the coming days, includes several passages that are relevant for Honduras, including stronger restrictions on U.S. assistance for the police and military. It also includes language opposing involvement by international financial institutions like the World Bank and IADB in the financing of large dam projects, such as those planned in Rio Blanco, and other language that could help victims of the May 2012 DEA operation in Ahuas — that resulted in four villagers killed and several others injured — finally receive compensation.

Under the “Honduras” section, the bill [PDF] reads:

  1. Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the headings ‘‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’’ and ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’, 35 percent may not be made available for assistance for the Honduran military and police except in accordance with the procedures and requirements specified under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this consolidated Act).
  2. The restriction in paragraph (1) shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police.

This 35 percent is a significant increase from the 20 percent previously withheld over concerns about human rights violations by Honduran security forces.

The “procedures and requirements” appear under the section (Division J) titled “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014”:

Honduras. – The agreement modifies language in the Senate bill regarding Honduras in subsection (e). There is concern with the security challenges facing Honduras, which has become a transit hub for illicit drugs from South America. The assistance provided by this Act is intended to help stem the trafficking and address related violence, corruption, and impunity. The agreement recognizes the need for fundamental reform of Honduran law enforcement and judicial systems. In accordance with section 7045(e) of this Act, 35 percent of funds that are available for assistance for the Honduran military and police may be obligated only if the Secretary of State certifies that-

(1) the Government of Honduras is reducing corruption including by prosecuting corrupt officials and removing them from office;

(2) agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims of such operations, are being implemented;

(3) the Government of Honduras is protecting freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and due process of law, including in the Bajo Aguan Valley;

(4) the Government of Honduras is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, including forced evictions, or to have aided or abetted other armed groups involved in such acts; and

(5) the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases.

So, the language is intended to tackle ongoing corruption and impunity, target human rights violations in the Aguán Valley, and also provide assistance – it would seem – to the victims of the lethal May 2012 DEA-Honduran counternarcotics operation in Ahuas.  These new conditions are more numerous and more specific than the conditions outlined in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, the last piece of legislation to impose conditions on a portion of security assistance to Honduras. Here is the short section on Honduras in that legislation:

Honduras – Prior to the obligation of 20 percent of the funds appropriated by this Act that are available for assistance for Honduran military and police forces, the Secretary of State shall report in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that: the Government of Honduras is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law; and is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system, in accordance with Honduran and international law, military and police personnel who are credible alleged to have violated human rights, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases: Provided, that the restriction in this subsection shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption and the rule of law within the military and police forces.

The new bill also includes interesting and unprecedented language under the “International Financial Institutions” section, which appears relevant to World Bank programs in Honduras.   The following paragraph would seem to apply to the dam projects at Rio Blanco, where the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank has been offering financing for the projects through third parties:

(D) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution that it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam (as defined in ‘‘Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision- Making,’’ World Commission on Dams (November 2000)).

As we and many other observers have noted (as well as affected communities, including the residents of Rio Blanco), some past World Bank-funded dam projects have been human rights and environmental disasters, such as the infamous Chixoy dam in Guatemala (where over 440 people were massacred and over 3,500 forcibly displaced) and the Narmada dam project in India.

The World Bank has come under criticism recently after its ombudsman determined that the IFC’s financing of Miguel Facussé’s Dinant corporation in Honduras’ Aguán Valley “violated its own social and environmental rules,” as Al Jazeera put it. Another paragraph in the bill seems particularly relevant to this audit, which found that IFC staff failed to act on information linking Dinant to alleged killings and attacks on scores of campesino leaders, as well as other crimes:

(e) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to seek to ensure that each such institution responds to the findings and recommendations of its accountability mechanisms by providing just compensation or other appropriate redress to individuals and communities that suffer violations of human rights, including forced displacement, resulting from any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution.

Over 100 campesinos in the Aguán have been killed since June 2009 by private security forces and Honduran authorities, and many others have been forcibly evicted, according to Rights Action. Facussé and other wealthy land owners in the area dispute local farmers’ claims to land, and the June 2009 coup against democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya cut short a land reform process that sought to resolve the conflict in the Aguán Valley region.  In a January 10 release, Human Rights Watch noted that the IFC has provided an “inadequate response” to the audit, which may well be the most damning that the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman has made to date:

While the IFC agreed to address several of the findings, it largely avoided the findings of IFC’s systemic failures. And the IFC’s action plan falls well short of what is required by the IFC’s own standards. Further, there is no indication that the action plan was developed in consultation with the communities affected by the investment or the organizations that represent them.

The IFC’s action plan acknowledges that an investigation of the allegations against the company is needed and that it will “assess the feasibility of remediation to affected parties.” But it leaves it to the Honduran authorities and Dinant to deal with this, even though both parties are alleged to have participated in the violence.

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