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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On February 12th, (Venezuelan Youth Day and the commemoration of the independence battle of La Victoria) some university students and traditional conservative opposition groups took to the streets in Venezuela. In Caracas students and others attacked a government building, burned cars and damaged the entrance to a metro station.  The demonstrations extended for several days, as it quickly became obvious that the principal purpose of the protests was to destabilize the government and seek the ouster of the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro faced a hotly contested presidential election shortly after the death of Hugo Chávez, in which he narrowly defeated Henrique Capriles. To gain support, Capriles promised to continue social programs initiated by the late president becoming what some called a “Chávez lite” candidate. The hard line elements of the opposition, including Capriles refused to accept the results of the elections and street violence generated by conservative forces left close to a dozen people dead.

Last December, Venezuela held municipal elections that the opposition purposely turned into a referendum on the Maduro presidency. Despite the opposition’s winning of several important areas in Caracas and the city of Maracaibo the government sponsored coalition (Polo Patriotico) won over 70% of the country’s municipalities. The election results revealed that the opposition had not won over the majority despite the country’s serious economic problems and the loss of the charismatic Hugo Chávez as leader of the left.

Coming on the heels of a recent electoral defeat the protest by the opposition in early February caught many by surprise. Even though Venezuela has held 19 elections since 1998, with the left winning18, there are actually no elections scheduled during 2014, a rarity in the country’s active electoral cycle. The earliest elections are scheduled for December 2015 when voters will go to the polls to elect members of the National Assembly. The presidential recall provision of the constitution cannot be triggered until 2016.

It quickly became obvious that segments of the radical right wing were not willing to wait for the democratic process to unfold. The opposition feared that the government might have time to address the very real problems that Venezuela faces, including food shortages, inflation that has reached over 56% and crime that takes a toll on all sectors of society. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that when Leopoldo López, (the political figure who hoped to capitalize on the protest and replace Capriles as the de facto leader of the opposition) was asked how long the protest should last, he responded, “hasta que se vaya” until Maduro leaves.  

This is not the first time the opposition has resorted to extra-parliamentary means to oust a sitting president in Venezuela. Previously, the opposition staged a coup in 2002 and when that failed, the upper echelon of the oil company led a strike in 2002-2003 that paralyzed the nation. Subsequently the right engaged in efforts at destabilization known as the guarimba in the early part of 2004 that also failed. In essence, the opposition has once again adopted the all or nothing strategy they embraced in 2002 and 2004; — either Maduro resigns or they will continue to protest.

Who are the students?

It is also misleading to assume that all students in Venezuela support the opposition; in fact many also support the government and its allies.  Moreover, student leadership of opposition activities is not new in Venezuela. In 2006, after suffering a series of electoral defeats, students, especially from private universities, became the new face of the opposition. Students were also the leading force protesting the non-renewal of the broadcast license of RCTV (a leading television company) for its involvement in the 2002 coup.  The social character of university students in Venezuela has changed significantly since the 1960s and 1970s. The application of neoliberal policy to the educational arena, the continued use of standardized entrance exams and the expansion of private universities transformed the social character of students and a greater percentage are now from the middle and upper classes.

A tale of two cities and two countries

Much of the reporting by the mass media gives the impression that Venezuela faces a national rebellion. The reality is that the protests have been restricted to certain pockets in the country, mostly middle and upper middle class neighborhoods, not entire cities. Most damage to private property and infrastructure has occurred in these neighborhoods.  According to the government 18 municipalities have been the center of protest out of 335. And even in municipalities where there are protesters, residents live a tale of two cities, with some areas besieged and others functioning under normal-like conditions.  With the advent of carnival, there are also contrasting images of people at the beach and others protesting behind barricades.

Guarimba

To create conditions of un-governability, the so-called “democratic opposition” had taken to barricading the roads to prevent the free movement of people and precipitate a crisis. They have set up barricades using boulders, glass, trees, trash filled bags, and anything else at their disposal. In other cases they are throwing glass and nails (called miguelitos, nails thrust through pieces of garden hose) onto the road to impede traffic. The police and the National Guard have cleaned city streets on numerous occasions. However, protestors hide materials and take over the streets again once the Guard departs.  

Walking around areas controlled by the opposition it is impossible not to notice that many streets have been covered with car oil to make the surfaces slick causing motorbikes to skid out of control. The opposition assumes that motorizados, those on motorcycles are government supporters. There has not only been a demonization of the motorizados, but also a racialization of individuals who purchased cheap Chinese motorcycles since most are from lower socioeconomic sectors and tend to be people of color.

It is also impossible not to notice the steel wire and barbwire strung across the roadway and some motorcycle drivers have either been injured or killed by these barriers. Edwin Duran (29 years old) in Caracas was killed by steel wire placed on the street to frustrate traffic. Delia Elena Lobo, a 39 year old mother was also killed as she rode on a motorbike with her son in city of Mérida.

A retired general, Ángel Vivas tweeted several times giving instructions to his followers on how to place the steel wire on city streets. The government tried to arrest him for inciting violence. The general put on a bulletproof vest, armed himself with an M-16 and pistol and took to the rooftop of this house. The opposition blocked his house while some U.S. Spanish language media rushed to interview him, but never asked how or why he was in possession of an M-16 assault rifle.

Fear is also being used to intimidate the population where barricades disrupt people’s lives. Residents are being told that the barricades are needed to protect the community from marauding bands of government supporters, the National Guard or the motorizados, (motorcycle riders). In some neighborhoods, they use the fear of being attacked by the Tupamaros, a political organization inspired by the Uruguayan group of the same name. In Venezuela, the Tupamaros are a leftist organization that has clashed with opposition forces in the past. Throughout the day the rumor mill generates one potentially calamitous event after another.

The mainstream media is not reporting the dangerous conditions on the streets; in fact many foreign reporters are afraid to leave the comfort and perceived protection of middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods in which they reside. One U.S. journalist tweeted he had not ventured out of Altamira, a wealthy area of Caracas, and therefore could not report on conditions elsewhere.

Likewise, contrary to many reports in some media outlets, the military has not been unleashed to senselessly attack the protestors. Undoubtedly there have been incidents of violence and provocations on both sides and the government recently ordered the arrest of several intelligence officers implicated in the two deaths, one in the opposition and one a chavista activist.  The number of killed has now reached double digits, but violence has taken its toll on both protestors and supporters of the government. While too high, the numbers would undoubtedly be much worse if the security forces were trying to suppress the protest with lethal force.

Why Táchira?

Protest in the western state of Táchira preceded the larger demonstrations in Caracas and elsewhere on February 12th and were purportedly sparked by the attempted rape of a university student. The governor of the state of Táchira insists that no students came forth to file a complaint about the attempted rape. Students took to the streets to protest the rising crime rate and the arrest of two protestors by the police is citied as a factor that enraged students. The protests in San Cristobal quickly spread to Mérida where the main campus of the University of the Andes (ULA) is located.

However, like everything in Venezuela, developments in Táchira are more complicated than they initially appear. Some business sectors in Táchira profit tremendously from the illicit trade of subsidized Venezuelan goods sent to Colombia as contraband where they obtain much higher prices. It is estimated that upwards of 30% of some Venezuelan basic food products exit the country as contraband. Shortages of basic food products have been especially evident in Táchira and Mérida where many stores shelves are empty. Average citizens also engage in the contraband trade to augment their salaries. Gasoline that in Venezuela is heavily subsidized, costing less than 10 cents a gallon is also part of the contraband trade. The subsidy of gasoline, in place since the 1950s, costs the government upwards of $12 billion dollar a year. Táchira is the center of an active remittance trade between Colombians and Venezuelans and money launderers exploit this exchange. Government efforts to control this illicit trade have generated displeasure among certain sectors. 

Táchira also represents another challenge, the presence on Venezuelan soil of Colombian and Venezuelan paramilitaries that profit from the illicit trade and are linked to transnational criminal networks. They have already kidnaped one Venezuelan military officer who was visiting his family. They are an ever-present factor in the political protests in Táchira.

Gocho Identity

A racialized “gocho” identity (Andean and predominantly whiter compared to Venezuela’s predominately mixed race and African heritage population) is also being promoted in the Andean states of Mérida and Táchira.  Posters and banners proclaiming gocho power and their role in the protest have been common at rallies in Mérida and Táchira.

From 1898 through 1958, Venezuela was ruled by a series of Andean generals from the state of Táchira. This gocho identity harkens to a time when the Andes, and in particular Táchira and Mérida exercised a prominent role in the governance of Venezuela. Protests centered in Táchira and Mérida raise the specter of a Bolivian Media Luna (half moon), where the conservative opposition using a purported racialized identity promoted the secession of the eastern provinces of Bolivia.  Likewise some have suggested that Mérida, Táchira, Trujillo and Zulia might become a Venezuelan version of the Media Luna. However, protests in Zulia and Trujillo have not reached the levels of those in Mérida or Táchira and that scenario has failed to materialize.

Another important feature of the opposition protest marches has been the leadership role of middle and upper class women. On Saturday February 22, 2014 women who support the government rallied in Caracas to promote peace and an end to the violence. On Wednesday February 27, 2014 opposition women dressed in white staged protests against the government and rallied in front of the building of the Guardia Nacional in Caracas.  A female officer of the guard came out to receive their demands and urged the protestors to take part in efforts at dialogue proposed by president Maduro.

At various opposition rallies some women have taken to demanding a hyper-masculinity, baiting men to confront the Guardia or the police and when they do not, raising questions about the men’s virility.  Opposition social media is circulating the image of a young female protestor at one rally that attached a pair of “testicles” to her shorts and carried a sign that said “Soy Gocha y tengo de sobra lo que algunos de ustedes les falta.” (I am a Gocha and I have in excess what you are all missing.)  An arrow on the sign pointed to her purported “testicles.” Other signs at women’s protests state “women with ovaries vs. a symbolic military” and others crudely state, “The men in Venezuela have no balls”

Daily Life

Where the opposition has set barricades, people live by the cell phone, texting each other to see if it is safe to get out and make a mad dash to whatever store may be open for a few hours. Most products can be found, though it may take multiple trips to various stores and the frustration of standing in long queues. Rumors tend to dominate street conversations, where is milk being sold; who has Harina Pan (corn flour used for making arepas, a national dish) and which roadblocks are passable.  The opposition communicates mainly by social media, and many spend countless hours on Twitter, Whats-Apps, Facebook and Zello an application that carries live conversations.

In areas where protests are taking place, workers and other employees cannot enter and are losing income. Businesses, merchants and the tourism industry on the eve of Carnival also suffer the consequences of the blockades. Public transportation is at a standstill in these areas and “moto taxis” have become the primary form of transportation.

Although most business sectors support the opposition they are beginning to distance themselves from the more violent protests. Some appear to recognize that the mobilizations will not topple the government. On Wednesday February 26 the leaders of Fedecamaras (Chamber of Commerce), Fedeindustria (Chamber of Industry) and Eugenio Mendoza the CEO of the country’s leading food company attended the government sponsored “Peace Conference.” Although they criticized the government on many fronts, they also expressed opposition to the blockades and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Maduro government.  Though the hierarchy of the Venezuelan Catholic Church was invited, they opted not to attend. The papal nuncio did attend and urged dialogue and negotiations to end the violence. The political leaders of the opposition MUD (Unity Table) coalition also boycotted the event.

There is, however, evidence that some elected opposition political leaders are starting to distance themselves from the street violence as well. This is because people are tired of the disruptions in their lives.  The opposition mayors of Baruta, Sucre and El Hatillo all part of greater Caracas have called for an end to violence and disavowed the street protests that create siege-like conditions.

Fighting for political leadership of the right

Capriles appears desperate to reassert his leadership of the opposition coalition particularly since López outflanked him, becoming the most recognized leader of the right. However, López is not widely trusted by many sectors of the opposition, including some students. Capriles spoke at one opposition demonstration indicating his willingness to take part in a dialogue.  Maduro convened a meeting of governors at which Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda, should have attended; however, pressured by the far right wing, he refused to attend. Previously, he had attended a meeting and shook Maduro’s hand for which he was roundly criticized by the right wing. Two other opposition governors showed up and openly sparred with Maduro. Capriles absence as well as other opposition voices was a mistake and a lost opportunity to dialogue and attempt to diffuse the violence the country faces.

Overtaken by the protests, Capriles initially asserted that political extremes sought violence, a reference to both the right and the left. He has even publicly criticized López and national assembly member María Corina Machado for raising false expectations that the protests would unseat Maduro. However, he will find it difficult to cast himself as the moderate in the current fracas. Capriles faces a scenario similar to the Republicans in the U.S. as they confront the Tea Party wing of the party. To remain the leader of the opposition Capriles has to appeal to the more radical right wing that refuses to negotiate with the government under any condition. However, to win elections he has to gain the support of disgruntled chavistas and poorer sectors. As opposition to the disruptions caused by protests increases, Capriles will find it harder and harder to portray himself as a moderate.

Conclusion

Venezuela is not facing a Ukraine-like crisis as some in the opposition have suggested. The president retains support throughout the country. Neither is it on the verge of a fratricidal conflict similar to what has taken place in Syria. A large part, but apparently not a majority of the society remains bitterly alienated from the government. Undoubtedly, Venezuela faces real economic and social problems. However, opposition efforts to topple the government will only exacerbate these problems and continue to raise tensions in the country.   

On the international front, countries like Brazil and Argentina have called for no foreign intervention in Venezuela, an allusion to United States support of the opposition.  Despite recent tensions, and the mutual expulsion of diplomats, the Maduro government recently extended an olive branch by naming a new Venezuelan ambassador to Washington. The countries have not formally had ambassadors since 2008. The U.S. has not formally responded to the gesture. The U.S. however has expressed concern over a potential new immigrant wave from the Caribbean if Venezuela curtails or ceases the sale of oil through Petro-Caribe to the countries of the region.

There is no evidence that broad sectors of society, especially the urban poor who provide the most support to the government, have joined the protests initiated by middle and upper class sectors. This division led one Colombian commentator to state, “Venezuela is an odd country, the only place were the rich protest and the poor celebrate.” It is doubtful the opposition can sustain the present level of protests. By seeking Maduro’s ouster through undemocratic means and without majority support, the opposition has once again entered a “callejon sin salida,” a political dead end. After the debacle of the 2002-03 oil strike that cost the country over 14 billion dollars in lost revenue, they saved face by calling for Chávez’s recall. Under the present electoral calendar they have no such option. The opposition will find it difficult to save face after this round of protests and many question their commitment to democratic principles and their ability to unite all of Venezuela.  Having radicalized their base, they now face the daunting task of demobilizing their followers if they are to salvage any credibility in future elections.

 


 

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of Latin American history at Pomona College and author of several books on Venezuela, including The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela (Duke University Press).

On February 12th, (Venezuelan Youth Day and the commemoration of the independence battle of La Victoria) some university students and traditional conservative opposition groups took to the streets in Venezuela. In Caracas students and others attacked a government building, burned cars and damaged the entrance to a metro station.  The demonstrations extended for several days, as it quickly became obvious that the principal purpose of the protests was to destabilize the government and seek the ouster of the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro faced a hotly contested presidential election shortly after the death of Hugo Chávez, in which he narrowly defeated Henrique Capriles. To gain support, Capriles promised to continue social programs initiated by the late president becoming what some called a “Chávez lite” candidate. The hard line elements of the opposition, including Capriles refused to accept the results of the elections and street violence generated by conservative forces left close to a dozen people dead.

Last December, Venezuela held municipal elections that the opposition purposely turned into a referendum on the Maduro presidency. Despite the opposition’s winning of several important areas in Caracas and the city of Maracaibo the government sponsored coalition (Polo Patriotico) won over 70% of the country’s municipalities. The election results revealed that the opposition had not won over the majority despite the country’s serious economic problems and the loss of the charismatic Hugo Chávez as leader of the left.

Coming on the heels of a recent electoral defeat the protest by the opposition in early February caught many by surprise. Even though Venezuela has held 19 elections since 1998, with the left winning18, there are actually no elections scheduled during 2014, a rarity in the country’s active electoral cycle. The earliest elections are scheduled for December 2015 when voters will go to the polls to elect members of the National Assembly. The presidential recall provision of the constitution cannot be triggered until 2016.

It quickly became obvious that segments of the radical right wing were not willing to wait for the democratic process to unfold. The opposition feared that the government might have time to address the very real problems that Venezuela faces, including food shortages, inflation that has reached over 56% and crime that takes a toll on all sectors of society. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that when Leopoldo López, (the political figure who hoped to capitalize on the protest and replace Capriles as the de facto leader of the opposition) was asked how long the protest should last, he responded, “hasta que se vaya” until Maduro leaves.  

This is not the first time the opposition has resorted to extra-parliamentary means to oust a sitting president in Venezuela. Previously, the opposition staged a coup in 2002 and when that failed, the upper echelon of the oil company led a strike in 2002-2003 that paralyzed the nation. Subsequently the right engaged in efforts at destabilization known as the guarimba in the early part of 2004 that also failed. In essence, the opposition has once again adopted the all or nothing strategy they embraced in 2002 and 2004; — either Maduro resigns or they will continue to protest.

Who are the students?

It is also misleading to assume that all students in Venezuela support the opposition; in fact many also support the government and its allies.  Moreover, student leadership of opposition activities is not new in Venezuela. In 2006, after suffering a series of electoral defeats, students, especially from private universities, became the new face of the opposition. Students were also the leading force protesting the non-renewal of the broadcast license of RCTV (a leading television company) for its involvement in the 2002 coup.  The social character of university students in Venezuela has changed significantly since the 1960s and 1970s. The application of neoliberal policy to the educational arena, the continued use of standardized entrance exams and the expansion of private universities transformed the social character of students and a greater percentage are now from the middle and upper classes.

A tale of two cities and two countries

Much of the reporting by the mass media gives the impression that Venezuela faces a national rebellion. The reality is that the protests have been restricted to certain pockets in the country, mostly middle and upper middle class neighborhoods, not entire cities. Most damage to private property and infrastructure has occurred in these neighborhoods.  According to the government 18 municipalities have been the center of protest out of 335. And even in municipalities where there are protesters, residents live a tale of two cities, with some areas besieged and others functioning under normal-like conditions.  With the advent of carnival, there are also contrasting images of people at the beach and others protesting behind barricades.

Guarimba

To create conditions of un-governability, the so-called “democratic opposition” had taken to barricading the roads to prevent the free movement of people and precipitate a crisis. They have set up barricades using boulders, glass, trees, trash filled bags, and anything else at their disposal. In other cases they are throwing glass and nails (called miguelitos, nails thrust through pieces of garden hose) onto the road to impede traffic. The police and the National Guard have cleaned city streets on numerous occasions. However, protestors hide materials and take over the streets again once the Guard departs.  

Walking around areas controlled by the opposition it is impossible not to notice that many streets have been covered with car oil to make the surfaces slick causing motorbikes to skid out of control. The opposition assumes that motorizados, those on motorcycles are government supporters. There has not only been a demonization of the motorizados, but also a racialization of individuals who purchased cheap Chinese motorcycles since most are from lower socioeconomic sectors and tend to be people of color.

It is also impossible not to notice the steel wire and barbwire strung across the roadway and some motorcycle drivers have either been injured or killed by these barriers. Edwin Duran (29 years old) in Caracas was killed by steel wire placed on the street to frustrate traffic. Delia Elena Lobo, a 39 year old mother was also killed as she rode on a motorbike with her son in city of Mérida.

A retired general, Ángel Vivas tweeted several times giving instructions to his followers on how to place the steel wire on city streets. The government tried to arrest him for inciting violence. The general put on a bulletproof vest, armed himself with an M-16 and pistol and took to the rooftop of this house. The opposition blocked his house while some U.S. Spanish language media rushed to interview him, but never asked how or why he was in possession of an M-16 assault rifle.

Fear is also being used to intimidate the population where barricades disrupt people’s lives. Residents are being told that the barricades are needed to protect the community from marauding bands of government supporters, the National Guard or the motorizados, (motorcycle riders). In some neighborhoods, they use the fear of being attacked by the Tupamaros, a political organization inspired by the Uruguayan group of the same name. In Venezuela, the Tupamaros are a leftist organization that has clashed with opposition forces in the past. Throughout the day the rumor mill generates one potentially calamitous event after another.

The mainstream media is not reporting the dangerous conditions on the streets; in fact many foreign reporters are afraid to leave the comfort and perceived protection of middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods in which they reside. One U.S. journalist tweeted he had not ventured out of Altamira, a wealthy area of Caracas, and therefore could not report on conditions elsewhere.

Likewise, contrary to many reports in some media outlets, the military has not been unleashed to senselessly attack the protestors. Undoubtedly there have been incidents of violence and provocations on both sides and the government recently ordered the arrest of several intelligence officers implicated in the two deaths, one in the opposition and one a chavista activist.  The number of killed has now reached double digits, but violence has taken its toll on both protestors and supporters of the government. While too high, the numbers would undoubtedly be much worse if the security forces were trying to suppress the protest with lethal force.

Why Táchira?

Protest in the western state of Táchira preceded the larger demonstrations in Caracas and elsewhere on February 12th and were purportedly sparked by the attempted rape of a university student. The governor of the state of Táchira insists that no students came forth to file a complaint about the attempted rape. Students took to the streets to protest the rising crime rate and the arrest of two protestors by the police is citied as a factor that enraged students. The protests in San Cristobal quickly spread to Mérida where the main campus of the University of the Andes (ULA) is located.

However, like everything in Venezuela, developments in Táchira are more complicated than they initially appear. Some business sectors in Táchira profit tremendously from the illicit trade of subsidized Venezuelan goods sent to Colombia as contraband where they obtain much higher prices. It is estimated that upwards of 30% of some Venezuelan basic food products exit the country as contraband. Shortages of basic food products have been especially evident in Táchira and Mérida where many stores shelves are empty. Average citizens also engage in the contraband trade to augment their salaries. Gasoline that in Venezuela is heavily subsidized, costing less than 10 cents a gallon is also part of the contraband trade. The subsidy of gasoline, in place since the 1950s, costs the government upwards of $12 billion dollar a year. Táchira is the center of an active remittance trade between Colombians and Venezuelans and money launderers exploit this exchange. Government efforts to control this illicit trade have generated displeasure among certain sectors. 

Táchira also represents another challenge, the presence on Venezuelan soil of Colombian and Venezuelan paramilitaries that profit from the illicit trade and are linked to transnational criminal networks. They have already kidnaped one Venezuelan military officer who was visiting his family. They are an ever-present factor in the political protests in Táchira.

Gocho Identity

A racialized “gocho” identity (Andean and predominantly whiter compared to Venezuela’s predominately mixed race and African heritage population) is also being promoted in the Andean states of Mérida and Táchira.  Posters and banners proclaiming gocho power and their role in the protest have been common at rallies in Mérida and Táchira.

From 1898 through 1958, Venezuela was ruled by a series of Andean generals from the state of Táchira. This gocho identity harkens to a time when the Andes, and in particular Táchira and Mérida exercised a prominent role in the governance of Venezuela. Protests centered in Táchira and Mérida raise the specter of a Bolivian Media Luna (half moon), where the conservative opposition using a purported racialized identity promoted the secession of the eastern provinces of Bolivia.  Likewise some have suggested that Mérida, Táchira, Trujillo and Zulia might become a Venezuelan version of the Media Luna. However, protests in Zulia and Trujillo have not reached the levels of those in Mérida or Táchira and that scenario has failed to materialize.

Another important feature of the opposition protest marches has been the leadership role of middle and upper class women. On Saturday February 22, 2014 women who support the government rallied in Caracas to promote peace and an end to the violence. On Wednesday February 27, 2014 opposition women dressed in white staged protests against the government and rallied in front of the building of the Guardia Nacional in Caracas.  A female officer of the guard came out to receive their demands and urged the protestors to take part in efforts at dialogue proposed by president Maduro.

At various opposition rallies some women have taken to demanding a hyper-masculinity, baiting men to confront the Guardia or the police and when they do not, raising questions about the men’s virility.  Opposition social media is circulating the image of a young female protestor at one rally that attached a pair of “testicles” to her shorts and carried a sign that said “Soy Gocha y tengo de sobra lo que algunos de ustedes les falta.” (I am a Gocha and I have in excess what you are all missing.)  An arrow on the sign pointed to her purported “testicles.” Other signs at women’s protests state “women with ovaries vs. a symbolic military” and others crudely state, “The men in Venezuela have no balls”

Daily Life

Where the opposition has set barricades, people live by the cell phone, texting each other to see if it is safe to get out and make a mad dash to whatever store may be open for a few hours. Most products can be found, though it may take multiple trips to various stores and the frustration of standing in long queues. Rumors tend to dominate street conversations, where is milk being sold; who has Harina Pan (corn flour used for making arepas, a national dish) and which roadblocks are passable.  The opposition communicates mainly by social media, and many spend countless hours on Twitter, Whats-Apps, Facebook and Zello an application that carries live conversations.

In areas where protests are taking place, workers and other employees cannot enter and are losing income. Businesses, merchants and the tourism industry on the eve of Carnival also suffer the consequences of the blockades. Public transportation is at a standstill in these areas and “moto taxis” have become the primary form of transportation.

Although most business sectors support the opposition they are beginning to distance themselves from the more violent protests. Some appear to recognize that the mobilizations will not topple the government. On Wednesday February 26 the leaders of Fedecamaras (Chamber of Commerce), Fedeindustria (Chamber of Industry) and Eugenio Mendoza the CEO of the country’s leading food company attended the government sponsored “Peace Conference.” Although they criticized the government on many fronts, they also expressed opposition to the blockades and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Maduro government.  Though the hierarchy of the Venezuelan Catholic Church was invited, they opted not to attend. The papal nuncio did attend and urged dialogue and negotiations to end the violence. The political leaders of the opposition MUD (Unity Table) coalition also boycotted the event.

There is, however, evidence that some elected opposition political leaders are starting to distance themselves from the street violence as well. This is because people are tired of the disruptions in their lives.  The opposition mayors of Baruta, Sucre and El Hatillo all part of greater Caracas have called for an end to violence and disavowed the street protests that create siege-like conditions.

Fighting for political leadership of the right

Capriles appears desperate to reassert his leadership of the opposition coalition particularly since López outflanked him, becoming the most recognized leader of the right. However, López is not widely trusted by many sectors of the opposition, including some students. Capriles spoke at one opposition demonstration indicating his willingness to take part in a dialogue.  Maduro convened a meeting of governors at which Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda, should have attended; however, pressured by the far right wing, he refused to attend. Previously, he had attended a meeting and shook Maduro’s hand for which he was roundly criticized by the right wing. Two other opposition governors showed up and openly sparred with Maduro. Capriles absence as well as other opposition voices was a mistake and a lost opportunity to dialogue and attempt to diffuse the violence the country faces.

Overtaken by the protests, Capriles initially asserted that political extremes sought violence, a reference to both the right and the left. He has even publicly criticized López and national assembly member María Corina Machado for raising false expectations that the protests would unseat Maduro. However, he will find it difficult to cast himself as the moderate in the current fracas. Capriles faces a scenario similar to the Republicans in the U.S. as they confront the Tea Party wing of the party. To remain the leader of the opposition Capriles has to appeal to the more radical right wing that refuses to negotiate with the government under any condition. However, to win elections he has to gain the support of disgruntled chavistas and poorer sectors. As opposition to the disruptions caused by protests increases, Capriles will find it harder and harder to portray himself as a moderate.

Conclusion

Venezuela is not facing a Ukraine-like crisis as some in the opposition have suggested. The president retains support throughout the country. Neither is it on the verge of a fratricidal conflict similar to what has taken place in Syria. A large part, but apparently not a majority of the society remains bitterly alienated from the government. Undoubtedly, Venezuela faces real economic and social problems. However, opposition efforts to topple the government will only exacerbate these problems and continue to raise tensions in the country.   

On the international front, countries like Brazil and Argentina have called for no foreign intervention in Venezuela, an allusion to United States support of the opposition.  Despite recent tensions, and the mutual expulsion of diplomats, the Maduro government recently extended an olive branch by naming a new Venezuelan ambassador to Washington. The countries have not formally had ambassadors since 2008. The U.S. has not formally responded to the gesture. The U.S. however has expressed concern over a potential new immigrant wave from the Caribbean if Venezuela curtails or ceases the sale of oil through Petro-Caribe to the countries of the region.

There is no evidence that broad sectors of society, especially the urban poor who provide the most support to the government, have joined the protests initiated by middle and upper class sectors. This division led one Colombian commentator to state, “Venezuela is an odd country, the only place were the rich protest and the poor celebrate.” It is doubtful the opposition can sustain the present level of protests. By seeking Maduro’s ouster through undemocratic means and without majority support, the opposition has once again entered a “callejon sin salida,” a political dead end. After the debacle of the 2002-03 oil strike that cost the country over 14 billion dollars in lost revenue, they saved face by calling for Chávez’s recall. Under the present electoral calendar they have no such option. The opposition will find it difficult to save face after this round of protests and many question their commitment to democratic principles and their ability to unite all of Venezuela.  Having radicalized their base, they now face the daunting task of demobilizing their followers if they are to salvage any credibility in future elections.

 


 

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of Latin American history at Pomona College and author of several books on Venezuela, including The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela (Duke University Press).

Members of Congress and the Obama administration have consistently placed the blame for the violence stemming from protests on the Venezuelan government, while overlooking or ignoring violent incidents by opposition protesters, including the decapitation of motorcycle riders, the burning of government buildings and metro stations, attacks against state media companies, and the killing of individuals seeking to dismantle barricades, including a National Guard officer. Officials have referred instead to “systematic” human rights abuses and government repression, without citing evidence.

Based on these assertions, momentum is building to implement sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the press on Monday that, “There should be sanctions on individuals. … The administration is looking at those.” Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, cited a “high-level” State Department official that she had recently spoken to.

That the administration is considering sanctions comes on the heels of demands from members of congress that the Obama administration go further in its application of pressure on the Venezuelan government. After introducing legislation “supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democracy,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated that:

“But this resolution can only be the first step to hold Maduro and his fellow regime thugs accountable for their violent response and their abuses of the Venezuelan people’s liberties and human rights. I have already begun circulating a letter amongst my colleagues in the House, addressed to President Obama, asking him to take immediate actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are responsible for violations of their people’s human rights. We are calling for the President to enact immediate sanctions against these officials, under authorities granted to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), including denying them visas to enter the United States, blocking their property and freezing their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibiting them from making any financial transactions in the U.S.”

Ros-Lehtinen also plans to introduce a bill that would require the administration to take these steps. The moves from the House of Representatives have been echoed in the Senate, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced a resolution calling for sanctions. Menendez stated:

“Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government. We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past.”

Marco Rubio even made the case for sanctions on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” telling host David Gregory that, “I would like to see specific U.S. sanctions against individuals in the Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions.” Florida Governor Rick Scott has also called for sanctions. Although neither the House nor the Senate have passed these resolutions calling for sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last week that, “with respect to Venezuela, Congress has urged sanctions.”

The call for sanctions has also been trumpeted by the press, with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer saying that if Venezuela does not respond to “international diplomatic pressures,” then the Congress “should revoke the U.S. visas of Venezuelan government and military leaders.” Further, Otto Reich, the former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time of the U.S.-backed coup of 2002, wrote an opinion piece for the National Review titled “It’s Time for Sanctions in Venezuela.”

None of the members of congress nor any of the resolutions mention the fact that of the 18 tragic deaths in Venezuela since the protests began, many were not protestors, but individuals removing barricades and motorcyclists killed by wires strung across streets, or by crashing into barricades. In one case, a member of the Venezuelan National Guard was shot and killed. The Senate resolution makes no call for both sides to refrain from violence nor does it condemn the violent actions of some from the protest movement, however it does deplore “the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela and the inexcusable use of violence…to intimidate the country’s political opposition.”

While, undoubtedly, excessive force has been used by members of the Venezuelan security forces, over 10 individuals have been arrested for these actions and further investigations are under way. According to the Attorney General (AG) of Venezuela, there are currently 27 investigations into violations of human rights. The AG, Luisa Ortega Diaz, stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” Far from censoring information or trying to hide the extent of the arrests or of those killed in the last few weeks, Diaz has provided regular updates to the press and has kept the public informed about the status of investigations.

Members of Congress and the Obama administration have consistently placed the blame for the violence stemming from protests on the Venezuelan government, while overlooking or ignoring violent incidents by opposition protesters, including the decapitation of motorcycle riders, the burning of government buildings and metro stations, attacks against state media companies, and the killing of individuals seeking to dismantle barricades, including a National Guard officer. Officials have referred instead to “systematic” human rights abuses and government repression, without citing evidence.

Based on these assertions, momentum is building to implement sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the press on Monday that, “There should be sanctions on individuals. … The administration is looking at those.” Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, cited a “high-level” State Department official that she had recently spoken to.

That the administration is considering sanctions comes on the heels of demands from members of congress that the Obama administration go further in its application of pressure on the Venezuelan government. After introducing legislation “supporting the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democracy,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) stated that:

“But this resolution can only be the first step to hold Maduro and his fellow regime thugs accountable for their violent response and their abuses of the Venezuelan people’s liberties and human rights. I have already begun circulating a letter amongst my colleagues in the House, addressed to President Obama, asking him to take immediate actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are responsible for violations of their people’s human rights. We are calling for the President to enact immediate sanctions against these officials, under authorities granted to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), including denying them visas to enter the United States, blocking their property and freezing their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibiting them from making any financial transactions in the U.S.”

Ros-Lehtinen also plans to introduce a bill that would require the administration to take these steps. The moves from the House of Representatives have been echoed in the Senate, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced a resolution calling for sanctions. Menendez stated:

“Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government. We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past.”

Marco Rubio even made the case for sanctions on NBC News’ “Meet The Press,” telling host David Gregory that, “I would like to see specific U.S. sanctions against individuals in the Maduro government that are systematically participating in the violation of human rights and anti-democratic actions.” Florida Governor Rick Scott has also called for sanctions. Although neither the House nor the Senate have passed these resolutions calling for sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters last week that, “with respect to Venezuela, Congress has urged sanctions.”

The call for sanctions has also been trumpeted by the press, with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer saying that if Venezuela does not respond to “international diplomatic pressures,” then the Congress “should revoke the U.S. visas of Venezuelan government and military leaders.” Further, Otto Reich, the former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time of the U.S.-backed coup of 2002, wrote an opinion piece for the National Review titled “It’s Time for Sanctions in Venezuela.”

None of the members of congress nor any of the resolutions mention the fact that of the 18 tragic deaths in Venezuela since the protests began, many were not protestors, but individuals removing barricades and motorcyclists killed by wires strung across streets, or by crashing into barricades. In one case, a member of the Venezuelan National Guard was shot and killed. The Senate resolution makes no call for both sides to refrain from violence nor does it condemn the violent actions of some from the protest movement, however it does deplore “the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela and the inexcusable use of violence…to intimidate the country’s political opposition.”

While, undoubtedly, excessive force has been used by members of the Venezuelan security forces, over 10 individuals have been arrested for these actions and further investigations are under way. According to the Attorney General (AG) of Venezuela, there are currently 27 investigations into violations of human rights. The AG, Luisa Ortega Diaz, stated that her office “will not tolerate violations of human rights under any circumstance and that any official turns out to be responsible will be sanctioned as established by the laws of Venezuela.” Far from censoring information or trying to hide the extent of the arrests or of those killed in the last few weeks, Diaz has provided regular updates to the press and has kept the public informed about the status of investigations.

On Wednesday, Brazilian ex-president Lula Da Silva spoke out regarding recent events in Venezuela:

I think that in the first place, Venezuela needs peace and tranquility, so that it can recover all its potential insofar as creating wealth and well-being for its people. All Venezuelans, both pro-government and opposition supporters, should understand that a country can only grow and develop with a lot of peace, with a lot of dialogue. [President Nicolás] Maduro has the best intentions; he wants to give his best for Venezuela.

These remarks come just a day after two other statements from Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff commented on Venezuela’s “advances …in terms of education and health for its people” and a representative of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said that he sees the situation as one in which “the principle of non-interference must be respected.”

As we have noted, Brazil has not been the only country in the region to make statements in support of President Maduro, but there remains the question of which multilateral forum would most effectively allow for a fair and representative consideration of the situation in Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government itself has, in statements made by Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, indicated its support for UNASUR over the OAS.  The Venezuela representative there, Ambassador Roy Chaderton, has blocked, for the time being, a special request by Panama’s representative to the OAS who had called for a meeting on Venezuela while the president of the Permanent Council was absent.

Uruguay’s foreign minister Luis Almagro said in a press conference that his government agrees with Venezuela that UNASUR would be the preferred forum:  “UNASUR has been the natural arena for addressing these regional issues.  If we have the possibility of a request [for discussion] at UNASUR, for us that would be fine.” Most of the region, especially South America, recognizes that the United States has too much power in the OAS, because of its disproportionate funding and control over the bureaucracy, as well as a few allied right-wing governments.  That is one of the reasons that Latin America created CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations), which excludes the U.S. and Canada, and also UNASUR, in recent years.

On Wednesday, Brazilian ex-president Lula Da Silva spoke out regarding recent events in Venezuela:

I think that in the first place, Venezuela needs peace and tranquility, so that it can recover all its potential insofar as creating wealth and well-being for its people. All Venezuelans, both pro-government and opposition supporters, should understand that a country can only grow and develop with a lot of peace, with a lot of dialogue. [President Nicolás] Maduro has the best intentions; he wants to give his best for Venezuela.

These remarks come just a day after two other statements from Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff commented on Venezuela’s “advances …in terms of education and health for its people” and a representative of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said that he sees the situation as one in which “the principle of non-interference must be respected.”

As we have noted, Brazil has not been the only country in the region to make statements in support of President Maduro, but there remains the question of which multilateral forum would most effectively allow for a fair and representative consideration of the situation in Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government itself has, in statements made by Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, indicated its support for UNASUR over the OAS.  The Venezuela representative there, Ambassador Roy Chaderton, has blocked, for the time being, a special request by Panama’s representative to the OAS who had called for a meeting on Venezuela while the president of the Permanent Council was absent.

Uruguay’s foreign minister Luis Almagro said in a press conference that his government agrees with Venezuela that UNASUR would be the preferred forum:  “UNASUR has been the natural arena for addressing these regional issues.  If we have the possibility of a request [for discussion] at UNASUR, for us that would be fine.” Most of the region, especially South America, recognizes that the United States has too much power in the OAS, because of its disproportionate funding and control over the bureaucracy, as well as a few allied right-wing governments.  That is one of the reasons that Latin America created CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations), which excludes the U.S. and Canada, and also UNASUR, in recent years.

The Wall Street Journal today published a report trashing Argentina based on an economic mistake which renders the article meaningless. The headline:

Devaluation Hurts Argentina’s Regional Standing: Colombia Has Likely Overtaken Argentina as Latin America’s Third-Largest Economy

The article is laden with gloating and derogatory language such as the opening sentence: “Following Argentina’s humbling currency devaluation, the country is suffering another economic embarrassment …” and “’This is symptomatic of a broader trend that is seeing Argentina’s economic model unravel..’”

Actually, it’s not symptomatic of anything, including the relative living standards in Argentina and Colombia or the rest of Latin America.  When the peso is devalued against the dollar, the size of the Argentine economy measured in dollars is smaller.  This does not mean that the living standards of Argentines have fallen.

If the U.S. dollar falls against the euro, Americans who travel in Europe will find it more expensive.  But most Americans get their income in dollars and spend it in dollars, and will only be affected negatively by the exchange rate to the extent that some imports become more expensive. (In fact, there is a very strong argument that most Americans would be better off with a significantly lower dollar, as we would reduce our trade deficit, increase employment and therefore wage growth, and cease to be dependent on asset bubbles for growth as we have in the past two decades.)  U.S. GDP measured in euros will be smaller, but who cares?

The same is basically true for Argentina, and most economies in the world.  That is why economists have developed another measure for comparing the GDP of different countries, called purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars.  This compares GDP and living standards across countries by taking into account differences in prices and the exchange rate, so that a PPP dollar, converted to the currency of each country, will buy approximately the same basket of goods and services.

In terms of PPP GDP, IMF figures for 2013 show Argentina to be the third largest economy, with a margin of 28 percent over Colombia.  Much more important though, since having a bigger population doesn’t make your people richer, is comparing PPP per capita GDP.  Here Argentina ranks second in the Americas, again according to IMF data, with PPP per capita GDP of $18,582, to Colombia’s rank of 11, with PPP per capita GDP of 11,088.

Ironically, the most recent devaluation that this article reports as causing “humiliation” and “an economic embarrassment” will very likely help the Argentine economy, as it has helped the government to stabilize the both the official and black market rate of the dollar – which is essential to stabilizing the economy and bringing down inflation. And it will also give the economy a boost by reducing the trade deficit.

The article also makes reference to a study, apparently not yet published, which claims that Argentina’s GDP is 12 percent less than official figures indicate.  This is possible, since inflation had been underestimated since 2007. (As the article notes, a new inflation index went into effect in January which should correct this underestimation).  If we assume this estimate to be accurate, Argentina’s economy  (in real, i.e. inflation-adjusted terms) grew by 81 percent from 2002-2013, or 5.6 percent annually.  This puts Argentina in 3rd place of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries, with only Panama and Peru showing faster GDP growth over this period.  

The Wall Street Journal today published a report trashing Argentina based on an economic mistake which renders the article meaningless. The headline:

Devaluation Hurts Argentina’s Regional Standing: Colombia Has Likely Overtaken Argentina as Latin America’s Third-Largest Economy

The article is laden with gloating and derogatory language such as the opening sentence: “Following Argentina’s humbling currency devaluation, the country is suffering another economic embarrassment …” and “’This is symptomatic of a broader trend that is seeing Argentina’s economic model unravel..’”

Actually, it’s not symptomatic of anything, including the relative living standards in Argentina and Colombia or the rest of Latin America.  When the peso is devalued against the dollar, the size of the Argentine economy measured in dollars is smaller.  This does not mean that the living standards of Argentines have fallen.

If the U.S. dollar falls against the euro, Americans who travel in Europe will find it more expensive.  But most Americans get their income in dollars and spend it in dollars, and will only be affected negatively by the exchange rate to the extent that some imports become more expensive. (In fact, there is a very strong argument that most Americans would be better off with a significantly lower dollar, as we would reduce our trade deficit, increase employment and therefore wage growth, and cease to be dependent on asset bubbles for growth as we have in the past two decades.)  U.S. GDP measured in euros will be smaller, but who cares?

The same is basically true for Argentina, and most economies in the world.  That is why economists have developed another measure for comparing the GDP of different countries, called purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars.  This compares GDP and living standards across countries by taking into account differences in prices and the exchange rate, so that a PPP dollar, converted to the currency of each country, will buy approximately the same basket of goods and services.

In terms of PPP GDP, IMF figures for 2013 show Argentina to be the third largest economy, with a margin of 28 percent over Colombia.  Much more important though, since having a bigger population doesn’t make your people richer, is comparing PPP per capita GDP.  Here Argentina ranks second in the Americas, again according to IMF data, with PPP per capita GDP of $18,582, to Colombia’s rank of 11, with PPP per capita GDP of 11,088.

Ironically, the most recent devaluation that this article reports as causing “humiliation” and “an economic embarrassment” will very likely help the Argentine economy, as it has helped the government to stabilize the both the official and black market rate of the dollar – which is essential to stabilizing the economy and bringing down inflation. And it will also give the economy a boost by reducing the trade deficit.

The article also makes reference to a study, apparently not yet published, which claims that Argentina’s GDP is 12 percent less than official figures indicate.  This is possible, since inflation had been underestimated since 2007. (As the article notes, a new inflation index went into effect in January which should correct this underestimation).  If we assume this estimate to be accurate, Argentina’s economy  (in real, i.e. inflation-adjusted terms) grew by 81 percent from 2002-2013, or 5.6 percent annually.  This puts Argentina in 3rd place of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries, with only Panama and Peru showing faster GDP growth over this period.  

Roger Cohen, what a disappointment.  He is not Tom Friedman or David Brooks, and shouldn’t be insulting an entire nation based a clump of tired old clichés and a lack of information.  Argentina is “the child among nations that never grew up” he writes, and “not a whole lot has changed” since he was there 25 years ago.  OK, let’s see what we can do to clean up this mess with a shovel and broom made of data.

For Cohen, Argentina since the government defaulted on its debt has been an economic failure.  Tens of millions of Argentines might beg to differ.

For the vast majority of people in Argentina, as in most countries, being able to find a job is very important.  According to the database of SEDLAC (which works in partnership with the World Bank),  employment as a percentage of the labor force hit peak levels in 2012, and has remained close to there since.  This is shown in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1
Argentina: Employment Rate, Percent of Total Population

cohenfig1finaleoSource: SEDLAC (2014).

We can also look at unemployment data from the IMF (Figure 2).  Of course the current level of 7.3 percent is far below the levels reached during the depression of 1998-2002, which was caused by the failed neoliberal experiment that the Kirchners did away with – it peaked at 22.5 percent in 2002.  But it is also far below the level of the boom years of that experiment (1991-1997) when it averaged more than 13 percent.

FIGURE 2
Argentina: Unemployment Rate
cohenfig2Source: IMF WEO (Oct 2013).

How about poverty?  Here is data from SEDLAC (Figure 3), which does not use the official Argentine government’s inflation rate but rather a higher estimate for the years after 2007. It shows a 76.3 percent drop in the poverty rate from 2002-2013, and an 85.7 percent drop in extreme poverty.

FIGURE 3
Argentina: Poverty and Extreme Poverty
cohenfig3Source: SEDLAC (2014).

Most of the drop in poverty was from the very high economic growth (back to that in a minute) and consequent employment. But the government also implemented one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in Latin America, a conditional cash transfer program.

Finally, there is economic growth.  In a terribly flawed article today, the Wall Street Journal reported on a soon-to-be published study showing that Argentina’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is 12 percent less than the official figures indicate.  (As the article noted, the government, in co-operation with the IMF, implemented a new measure of inflation in January, which should resolve this data problem that has existed since 2007).  If we assume that the 12 percent figure is correct, then using IMF data Argentina from 2002-2013 still has real GDP growth rate of 81 percent, or 5.6 percent annually.  That is the third highest of 32 countries in the region (after Peru and Panama).  And incidentally, very little of this growth was driven by a “commodities boom,” or any exports for that matter.

Despite current economic problems, the country that Cohen ridicules has done extremely well by the most important economic and social indicators, since it defaulted on most of its foreign debt and sent the IMF packing at the end of 2002. This is true by any international comparison or in comparison with its past.  Many foreign corporations and the business press, as well as right-wing ideologues, are upset with Argentina’s policies for various reasons.  They don’t really like any of the left governments that now govern most of the South America, and Washington would like to get rid of all of them and return to the world of 20 years ago when the U.S. was in the drivers’ seat.  But there’s really no reason for Roger Cohen to be jumping on this bandwagon.

Roger Cohen, what a disappointment.  He is not Tom Friedman or David Brooks, and shouldn’t be insulting an entire nation based a clump of tired old clichés and a lack of information.  Argentina is “the child among nations that never grew up” he writes, and “not a whole lot has changed” since he was there 25 years ago.  OK, let’s see what we can do to clean up this mess with a shovel and broom made of data.

For Cohen, Argentina since the government defaulted on its debt has been an economic failure.  Tens of millions of Argentines might beg to differ.

For the vast majority of people in Argentina, as in most countries, being able to find a job is very important.  According to the database of SEDLAC (which works in partnership with the World Bank),  employment as a percentage of the labor force hit peak levels in 2012, and has remained close to there since.  This is shown in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1
Argentina: Employment Rate, Percent of Total Population

cohenfig1finaleoSource: SEDLAC (2014).

We can also look at unemployment data from the IMF (Figure 2).  Of course the current level of 7.3 percent is far below the levels reached during the depression of 1998-2002, which was caused by the failed neoliberal experiment that the Kirchners did away with – it peaked at 22.5 percent in 2002.  But it is also far below the level of the boom years of that experiment (1991-1997) when it averaged more than 13 percent.

FIGURE 2
Argentina: Unemployment Rate
cohenfig2Source: IMF WEO (Oct 2013).

How about poverty?  Here is data from SEDLAC (Figure 3), which does not use the official Argentine government’s inflation rate but rather a higher estimate for the years after 2007. It shows a 76.3 percent drop in the poverty rate from 2002-2013, and an 85.7 percent drop in extreme poverty.

FIGURE 3
Argentina: Poverty and Extreme Poverty
cohenfig3Source: SEDLAC (2014).

Most of the drop in poverty was from the very high economic growth (back to that in a minute) and consequent employment. But the government also implemented one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in Latin America, a conditional cash transfer program.

Finally, there is economic growth.  In a terribly flawed article today, the Wall Street Journal reported on a soon-to-be published study showing that Argentina’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is 12 percent less than the official figures indicate.  (As the article noted, the government, in co-operation with the IMF, implemented a new measure of inflation in January, which should resolve this data problem that has existed since 2007).  If we assume that the 12 percent figure is correct, then using IMF data Argentina from 2002-2013 still has real GDP growth rate of 81 percent, or 5.6 percent annually.  That is the third highest of 32 countries in the region (after Peru and Panama).  And incidentally, very little of this growth was driven by a “commodities boom,” or any exports for that matter.

Despite current economic problems, the country that Cohen ridicules has done extremely well by the most important economic and social indicators, since it defaulted on most of its foreign debt and sent the IMF packing at the end of 2002. This is true by any international comparison or in comparison with its past.  Many foreign corporations and the business press, as well as right-wing ideologues, are upset with Argentina’s policies for various reasons.  They don’t really like any of the left governments that now govern most of the South America, and Washington would like to get rid of all of them and return to the world of 20 years ago when the U.S. was in the drivers’ seat.  But there’s really no reason for Roger Cohen to be jumping on this bandwagon.

Kudos to the New York Times for correcting its error regarding TV media in Venezuela.  I had written about this error here on Monday (Feb 24).  It was an important mistake–the Times had led its Friday report with this statement:

“The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.”

The Timescorrection reads:

Correction: February 26, 2014 

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Globovision. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than any other TV station, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.

It sure wasn’t, and it still isn’t during the current protests, as documented here.  This is important because the opposition leadership is trying to say that they are living under a dictatorship, and they are justifying their demands for the overthrow of a democratically elected government on this basis.

Many other news outlets have made the same error in reporting on the TV media in Venezuela.  Hopefully they will be more accurate in the future.

Many thanks to Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and the nearly 13,000 people who quickly signed a petition to the New York Times asking for this correction.

People often ask what they can do to change U.S. foreign policy, and one important thing that almost anyone with an internet connection can do is hold the media accountable for these kinds of misrepresentations.  On the one hand, the mass media can play a huge role in legitimating terrible crimes, as in the run-up to the Iraq War, which cost more than a million lives and probably wouldn’t have happened if the media had done its job.  On the other hand, there are thousands of reporters and editors who are trying to do their job and adhere to basic journalistic standards of accuracy and balance.  Readers and listeners can help them do this.

Now, what about the Committee to Protect Journalists?  Their statement was more outrageously false than the one corrected by the Times: “Nearly all TV stations in Venezuela are either controlled or allied with the government of Nicolás Maduro and have ignored the nationwide protests.”

Will they correct it?  Ask them.

Kudos to the New York Times for correcting its error regarding TV media in Venezuela.  I had written about this error here on Monday (Feb 24).  It was an important mistake–the Times had led its Friday report with this statement:

“The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.”

The Timescorrection reads:

Correction: February 26, 2014 

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Globovision. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than any other TV station, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.

It sure wasn’t, and it still isn’t during the current protests, as documented here.  This is important because the opposition leadership is trying to say that they are living under a dictatorship, and they are justifying their demands for the overthrow of a democratically elected government on this basis.

Many other news outlets have made the same error in reporting on the TV media in Venezuela.  Hopefully they will be more accurate in the future.

Many thanks to Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and the nearly 13,000 people who quickly signed a petition to the New York Times asking for this correction.

People often ask what they can do to change U.S. foreign policy, and one important thing that almost anyone with an internet connection can do is hold the media accountable for these kinds of misrepresentations.  On the one hand, the mass media can play a huge role in legitimating terrible crimes, as in the run-up to the Iraq War, which cost more than a million lives and probably wouldn’t have happened if the media had done its job.  On the other hand, there are thousands of reporters and editors who are trying to do their job and adhere to basic journalistic standards of accuracy and balance.  Readers and listeners can help them do this.

Now, what about the Committee to Protect Journalists?  Their statement was more outrageously false than the one corrected by the Times: “Nearly all TV stations in Venezuela are either controlled or allied with the government of Nicolás Maduro and have ignored the nationwide protests.”

Will they correct it?  Ask them.

On January 25, during the Third Social Thematic Forum in Porto Alegre, representatives of urban social movements affiliated with the National Urban Reform Forum started a campaign to support a referendum for removing political reform power from Congress, passing authority over to a newly-created, democratically-elected and sovereign body.

The referendum represents the largest concession that President Dilma Rousseff announced after last year’s June and July protests. Although critics say that it could end up giving too much power to the incumbent PT party, it is supported by 76 social movements and labor unions because it addresses one of the most important problems in Brazil: the fact that a full transition to democracy was never made when the military dictatorship ended in 1985.

Unlike other former dictatorships in South America, the Brazilian government refused to disband the brutal military police. It also gave full amnesty to the military and its puppet government. This meant that most congressmen and senators from the two legal political parties of the dictatorship era, ARENA [the National Renewal Alliance Party] and MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement], were able to stay in power and benefit from the advantage of incumbency in future elections. ARENA changed its name to PFL [Liberal Front Party] and then to DEM [Democratas], and MDB changed its name to PMDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement Party]. Every president between 1985 and 2002 governed in coalition with these two parties. President Lula broke with DEM but was only able to maintain a majority block in the house and senate with PMDB, led by the widely-hated former President José Sarney.

The social movements believe that, due to the inherent structural problem of a congress that is controlled by representatives of the former military dictatorship, it is incapable of reforming the political system. Instead, they support a bottom up process of change. During the next few months they will organize a series of national protests in favor of the referendum. On April 1, on the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964, the social movements will create neighborhood and village committees across the country to discuss the issue.

For Evaniza Rodrigues from the National People’s Housing Union (União Nacional de Moradia Popular, or UNMP), “The referendum is important because it doesn’t just deal with electoral issues. It proposes reflection about society’s participation in the political process. Political participation should become part of the people’s daily lives. It should be part of all of the important political decisions in Brazil. The only way for the majority of our society who are excluded from formal spaces of political participation to have a voice is through deep organizational and representational changes.” She says that the UNMP is meeting later this week to create a national mobilization plan for the referendum.

Gegê, from the People’s Movements Central (Central de Movimentos Popular, or CMP) says, “There is no way that we can fail to take part in this important referendum. It is the key to ending corruption, guaranteeing rights for workers and especially to guarantee a life of dignity in the cities and in the countryside and guarantee our right to live as citizens.  We know that there are many congressmen who are against this referendum because it will put an end to private campaign funding and if the field is leveled they will never be reelected.”

Although referendums in Brazil are not legally binding, they wield strong political pressure. The most memorable referendum in recent history took place in 2002 when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wanted Brazil to enter the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).  The social movements, that unanimously opposed it, organized a referendum. 150,000 people volunteered to work the polling stations, over 10 million people turned out and 98.3 percent of them voted against entering the FTAA, effectively killing the proposal.

Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais. He has a blog, focused on news reported in the Brazilian alternative media, at http://progressivebrazil.tumblr.com/

On January 25, during the Third Social Thematic Forum in Porto Alegre, representatives of urban social movements affiliated with the National Urban Reform Forum started a campaign to support a referendum for removing political reform power from Congress, passing authority over to a newly-created, democratically-elected and sovereign body.

The referendum represents the largest concession that President Dilma Rousseff announced after last year’s June and July protests. Although critics say that it could end up giving too much power to the incumbent PT party, it is supported by 76 social movements and labor unions because it addresses one of the most important problems in Brazil: the fact that a full transition to democracy was never made when the military dictatorship ended in 1985.

Unlike other former dictatorships in South America, the Brazilian government refused to disband the brutal military police. It also gave full amnesty to the military and its puppet government. This meant that most congressmen and senators from the two legal political parties of the dictatorship era, ARENA [the National Renewal Alliance Party] and MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement], were able to stay in power and benefit from the advantage of incumbency in future elections. ARENA changed its name to PFL [Liberal Front Party] and then to DEM [Democratas], and MDB changed its name to PMDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement Party]. Every president between 1985 and 2002 governed in coalition with these two parties. President Lula broke with DEM but was only able to maintain a majority block in the house and senate with PMDB, led by the widely-hated former President José Sarney.

The social movements believe that, due to the inherent structural problem of a congress that is controlled by representatives of the former military dictatorship, it is incapable of reforming the political system. Instead, they support a bottom up process of change. During the next few months they will organize a series of national protests in favor of the referendum. On April 1, on the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964, the social movements will create neighborhood and village committees across the country to discuss the issue.

For Evaniza Rodrigues from the National People’s Housing Union (União Nacional de Moradia Popular, or UNMP), “The referendum is important because it doesn’t just deal with electoral issues. It proposes reflection about society’s participation in the political process. Political participation should become part of the people’s daily lives. It should be part of all of the important political decisions in Brazil. The only way for the majority of our society who are excluded from formal spaces of political participation to have a voice is through deep organizational and representational changes.” She says that the UNMP is meeting later this week to create a national mobilization plan for the referendum.

Gegê, from the People’s Movements Central (Central de Movimentos Popular, or CMP) says, “There is no way that we can fail to take part in this important referendum. It is the key to ending corruption, guaranteeing rights for workers and especially to guarantee a life of dignity in the cities and in the countryside and guarantee our right to live as citizens.  We know that there are many congressmen who are against this referendum because it will put an end to private campaign funding and if the field is leveled they will never be reelected.”

Although referendums in Brazil are not legally binding, they wield strong political pressure. The most memorable referendum in recent history took place in 2002 when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wanted Brazil to enter the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).  The social movements, that unanimously opposed it, organized a referendum. 150,000 people volunteered to work the polling stations, over 10 million people turned out and 98.3 percent of them voted against entering the FTAA, effectively killing the proposal.

Brian Mier is a geographer and freelance journalist who lives in Brazil and works as a policy analyst at the Centro de Direitos Econômicos e Sociais. He has a blog, focused on news reported in the Brazilian alternative media, at http://progressivebrazil.tumblr.com/

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. 

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