Opinions

Media distorts events in Venezuela but international leftists fail to rally behind the government

By Gregory Wilpert

Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we know the cause). The possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long the international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and as long as the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in Venezuela.

If the international left receives its news about Venezuela primarily from the international media, it is understandable why it is being so quiet. After all, this mainstream media consistently fails to report who is instigating the violence in this conflict. For example, a follower of CNN or the New York Times would not know that of the 103 who have been killed as a result of street protests, 27 were the direct or indirect result of the protesters themselves. Another 14 were the result of lootings, in one prominent case because looters set fire to a store and ended up getting engulfed in the flames themselves. 14 deaths are attributable to the actions of state authorities (where in almost all cases those responsible have been charged), and 44 are still under investigation or in dispute. This is according to data from the office of the Attorney General, which itself has recently become pro-opposition.

A protester in the streets of Caracas.

Also unknown to most consumers of the international media would be that opposition protesters detonated a bomb in the heart of Caracas on July 11, wounding seven National Guard soldiers, that a building belonging to the Supreme Court was burnt by opposition protesters on June 12th or that opposition protesters attacked a maternity hospital on May 17.

In other words, it is possible that much of the international left has been misled about the violence in Venezuela, into thinking that the government is the only one responsible, that President Maduro has declared himself to be dictator for life (when he actually confirmed that the presidential elections scheduled for late 2018 will proceed as planned), or that all dissent is being punished with prison (when a major opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who was partly responsible for the post-election violence in 2014 was just released from prison, now under house arrest). If this is the reason for the silence on Venezuela, then the left should be ashamed for not having read its own critiques of the mainstream media.

All of the foregoing does not contradict that there are plenty of places where one might criticize the Maduro government for having made mistakes with regard to how it has handled the current situation, both economically and politically. However, criticisms (of which I have made several myself) do not justify taking either a neutral or pro-opposition stance in this momentous conflict. As the South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Perhaps the Venezuelan case is also confusing to outsiders because President Maduro is in power and the opposition is not. It could thus be difficult to see the opposition as being an “oppressor.” However, for an internationalist left it should not be so confusing. After all, the opposition in Venezuela receives significant support not only from private business, but also from the US government, the international right, and transnational capital.

Perhaps progressives feel that the Maduro government has lost all democratic legitimacy and that this is why they cannot support it. According to the mainstream media coverage, Maduro canceled regional elections scheduled for December 2016, prevented the recall referendum from happening, and neutralized the National Assembly. Let’s take a brief look at each of these claims one by one.

First, regional elections (state governors and mayors) were indeed supposed to take place in late 2016, but the National Electoral Council (CNE) postponed them with the argument that political parties needed to re-register first. Leaving aside the validity of this argument, the CNE rescheduled the elections recently for December 2017. This postponement of a scheduled election is not unprecedented in Venezuela because it happened before, back in 2004, when local elections were postponed for a full year. Back then, at the height of President Chávez’s power, hardly anyone objected.

As for the recall referendum, it was well known that it would take approximately ten months to organize between its initiation and its culmination. However, the opposition initiated the process in April 2016, far too late for the referendum to take place in 2016, as they wanted (because if it takes place in 2017 there would be no new presidential election, according to the constitution, and the vice-president takes over for the remainder of the term).

Finally, with regard to the disqualification of the National Assembly, this was another self-inflicted wound on the part of the opposition. That is, even though the opposition had won 109 out of 167 seats (65%) outright, they insisted on swearing in three opposition members whose election was in dispute because of fraud claims. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that until these three members are removed, most decisions of the national assembly would not be valid.

In other words, none of the arguments against the democratic legitimacy of the Maduro government hold much water. More than that, polls repeatedly indicate that even though Maduro is fairly unpopular, a majority of Venezuelans want him to finish his term in office, which expires in January 2019. As a matter of fact, Maduro’s popularity is not as low as several other (conservative) presidents in Latin America at the moment, such as that of Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto (17% in March, 2017), Brazil’s Michel Temer (7% in June, 2017), or Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos (14% in June, 2017). Compare these to Nicolas Maduro’s 24% approval rating in March 2017.

Now that we have addressed the possible reasons why the international left has been reluctant to show solidarity with the Maduro government and the Bolivarian socialist movement, we need to examine what “neutrality” in this situation would end up meaning – in other words, what allowing the opposition to come to power via an illegal and violent transition would mean.

First and foremost, their coming to power will almost certainly mean that all Chavistas – whether they currently support President Maduro or not – will become targets for persecution. Although it was a long time ago, many Chavistas have not forgotten the “Caracazo,” when in February 1989, then-president Carlos Andrés Perez meted out retaliation on poor neighborhoods for protesting against his government and wantonly killed somewhere between 400 and 1,000 people. More recently, during the short-lived coup against President Chávez in April 2002 the current opposition showed it was more than willing to unleash reprisals against Chavistas. Most do not know this, but during the two-day coup regime over 60 Chavistas were killed in Venezuela (this figure does not include the 19 killed in the lead-up to the coup, on both sides of the political divide). The post-election violence of April 2013 left 7 dead, and the Guarimbas of February to April 2014 left 43 dead. Although the dead in each of these cases represented a mix of opposition supporters, Chavistas, and non-involved bystanders, in almost all of these cases the majority belonged to the Chavista side of the political divide. Now, during the most recent wave of guarimbas, there have also been several incidents where a Chavista was too close to an opposition protest were chased and killed because protesters recognized them to be a Chavista in some way.

In other words, the danger that Chavistas will be persecuted more generally if the opposition should take over the government is very real. Even though the opposition includes reasonable individuals who would not support such a persecution, the current leadership of the opposition has done nothing to reign in the fascist tendencies within its own ranks. If anything, they have encouraged these tendencies.

Second, even though the opposition has not published a concrete plan for what it intends to do once in government (which is also one of the reasons why the opposition remains almost as unpopular among the general population as the government), individual statements by opposition leaders indicate that they would immediately proceed to implement a neoliberal economic program along the lines of President Temer in Brazil or Mauricio Macri in Argentina. They might succeed in reducing inflation and shortages this way, but at the expense of eliminating subsidies and social programs for the poor across the board. Also, they would roll back all of the policies supporting communal councils and communes that have been a cornerstone of participatory democracy in the Bolivarian revolution.

So, instead of silence, neutrality, or indecision from the international left in the current conflict in Venezuela, what is needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement. Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow the government of President Maduro during his current presidential term in office. Aside from the patent illegality that the Maduro government’s overthrow would represent, it would also be a literally deadly blow to Venezuela’s socialist movement and to the legacy of President Chávez. The international left does not even need to take a position on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with the opposition is the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is really up to Venezuelans to decide. Opposing intervention and disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela, though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a constructive role.
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Gregory Wilpert is a former director of the teleSUR English website and author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government.

Credit: Counterpunch.org.

  • StillWatching

    Jajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajaja

    The cognoscenti will immediately recognize that this fluff piece was ghost written by our very own jason faulkner, who has gone into hiding since his hero, Raffe Correa was exposed as a fraud. That said, let’s not swallow the bait and legitimize this crap by logically destroying the individual points this clown raises. Sure, that would be an easy exercise in facts, reason and logic, but it is just what this guy wants. He wants you to get lost in the weeds of specifics and ignore the overarching premise of his thesis————– that even the usual socialist supporters of the Bolivarian revolution have been duped into believing the usual whipping boy————- The Evil U.S. and the Mainstream Media.

    Let’s stay focused on the big picture. As faulkner (Wilpert, if you prefer) points out, the actions of Maduro have been roundly condemned by virtually the entire world, including the usual group of socialist countries that would routinely support anything any other socialist movement would do to perpetuate itself. faulkner wants you to believe that these socialist governments have suddenly become so ignorant and ill informed that the Mainstream Media and Evil U.S. forces have fooled them into believing that Maduro is evil and not the righteous man of the people that faulkner sees Maduro as being. That idea should be so preposterous to even left leaning readers that it will be rejected out of hand, but if you get lost in the minutiae that this article presents (all lies) you will be falling into the trap that has been set. Think for yourself and you won’t need anyone else to help you debunk this lunacy.

    https://aleteia.org/2017/07/31/even-nations-friendly-to-maduro-regime-see-sundays-vote-in-venezuela-as-a-sham/

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/02/venezuela-voting-fraud-corruption-allegations-protests

    https://qz.com/1044737/the-simple-and-tragic-reason-why-the-world-cant-do-anything-to-save-venezuela/

    Just for fun, take a look at this photo and tell me who it is:

    https://twitter.com/gregwilpert?lang=en

    • StillAlive

      “Just for fun, take a look at this photo and tell me who it is:”

      Faulkner’s long lost twin brother?

      • StillWatching

        You knew!

    • Margarita Goodhart

      Faulkner has latino blood and doesn’t look exactly like this guy. Go to Jason Faulkner’s fb page and you will see a few photos I believe.

      But any photo could have been submitted to Telesur with the article.

      • StillWatching

        It was a joke, Margarita.

      • Michael Berger

        There is no reason to assume it’s Falkner although this author’s Twiiter account does say he is based in Quito and he and Falkner may be working from the same set of talking points. He did use the same false claim that he has been critical of Maduro that Falkner made. He could be the one that translates Ecuadorian government reports into English for Falkner like some kind of research assistant. Although it could be one person using two different identities I’m sure the powers that be can afford to have more than one propagandist on their payroll in Ecuador; they print the money remember. At any rate it makes sense to have this guy as a backup while Faulkner is on vacation.

        I imagine that Falkner is like the Jason Borne character in the sense that from time to time he needs to be taken offline for a while, water boarded, and have his programming refreshed and updated. Lord knows I’ve hit him with enough facts that his original programming must have been in bad shape. I wonder if the Faulkner identity will be retained or if it was too badly damaged to remain viable and will have to be replaced with another identity with no memory of our prior conversations. My only fear is that he comes back as some kind of invicible super-propagandist and starts to kick my trasero.

  • MountainHombre

    Wow, where to begin . . .

    I have no claim to great expertise about the current situation in Venezuela.

    But, it doesn’t take an expert to combine these facts: ” President Maduro … actually confirmed that the presidential elections scheduled for late 2018 will proceed as planned.” This, with a the knowledge that the constitution will be re-written completely, should cast considerable doubt as to the likelihood of free elections in the future.

    Second, the author states provides what is purported to be evidence that most of the violence came from the opposition, and follows this with: “This is according to data from the office of the Attorney General, which itself has recently become pro-opposition.” This is a non-sequitur. This data came from the office of the Attorney General WHEN the office supported Maduro. Later, the Attorney General broke with the Maduro and was locked out of her office and removed from her position.

    I could go on, but remember that TeleSur is state controlled and funded by the Venezuelan government. If you want a better take on the reality, talk to any of the middle class or poor Venezuelans refugees who are in Cuenca.

    • StillWatching

      Bravo. Clearly you saw through the fog…

      • Kevin Lichtman

        I have spoken to working class Venezuelans who recently fled. They confirm what we already know, Venezuela is an economic disaster. The shortages, food lines and corruption are real.

        • StillWatching

          Thanks Kevin. My wife is a Colombian refugee that fled FARC and she now works here in Cuenca helping the current round of Venezuelan refugees that are fleeing that disastrous country. It gets worse every day and I fear open warfare eventually.

  • Margarita Goodhart

    Telesur is the narco chavista press. Of course the author is brainwashed and in the fold. I wonder what perk he is getting for writing this horrible insulting article about the democratic citizens of Venezuela who want their country back from these sadistic narco military dictators who deny food, medicines and freedoms to the people there. 130 innocent people have been slaughtered there, in the streets just since April, and they have not had the weapons. Many hundreds are being held in torture prisons. The sadistic military just went and killed in cold blood, over 37 prisoners….tied them up in the central cells and shot them all. There is plenty of cocaine tho, as Venezuela may rival Colombia now as ‘narco central.’ The military are not only armed and with ‘power’ but they are also given cocaine. They are crazed and now are going after mayors, governors, supreme court justices, and democratic National Assemblemen and jailing them.

    Attorney General for the country, Luisa Ortega, could not stand by anymore and see the injustices, so she disagreed, she is lucky to be alive. They froze her assets and she and her husband, German Ferrar an assembleman have warrants out for their arrests, are on the run and escaped through Aruba to Bogota. This is about as bad as it gets.

    This article is a bunch of lies and propaganda and is a great insult to the citizens of Venezuela. See the Sunny Balza interview by NTN24 on YouTube. He is an ex military gone rogue and he spills the beans about all the narco shipments. Vene and Cuba, have been safe havens, central headquarters for biz. and R&R for the NARCO guerrillas, for many decades. Venezuela is totally a rogue country, run by narcos, simple as that.

  • Dee Dee Jackson

    Total BS. This guy was Chavez/Maduro man, worked for them and now wants to save his ass in the coming ouster of Maduro. He just puts out as much smoke as he can to try to obscure or gloss over the facts of Venezuela… I won’t even waste time refuting point by point… surprised this is the point of view purported by this publication?

    • Ellen Andrews

      I don’t know if you noticed, but this website has been posting a lot of right-wing bs from the BIG media about what’s happening in Venezuela so it’s about time they included the other side.

  • Doug Vasey

    There’s a lot of fake news in the world. I don’t have enough information to make a judgment, but will keep an open mind.

  • Loren Lowe

    I’m very glad this was labeled as opinion. It is so far from truth its almost insane. Blaming the so called opposition on the problems there is just ludicrous. I wont even waste more effort typing.

  • Kevin Lichtman

    Socialists are like rabid soccer fans who still worship their players as heroes, even though they are in last place for three years because they stay out all night drinking. Claiming Venezuela’s constituent assembly is democratic is beyond delusional.

    • StillWatching

      Superb analogy.

  • Michael Berger

    FAKE NEWS! So fake that rebuttals are hardly even necessary. If the “International Left” is on the sidelines it’s because most of them are smarter than this idiot and thus won’t even try to legitimize Maduro. It also may be because they realize that Chavez’s daughter Maria Gabriela is wealthier than Donald Trump, (4.3 Billion verses 3.5 Billion), and that Maduro has continued in the same theft of public funds and was recently implemented in the Odebrech scandal.

    Instead of going for a likely win like writing a propaganda piece about one of the very functional Nordic countries this guy goes for a sure loss by defending the Venezuelan tyranny. Last time I saw democrats being this dumb was when they dumped their populist candidate and ran a war criminal in his place only to lose the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. Since then the democratic party has continued to deteriorate because of people like Gregory Wilpert who insist on going for the sure losses.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFwF5dK9fWA