Monday, 3 March 2014

Venezuelan Opposition "Shooting Themselves in the Foot" - Buxton

Professor Julia Buxton. Souce:

Friday, 28th February, 2014

Amid a storm of angry objections by Venezuelan students at her talk in London, and a torrent of violent twitter abuse, renowned Venezuelan expert Julia Buxton maintained that the current anti-government protests are doing nothing to advance the opposition’s cause. Indeed, the protests have divided the opposition into moderate and radical factions. Buxton was speaking to an engaged audience in Glasgow, Scotland, elaborating on her recent influential article, “The Real Significance of the Student Protests.”

                  The reaction to the demonstrations has been remarkable. Sensationalist reports of gangs of state-sponsored paramilitaries on motorbikes shooting up middle-class neighborhoods and (faked) pictures of tortured civilians have flooded the internet. What is ironic, for Buxton, is that the violence needed no exaggeration. Fourteen people on both sides have been killed already and much of Caracas is ablaze. The Mesa De la Unidad Democrática (MUD) had recently been making positive inroads into the Chavista majority. However, Buxton contends that the protests have increased public disillusionment with the opposition, and has, ultimately, proved detrimental to their cause. Recent opinion polls show only 23 percent of Venezuelans support the protests.  

US Involvement?

                  Student movements tend to be progressive. However, these students are primarily from the elite, private universities. They are English-speaking and highly westernized. Buxton sees them as defending their privilege, neoliberalism and the ancien regime that they are too young to remember. The students have expertly used social media to focus international attention to their cause: Venezuela has the 4th highest twitter penetration in the world. Yet, in emphasizing the international, the students have overlooked domestic opinion. The poor majority do not use any social media and are, with good reason, mistrustful of the students. She alleged that the student leaders had been given copious media training and even flown to the US to meet with government officials. Student leader Yon Goicoechea received the $500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2008 for his role in previous anti-government uprisings. This is added to the “hundreds of millions of dollars” in support the opposition has received from Washington since Hugo Chávez's election.  This may explain the coordinated, slick media campaign.

International Reaction

While the US was quick to condemn the government (John Kerry claimed their actions were “unacceptable”), Mercosur has stood firmly behind the government. President Fernandez de Kirchner reaffirmed her solidarity with President Maduro. Even the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs placed the blame on the State Department. It would not be in the interests of Brazil or Argentina to see a successful insurrection in Venezuela, as it may destabilize the entire region, (lest we forget the consequences of the 1973 coup in Chile). What is remarkable about the protests, Buxton claims, is the state’s refusal to repress the opposition. She commented on the lenient response from the government. This stands a far cry from the Caracazo in 1989, where the Carlos Andrés Pérez government mowed down thousands of protesters with machine guns.

What Maduro Must Do

                  It is ironic that the economic downturn and the rise in crime primarily affect the poor and affect the rich students the least, yet it is the opposition that are mobilizing around these issues. Buxton urged Maduro to begin to reconnect with the grassroots of his party and attack the causes of public discontent. Crime should be addressed with wide-ranging prison and judicial reforms, while recentralizing the police and instituting tougher gun control law would reduce violent crime. Meanwhile, she said, Maduro must improve the much-lauded social programs and attack the waste and corruption of the state.

“Complete Hypocrisy”

                  Buxton dismissed the Western media’s apparent outrage over repression and censorship as “complete hypocrisy.” She noted that in her native United Kingdom, 136 students were arrested in 2010 during protests against rising tuition fees while two men were sentenced to four years in jail for posting Facebook messages and one man was sentenced to 16 months for stealing an ice cream during the London Riots. In contrast, Venezuelans are wanted for murders and incitement to violence. Far from the Western media’s depiction, she characterized Venezuela as having “one of the least regulated media sectors in the world”, having only recently brought in “modest reforms” to bar television stations from inciting murder or armed revolution. Nevertheless, opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado have had no trouble appearing on television. She characterized Venezuela as a “profoundly democratic society” being forced to split into two polar opposite camps because of the protests, despite the “great diversity of opinions” in the country.

Maduro convened a “peace dialogue” with the right, although Machado and Capriles did not attend. She postulated that it was Capriles’ credibility that was injured by this, not Maduro’s, as the moderate opposition wished to negotiate. Therefore, she predicted, the socialists’ popularity will remain unaffected but the MUD’s may fall, as the lower middle-class (some 20% of the population) may abstain from voting for Capriles, who has been outflanked and undermined from the right. As such, the protests have been a profoundly self-defeating venture, and the opposition has effectively shot itself in the foot.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Venezuela: Some Context to the Protests

Source: breitbart

     In recent days, angry anti-government protests have erupted in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. If we are to believe some influential Venezuelan bloggers, the government is sending teams of motorbike-riding death-squads roaming around rich neighbourhoods looking for people to kill. Social media is awash with pictures of children, apparently having been beaten to within an inch of their life by government thugs. This, the New York Times eagerly reports, is making Secretary of State John Kerry “increasingly concerned.” Surely this must be the beginning of a democratic uprising against an authoritarian dictator?

     All this does not sit easily with the reaction elsewhere, however. President Morales of Bolivia alleged that, far from being a spontaneous democratic uprising, this was a US-financed coup d'etat which was trying to destroy Hugo Chavez's humanist legacy. Morales went on to say that “on behalf of the Bolivian people, we send our energy and support to the courageous Venezuelan people and president Nicolás Maduro.” President Fernandez de Kirchner sent her solidarity to the President and people of Venezuela in the face of violent attacks on its sovereignty. Similar statements have been made by the Presidents of Ecuador and Nicaragua and even from political parties in Europe. Indeed, Unasur, the Union of South American Nations, has stood firmly behind President Maduro, while even the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs praised the government for its moderation in dealing with violent protesters and castigated the White House for its “misguided policy toward South America.”

     But what on Earth has the White House got to do with all this? And why are so many respected international bodies talking about imperialism? You would be forgiven for not knowing, as no New York Times or Washington Post article has revealed the fact that Washington has been funding and training the heads of these protests for at least 12 years. Indeed, the US government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to overthrow the Venezuelan, Bolivian and Ecuadorean governments. Those leading the protests, Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, are not students, but two of the wealthiest people in South America; Machado is a personal friend of George W. Bush. She was also involved in the last three opposition attempts to overthrow the government: in 2002, 2002-2003 and 2004. In 2002, with the financial, technical and political help of the US government, she and her co-conspirators kidnapped President Hugo Chavez and installed Pedro Carmona as President. He immediately suspended the constitution, sacked all politicians, sacked all judges in the country, suspended human rights, gave himself power to rule by decree, and even changed the name of the country. They were only stopped by a massive revolt, some 25-50 times the size of the current protests, of ordinary, poor Venezuelan citizens.

     Prominent among the current protesters are students from Caracas' elite, fee-paying universities, who wish for change in the country. And yet Venezuela has changed enormously since Hugo Chavez's election in 1998. Poverty was reduced by 50%, extreme poverty by 72%. The bottom 40% of Venezuela's population have seen their slice of the economic pie expand by nearly half and those in the economic percentile 40-70 have also seen their incomes rise. How did the government manage this? By destroying the middle class? In fact, those in percentiles between 70-90 have seen their comparative income stay virtually the same. It is only the top 10% of Venezuelan society, and in particular, the top 1% who have seen their incomes fall. It is from these groups that these young Venezuelans disproportionately come from. In 1998, Venezuela was the most unequal country in the most unequal region in the world, with some of the highest proportions of private jet ownership and child malnutrition in the world. Thanks to massive social programs, a national health service was created and UNESCO hailed Venezuela's achievements in reducing illiteracy. Very little of this has ever been reported by the media.

     But the government was far from winning universal support. Chief among their adversaries were the Venezuelan middle and upper classes, who use their power in business, finance and the media to put pressure on the government. Venezuela still faces a host of pressing social and economic problems, some of which have been highlighted by protesters as key issues. But to characterize these protests as democratic movements against an illegitimate government is altogether misleading. Let us not forget that Maduro's party has won 18 elections since 1998, elections which have drawn near-universal praise for their fairness, with Jimmy Carter stating that Venezuelan elections are “the best in the world.”This latest attempt at revolution can only be seen as an attempt by the upper-classes to regain their power lost under the Chavez government.

     It turns out those death squads and the pictures of tortured children were manipulated, as were our emotions. But triflings such as this matter little to the media, who will continue to bang the drum for regime change. They are unlikely to get their wish. For all its faults, and there are many, the majority are standing behind the government, with only 23% of Venezuelans supporting the protests (not that one would guess this given the media coverage) .Tread carefully through the minefield of Venezuelan politics.