When following corporate media coverage of the wave of protests that have roiled Venezuela you could be excused for thinking a massively popular revolution is sweeping that nation. This version of events is more about political spin than reality. The protests have in fact been limited in scope and mostly specific to affluent areas... for example the Altimira district in Caracas. They are in part political theater, staged by right-wing forces that are cynically using the language and tactics of revolution in an attempt to destabilize the democratically elected government of President Nicolás Maduro.
To get a more accurate accounting of the situation on the ground, take a look at Mark Weisbrot's Guardian article The truth about Venezuela: a revolt of the well-off, not a 'terror campaign'.
I thought that I, too, was immune to the repetitious portrayals of Venezuela as a failed state in the throes of a popular rebellion. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in Caracas this month: how little of daily life appeared to be affected by the protests, the normality that prevailed in the vast majority of the city. I, too, had been taken in by media imagery.
Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas.
The class-based nature of what has been characterized as "a revolt of the rich" is underlined by the fact that many of the protests have been held in well-to-do areas with a percentage of the students involved from affluent backgrounds. In a Guardian column Seumas Milne refers to the protests as having "... the hallmarks of an anti-democratic rebellion, shot through with class privilege and racism." A recent video of Milne's interview with President Maduro touches on the protests. It includes an amusing insight from a woman who sarcastically remarks that the protesters "sweat Chanel."
The most right-wing faction in the opposition coalition, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) tellingly named their protests la salida (the exit)... baldly signaling their intent to force a democratically elected government from office. Since MUD has the backing of wealthy oligarchs perhaps you could call this the arrogance of the rich. MUD has fueled violence during the protests, some of it amounting to outright criminality.
When it comes to propaganda about Venezuela nobody is more adept than US secretary of state John Kerry. He has made a number of assertions that are outright provocations, unsupported by the facts, such as the outlandish claim that President Maduro is waging a “terror campaign against his own people”... a claim Mark Weisbrot counters with a few salient truths:
Here’s the truth about those charges from Kerry: since the protests in Venezuela began, it appears that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces. According to deaths reported by CEPR in the last month, in addition to those killed for trying to remove protesters’ barricades, about seven have apparently been killed by protesters’ obstructions – including a motorcyclist beheaded by a wire stretched across the road – and five National Guard officers have been killed.
As for violence from law enforcement, at least three people appear to have been killed by the National Guard or other security forces – including two protesters and a pro-government activist. Some people blame the government for an additional three killings by armed civilians; in a country with an average of more than 65 homicides per day, it is entirely possible these people acted on their own.
A full 21 members of the security forces are under arrest for alleged abuses, including some of the killings. This is no “terror campaign”.
For his part President Maduro rejects the claim that his government has 'criminalized dissent.' He said: "The opposition has full guarantees and rights. We have an open democracy. But if a politician commits a crime, calls for the overthrow of the legitimate government and uses his position to block streets, burn universities and public transport, the courts act."
The protests are unpopular in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans see them for what they are... an effort by the opposition and its wealthy patrons and supporters to obtain what they haven't been able to achieve at the ballot box. The Venezuelan opposition has not only fared poorly in presidential elections, but also in municipal elections over the past fifteen years. Given that they have lost 18 out of 19 elections or referendums since Chavez' election in 1998, less-than-democratic tactics have now become a strategy of necessity for some.
In pointing to what they regard as the failings of the Bolivarian revolution, critics conveniently forget the corruption, abuse of power and oppression that was the order of the day when a clique of rich oligarchs ran the country like their personal fiefdom. The gangster-like behavior of the oligarchs and their followers continues today with the sabotage of the Venezuelan economy in an effort to destabilize the duly elected government.
They [the opposition] try to increase economic problems through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation... To create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention.
There is a natural tendency on the part of the left in the west to extend solidarity to people who take seemingly legitimate grievances to the streets, but let's be very clear... this revolt in Venezuela bears no resemblance to legitimate student-driven protest, as demonstrated for example by the Chilean student movement. The Venezuelan protests have been funded and orchestrated by right-wing interests. Not only are these elements manipulating the movement, they have also been working overtime to create conditions intended to give rise to discontent through tactics that include hoarding, smuggling and massive speculation.
An article in Popular Resistance provides details:
The misinformation in the United States is because Venezuela is the lynch pin of the movement of Latin America away from US domination. Further, the oligarch class in Venezuela continues to control much of the media and big business interests. They are able to have a big influence on the economy, create scarcity of key goods and can impact the value of Venezuelan currency by flooding Venezuela with off-market US dollars. The oligarchs lost big in recent municipal elections and have lost national elections to Chavez and Maduro repeatedly. Not only is Venezuela a challenge to US hegemony in the Americas, it is a challenge to big finance capitalism. It has rejected the corporate-based neoliberal economics that the US is pushing throughout the world to the detriment of most people and the benefit of the wealthy. For all these reasons Venezuela is a top target of the United States and the oligarchs in Venezuela.
The anti-democratic tactics employed by the opposition have been backfiring, rallying grass roots Venezuelans behind the government. These tactics include a pathetic effort to paint the Maduro government as illegitimate... just a measure of the opposition's desperation.
Writing in Roarmag, Jerome Roos lays out some of the reasons why the democratic credentials of Maduro's government is not in question:
... even judging by the limited standards of liberal constitutionalism, the democratic legitimacy of Maduro’s administration is unsurpassed. In 15 years, the United Socialist Party has won 18 elections and lost only one. Venezuela’s electoral system has been described by former US President Jimmy Carter — who has observed elections in 92 different countries on all continents — as “the best system in the world.” Just two months ago, in December 2013, the government won 76% of all local municipalities in midterm elections and decisively defeated the opposition, led by the “moderate” Henrique Capriles, by more than 10 percentage points. Much more than this, the government has been actively working together with grassroots movements to create one of the world’s most vibrant experiments in direct and participatory democracy, giving rise to thousands of communal councils, hundreds of communes and tens of thousands of worker-run cooperatives. In no other country in the world is citizen participation in politics and the economy as actively stimulated by the state as it is in Venezuela.
Why has Venezuela become a major target? It's not just about oil. The progressive movement that remade Venezuelan society didn't just talk about the redistribution of power and wealth, it did something about it and vastly improved the lives of working people. The Bolivarian revolution succeeded where many have failed. This is threatening, not just to the corporate elite but to those who fear a more broad-based socialist dynamic coming into play with implications beyond Venezuela's borders.
In his article Seumas Milne points to some of Venezuela's achievements:
Since regaining control of its oil, Venezuela has used it to slash poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70%, massively expanded public health, housing, education and women's rights, boosted pensions and the minimum wage, established tens of thousands of co-ops and public enterprises, put resources in the hands of a grassroots participatory democracy, and funded health and development programmes across Latin American and the Caribbean.
There is no doubting Nicolás Maduro's resolve. He stated emphatically during the Milne interview: "It will not be this US empire that destroys the Bolivarian revolution."