Tag Archives: Protests

Who are the “fascists” in Venezuela and Ukraine?

By Paulo Paraguaná

Le Monde.fr – Published March 7, 2014

Venezuela and Ukraine are not only separated by thousands of kilometers, but also by huge historical, political and cultural differences. However, President Nicolás Maduro and his deposed counterpart Viktor Yanukóvich have resorted to the same type of rhetoric when facing protests and demonstrations from opponents.

In their speeches they both qualify their opponents as “fascists” and “coup plotters”.

In both cases, the intention is to discredit their opponents. The question is why do they use exactly the same terms, the exact same words?

We won’t find the answer in the shared history of both countries. In Ukraine, fascism can be traced to a dishonorable past during the Second World War, while in the case of Venezuela there is nothing similar. Let us make a brief historical overview:

Venezuelans overthrew the dictatorship of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958. For the next forty years, power was shared alternately by social democrats (Acción Democrática) and Christian democrats (COPEI). So, there were left-wing reformists and moderate centrists. Today, the Venezuelan opposition is comprised of these groups plus other parties, some leaning more to the right, others more to the left, and even to the extreme left. Both Henrique Capriles Radonski, former presidential candidate, and Leopoldo López, presently behind bars, have chosen the center-left.

Venezuelans against the trend in Latin America

Partidarios del expresidente Hugo Chávez, el 20 de febrero en Caracas. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Followers of former President Hugo Chavez, February 20, Caracas. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Between the 1960s and 1998, before Chávez was first voted into office, Venezuela was moving in the opposite direction to that of most of Latin America, as the region had fallen victim to a series of military coups and authoritarian regimes. Fascists and coup perpetrators were found beyond the Venezuelan border, and the democratic haven of Caracas welcomed waves of Latin American political refugees.

In 1992, two military coup attempts were staged in Venezuela led by lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez. Although it may seem incongruous, these attempts to subvert the constitutional order are celebrated today by the Chavista regime as heroic feats that are commemorated with a national holiday on the 4th of February.

Once they rose to power, these former coup plotters became part of Chávez’s inner circle. The lieutenant colonel always bestowed greater trust in the military than in civilians. In fact, these former members of the military continue playing an important role in the institutions and state-owned companies of the Maduro administration, something that is reinforced by the presence of active officers. The President of the National Assembly and second most powerful in the regime, Diosdado Cabello, was recently promoted from lieutenant to captain despite only being part of the reserve army.

In 2002, another failed coup attempt was staged, this time against Chávez. What Chavistas “forget” to remember is that the President resigned upon the request of the military hierarchy and that he surrendered without resisting, as he had done in 1992. TV channels, businessmen and politicians rushed to catch the moving train, but the locomotive was undoubtedly in the hands of the military.

Experience shows that you cannot carry out a military coup without active officers at the helm of operational units. In between the ghosts of some and the vagaries of others everything seems to be the same.

Repression from groups of paramilitaries

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During the commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez, March 5th. Fernando Llano/AP

On Thursday, March 5th, during the military parade to commemorate the first anniversary of Chávez’s death it was plain to see on which side the arms rested in Venezuela. Apart from the armored vehicles and infantry troops of the armed forces and police, also visible were the militias and Chavista “collectives”, the paramilitary groups commanded by those in power. Maduro has asked the latter to suppress the opposition’s demonstrations. Since the beginning of February, the clashes have resulted in twenty dead, most of which have been caused by firearms.

The use of irregular forces to repress opponents was indeed one of the characteristics of Italian fascism, which is precisely where the term “fascio” derives from: the former combatants and thugs in charge of instilling terror. However, it is no longer with the castor oil used in the times of Mussolini but with firearms, rifles, and even machineguns.

Therefore, the use of a similar rhetorical language to refer to those that protest in Ukraine and Venezuela cannot be explained by possible similarities of both countries, but rather by their common source of inspiration: the Soviet manuals. Cuba has taken the mantle from Russia and for quite some time has been disseminating and using this type of Soviet documentation in Latin America, the influence of which should not be underestimated in the shaping of mentalities and Pavlovian defense mechanisms. Nicolás Maduro sat through his politics lectures with the Cubans.

Original Source: Paraguaná, Paulo. « Qui sont les “fascistes” au Venezuela et en Ukranie ? ». Le Monde.fr/M Blogs. March 7th, 2014. Le Monde.fr. 07.03.2014. http://america-latina.blog.lemonde.fr/2014/03/07/qui-sont-les-fascistes-au-venezuela-et-en-ukraine/

Main photograph: “Des graffitis en faveur du gouvernement vénézuélien, le 20 février à Caracas”. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Translated by #infoVnzla

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San Cristóbal, the Barricaded City of Venezuela

By Arturo Wallace

BBC Mundo, Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rocks, old furniture, damaged electrical goods, tree trunks, fallen lampposts, rubble, rubbish and even a tank.

Anything comes handy for the “gochos” – as the inhabitants of the Venezuelan state of Táchira are known – to block the streets of their capital city, San Cristóbal.

It is here that the protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro began more than a month ago, and then extended to other regions in Venezuela.

The barricades have become a symbol of what government opponents in this Andean region call “the resistance.”

“There are more than one hundred barricades in San Cristóbal,” Mayor Daniel Ceballos told BBC Mundo. “Around 40% of the city has been compromised,” he said.

Ceballos, who belongs to the opposition party Voluntad Popular, justifies the presence of the barriers as a reaction to the attacks by security forces and Chavista motorcyclists against protesters. Initially, they were groups of students protesting against insecurity, but now it is a heterogeneous group of opponents that demand a change of government.

In order to deal with the problem, President Nicolás Maduro called for a Táchira “peace conference” to be held in San Cristóbal this Thursday.

However, for the time being, his call has made no difference whatsoever in the barricades.

II

These protests cannot be separated from past or present difficulties that people face to get their hands on basic staples.

“This situation has compounded the problems of goods shortages. There are huge queues in supermarkets, pharmacies and bakeries,” Mayor Ceballos acknowledged.

Queues start in the morning, when this city of more than 620,000 inhabitants located 33 Km away from the Colombian border – 65 Km by road – gets as close to normality as it possibly can.

In any case, it is a relative normality. Public transport has been halted for several days now and many people have to walk to the few places that remain open: grocery shops, pharmacies and some services.

The window of opportunity only lasts a few hours, and by afternoon people rush to their homes to seek protection from what could happen when night falls and the risk of violence increases.

“Generally, they attack us in the early hours of the morning,” explained Albert Medina, a 26-year old student of the Universidad Católica del Táchira, part of a group that protects the barricade that includes the old tank – an old monument located in one of the main avenues in the city, and now a symbol of the protests.

“We take turns, students and citizens, to protect the barricades and make sure there are no attacks,” says another university student called Alejandro, while he tours the barricades located in the sector known as Las Pilas in the center-eastern part of the city.

It was in this area, little over a week ago, that another student named Jimmy Vargas died after falling from the second floor of a nearby building during clashes between students and security forces.

A few blocks away from the still smoking tyres at the end of a nearby avenue I see a group of youths, some of them hooded, preparing Molotov bombs for what seems to be an inevitable night-time clash.

III

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However, night has not fallen yet, and during daytime San Cristóbal remains generally calm.

Not a single national guard can be found near the so called “guarimbas” – the name given by Venezuelans to this type of barricaded protest –, much less troops of the parachute infantry sent to Táchira by the president a couple of weeks ago to reinforce safety in the border state and protect every access route.

There is also no sign of the paramilitaries that the state governor, José Vielma Mora, said had arrived from Colombia to infiltrate protests.

Vielma Mora, however, also accuses the “guarimberos” of being responsible of “neighborhood terrorism” by keeping neighbors prisoners behind the barricades they erect.

Jonathan García, a deputy of the Regional Congress who also represents the governor’s party, the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, agreed.

“This is all part of an insurrectional plan expressed through blockades and barricades, expressed through hooded youths, through the violent actions that thousands of families face every day when they cannot leave or go back to their homes when they want to,” said García to BBC Mundo.

“It is a violation of all the rights of Venezuelans as established in the Constitution,” he maintained.

García has no doubts that the opposition is to blame for these episodes of violence. “We are not going to give them the excuse they are looking for, to evict them forcibly as would be done anywhere else in the world,” he explained to BBC Mundo.

“We know that the cameras are there, we know there are videos that will be used to try and sell to the world the idea that unarmed Venezuelan people are being savagely repressed by the tyrannical government of Venezuela, so that they can justify an intervention by the United States,” he added.

But he also made a caveat: “We are supporting communities that little by little have started to get rid of the barricades.”

However, according to protesters, the people that the authorities try to depict as angry neighbors are in fact armed Chavistas paid by the government to intimidate them and remove them by force.

To be honest, there seems to be a lot of sympathy for the demands of “guarimberos” among the people that have to tackle the barricades to go about their daily routines.

IV

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“I am not bothered by the barricades. I prefer to hold on for another month instead of facing four more years of dictatorship,” América Ruíz told BBC Mundo, a neighbor of Barrio Obrero, a shopping district with barricades on practically every other corner.

“Do you know what I find sad?, getting up at two or three in the morning, standing in a queue so that you can buy something in the afternoon, and when it is finally your turn they say, ‘no madam, there is no more paper, no more flour, go back home’. It’s enough to make you cry,” she complained.

Vianey Carvajal, from a poorer sector known as La Concordia, agreed.

“This is no longer just the fight of students. This is the fight to get milk, to get bread,” she told BBC Mundo.

“We don’t see this as suffering, we see it as an investment,” maintains Carvajal, one of many “gochos” who believe that Táchira’s condition as a border and mainly opposing state means that many of the problems they accuse the Chavista government of tend to be aggravated: insecurity, shortages, corruption.

“It is not an issue of life being harder or easier with the barricades. The thing is that if life were easy we wouldn’t have the barricades,” added Blanca Ontiveros, a neighbor from Las Pilas.

Back in Barrio Obrero, Jesús Delgado, a veteran shopkeeper is convinced that the majority of people feel this way.

“80% of San Cristóbal agree with what is going on here,” he assured BBC Mundo.

V

I come across them in the civic center of town, in the middle of a relatively thin celebration commemorating the first anniversary of former President Hugo Chávez’s death.

There I find Lía Rodríguez – clad in a Chávez T-shirt and clutching a cap in support of Maduro – who is fearful of speaking in her neighborhood of Las Pilas because of what the “guarimberos” might do to her.

Omar Ramírez, a student from Universidad Nacional Experimental del Táchira, has no doubts about criticizing his fellow students.

“Many students are against the barricades, these “guarimbas”, because they are also suffering the consequences,” he said.

“And many other people have been affected, because the smoke generated by these barricades is creating a public health problem. People want gas, they want food, they want their kids to go to school, they want to go to the supermarket, they want to receive medical assistance,” he added.

VI

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Back in the barricades, however, it seems many more are convinced they will continue protesting until the government changes.

Many “gochos” maintain they are even willing to march on to Caracas as their fellow Táchira native Cipriano Castro did more than a century ago as leader of the Liberal Restoration Revolution of 1899.

In fact, this area is proud of the influence it has exerted during key moments in the history of Venezuela.

Apart from Castro, the list of “gocho” presidents goes from Juan Vicente Gómez to Carlos Andrés Pérez, including former dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez.

However, for the time being it seems it is Caracas that is heading towards this Andean region.

On Wednesday, Congresswoman María Corina Machado, one of the most visible faces of the opposition, visited Táchira to take part in a small protest that developed without any major incidents.

Also, you have the peace conference the government has called for, although most protesters do not seem to be taking the invitation very seriously.

“They have not been able to convene the political sectors,” explained Pedro Pablo Quintero, a 60-year old university lecturer who previously voted for Chávez but who now supports the protests.

He considers this to be a first small step that should not be entirely dismissed.

“We need to be patient. This is not a short-term struggle. Venezuelans who believe that these proposals will help us get rid of Maduro tomorrow are wrong,” he told BBC Mundo.

“However, a precedent is being set so that Venezuelan society and Venezuelan institutions can finally react. And there are legal mechanisms for this situation to come to an end,” he added.

Others are more impatient and that is why the authorities have no doubt in qualifying them as coup perpetrators.

Despite all this everyone seems to agree on the ubiquitous slogan “whoever gets tired, loses”, seen in many of the barricades.

And then there is the emphatic response of Omar Cárdenas, a student whom I asked how long they were willing to continue in the streets.

“We’re in this for the long haul. We’ll persevere for as long as we have to,” he maintained.

Source: Wallace, Arturo. San Cristóbal: la ciudad de las barricadas en Venezuela, BBC Mundo. 6 de marzo de 2014. BBC. 6 de marzo de 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2014/03/140305_america_latina_venezuela_tachira_aa.shtml.

Main photograph: An image from San Cristobal, capital of Táchira state / AFP

Translated by #infoVnzla

@infoVnzl

Venezuelan students gather thousands of protesters

The streets of Caracas have been once again the stage of mass protests despite seven days of Carnival.

EWALD SCHARFENBERG. El País. 03- 10- 2014.

Last Sunday, tenths of thousands of people took to the streets once more to keep the pressure on the government of Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro.

The student movement, which since April 12th has led protests throughout the country that have claimed 18 lives, called a demonstration that started in four different points of the city – symbolizing the student’s four main demands – and then gathered in Chacaito’s Brión Square.

Although mass protests have occurred in the last several days and Sunday’s demonstration only went through middle-class neighborhoods traditionally aligned with the opposition, high attendance to the event was considered a victory for the opposition in yet another skirmish of what could be called Battle of Carnival in Venezuela.

The government, challenged by focalized riots for almost three weeks, assumed that Carnival vacations – which traditionally have been seized by Venezuelans as an opportunity to go to the beach or go hiking – would dissolve the protests and unmask the leaders organizing them.

In order to reinforce that awaited ‘freezing effect’, president Maduro announced his decision to extent the holidays three more days to include Ash Wednesday, which coincides with the first anniversary of the passing of former President Hugo Chávez.

That the students were able to fill the streets of Caracas and other cities around the country, such as Mérida and Barquisimeto, on the Sunday before a major holiday – made all the more tempting by the offer of seven days off from work – speaks volumes of the movement’s organization and political abilities.

Enfrentamientos después de las protestas. / RODRIGO ABD (AP)

Clashes after protests. / RODRIGO ABD (AP)

On the final leg of the demonstration, the president of the University Student Council of the oldest and most important public university in the country, Central University of Venezuela, Juan Requesens, assured that the students were “not tired, and [they] will never get tired: the student movement is committed to the country; that’s what motivates [them] to keep taking the streets.”

Requesens, the event’s only speaker, also used his half-hour speech to publicly answer the invitation extended by several government authorities – including President Maduro and Vice President Jorge Arreaza – to hold a round table with the protesting students.

The student leader seemed willing to attend a meeting with the Revolution’s high officers as long as some conditions are met, such as a mandatory, media-wide broadcast of the event, the adoption of an agreed agenda, and the disclosure of who will be the other attendees.

However, Requesens assured that if the government intends to make them “go to Miraflores to demobilize the people” – making reference to Venezuela’s Presidential Palace – they would not be attending.

Almost simultaneously, President Maduro addressed the nation in a televised event.

In Paseo de Los Próceres, a long track used for military parades located in southeastern Caracas, the head-of-state attempted to rekindle a holiday celebration that seemed already lost.

President Maduro congratulated himself all the same, assuring that “the Venezuelan people has triumphed, because happiness and peace have triumphed”, and that “Venezuela is at peace and its people enjoy its rivers, mountains, and beaches.”

However, social media users and tourism agencies have acknowledged that traditional vacation spots have received a fairly modest amount of visitors this year.

Protests supporting the opposition have been registered even in traditional tourist destinations like Margarita Island and Colonia Tovar – a town founded by German immigrants in the XIX century and located just outside Caracas.

Roadblocks in Colonia Tovar – in which visitors were also involved – were dispersed by police forces with tear gas.

On Sunday, groups of protesters that separated from the opposition’s main demonstration clashed with anti-riot forces in Las Mercedes, Santa Fe and Altamira, areas located in the Venezuelan capital.

In Mérida – capital of the State of the same name and an important college town – protesters were able to fend off ‘chavista’ groups from their barricades.

In San Cristóbal, in the Andean state of Táchira, protesters seemed to control many areas of the city.

The fact that tourism during Carnival fell in relation to previous years doesn’t mean that would-be tourists are joining the protests.

In fact, many Venezuelans decided to stay at home as a result of the high cost of life, food shortages, or the fear of rampant insecurity in highways and of the roadblocks set up by protesters.

Shortages of several staple products have been more harshly felt over the last few days as a big part of the already insufficient fleet of trucks used to distribute food and supplies has been used during the holidays. In other cases the supply has been interrupted by barricades or through the threat of violence – as is the case in Táchira.

The government of President Maduro has appeared hesitant regarding the way in which protests could be quenched; and seems to be more interested in controlling the way the crisis is perceived rather than actually resolving it.

On Friday, 41 people were arrested by National Guardsmen after protests were dispersed in Altamira’s Plaza Francia, an opposition stronghold.

Even though State media alerted that “8 international terrorists” were captured during the raid, it was later known that, in reality, there were only two foreigners detained, one of them being an Italian photojournalist, Francesca Comissari.

After being kept in custody for a day, she was taken to court and later released without charges.

Once released, however, the reporter denounced that her photographic equipment – confiscated by the military – was not returned to her.

On Sunday, the government also decried that a right-wing campaign was being advanced on social networking platforms to urge celebrities to comment on the Venezuelan situation during the Oscars Awards ceremony, held in Los Angeles, California.

This annual event obtains some of the highest ratings in Venezuela, a nation addicted to pageantry and celebrities.

As a precaution, Venevisión, the biggest commercial TV network in the country and part of the powerful Organización Cisneros, announced that they wouldn’t air the show – the first time in decades.

Although they argued that financial difficulties were the only reason behind this decision, since 2004, Venevisión has famously tried to avoid any kind of friction with the Venezuelan government.

Source: SHARFENBERG, EWALD.  “Los estudiantes venezolanos reúnen a miles de manifestantes”. El País. 03-03-2014. http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/03/03/actualidad/1393810047_427757.html

Translated by #infoVnzla

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