Beginning on February 12, violent groups in the capital city of Caracas have attacked people and engaged in acts of vandalism. They have violently attacked the users and workers of the bus system; they have attacked and robbed a building of the state-owned petroleum company; and they have set fire to five vehicles of the state-owned telephone company.
The government of Venezuela has responded to these events with appropriate action. As of February 20, thirteen persons were arrested for crimes involving violence and vandalism. There has not been a wave of political detentions, as was reported in the media outlets controlled by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. These privately owned media continue to operate in Venezuela; they have not been closed, in spite of their history of distorting information in service of the political agenda of opposition bourgeoisie.
The instigator of these violent acts, according to the Cuban and Venezuelan media, is Leopoldo López, leader of the right-wing party Popular Will. He convoked through the social media a nation-wide march by the opposition, without soliciting permission from the authorities. Some feared that the call would provoke new disturbances, but only one march was carried out, peaceably, in a section in the eastern part of the capital city. López is presently under arrest, charged with crimes related to the promotion of violence. President Nicolás Maduras, concerned for Lopez’s safety as a result of popular hostility to his conduct, personally negotiated with his family his voluntary surrender. The government has announced that he is being treated ethically and humanely, and that he will be tried in accordance with established principles of guarantees of the rights of the accused. López has a history of political activities of the Right. As mayor of the City of Chacao, he supported the failed coup d’état against President Hugo Chávez of April 2002, and he was involved in the illegal detention of the Minister of Interior and Justice that occurred during the coup.
In addition, violent conflict has emerged in the state of Táchera, on the border with Colombia. According to the Venezuelan minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace, Táchera has been besieged during the last two weeks by violent groups of the extreme right financed by the ex-US ambassador Otto Reich and the ex-president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe Velez. A battalion of army parachutists has been dispatched in order to protect the highways, and units of the National Guard are being sent to restore public order.
Violent and illegal action of this kind have been undertaken for fifteen years by opponents of the Chávist revolution, which has been victorious in eighteen of nineteen elections since 1998. The most notorious of these efforts was the failed coup of 2002. But they have been intensified since the death of Hugo Chávez and the assuming of the presidency by Maduro ten months ago.
The intention of these violent acts is to create a situation of confrontation and violence that can be utilized to create an international image of crisis in order to justify armed intervention. The international actors are playing their part. The international media of communication have been full of headlines such as “Tension in Venezuela,” “Political Crisis in Venezuela," and “Violence in Venezuela.” They have given legitimacy to these violent groups, presenting them as peaceful protestors who are members of student movements. The Chancellor of Venezuela, Elías Jaua, refers to the international media as an “apparatus of propaganda.” And as we shall see in a subsequent post, some political leaders in the United States are calling for “concrete action” by the United States.
President Nicolás Maduro calls it a fascist coup d’état. His immediate response was to convoke popular mobilizations in support of the government, which were successful, especially in that they included workers in the petroleum industry, who had been opponents of the Chavist revolution in previous years. Subsequently, on February 20, Maduro announced the formation of a National Anti-Coup Command, which will be installed in every factory, center of work, neighborhood, and university, with the intention of “defeating the fascist coup with an organized and mobilized people.” On February 22, he proposed a National Peace Conference, inviting political actors and businessmen to participate, seeking to isolate the violent and extreme right from the more moderate tendencies of the opposition. On February 23, he announced his intention to solicit the National Assembly to establish a commission to investigate the coup.
The formation of a National Anti-Coup Command by Nicolás Maduro is similar to the formation of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) by Fidel Castro in 1961, in response to acts of violence undertaken by the Cuban counterrevolution based in Miami and supported by the US government. The CDRs continue to exist as neighborhood organizations, although their functions over the years have evolved to include blood donation and recycling campaigns as well as serving as outlets for neighborhood residents to voice concerns related to such practical issues as housing and transportation.
On Sunday, February 23, Caracas was for the most part calm, and thousands of older persons and grandparents participated in a festive demonstration in support of the Bolivarian revolution. Nicolas Maduro addressed the crowd, reminding them that prior to the Chávez government, there were 387,000 persons receiving retirement pensions, whereas now there are nearly 2 million, as a result of the commitment of the Chavist revolution “to those most needy, to those who always have been forgotten, and to those who yesterday were invisible but who today are the protagonists of history.”
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