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REPORTING FROM CARACAS!

Your humble correspondent has arrived in the capital city with just over two weeks to go before the big hullabalooza: a likely ‘SI’ victory, probably with close to 60% of the vote, which would permit Chavez to be postulated by his party (the PSUV) for reelection in 2012.

Today the PSUV and the FMS, the Front for the Social Missions, are out in force around the key flow points of the city. Along the stretch between the very centre and the end of the pedestrianised boulevard, large speakers are pumping out tunes, leaflets and posters being thrust into willing hands by dozens of footsoldiers…to commuters waiting in lines for buses, through the windows of passing cars, etc.

One woman, walking briskly past a small group of flyer-touting red shirts, broke into a steady chant of “No, no, NO, NO, NO…”, continuing in semi-demented fashion even into the faces of other passers-by, who obviously understood she was not mad. But it resulted in a few grins. Such is the extent of the Chavista propaganda effort that the opposition simply can’t ignore it, let alone match it.

This doesn’t mean the ‘SI’ campaign is desperate. But it’s clear all campaigning avenues are being maximised, not least because the final vote count (or rather, the percentages) will be important in combating the negative press that will greet the inevitable result. Never before will Chavez have been so easily labelled a dictator, and the private media will attempt to diminish any impression that this constitutional amendment was supported massively.

The opposition are right about one thing: if Chavez’s goal was to become a dictator, it would be necessary to remove term limits. But supporters of the revolution are equally right on another point: if Chavez’s goal is indeed to transform Venezuela into a world power, and construct the purest form of democracy ever seen, it makes sense that continuity of good government be prioritised.

Today, after barely five years of concerted government spending, many of the least privileged Venezuelans readily claim that levels of confidence, health and education are rising. These are three of the most important factors which determine how difficult a population is to govern; how demanding they are, and how likely they are to vote.

If people are organizing themselves, being included in decision-making, having their voices heard, learning, increasing in consciousness and being relieved of general worries such as bad health and debt, it is highly probable that the elimination of presidential and other term limits would be beneficial. It would increase the likelihood of these trends becoming more engrained, and developing more rapidly.

In such a climate, it is more imperative than ever that good governance (i.e. the leadership most responsible for such trends) is rewarded, and thereby permitted to continue pursuing long-term objectives. A change of leadership at a time when things are progressing as well as can be imagined is more likely to hamper progress than improve it. As we know, leaders have varying ideas, visions and priorities. The general feeling among Chavistas today is: why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Of course, the opposition have a rather different perspective. They seem to see things progressing as badly as could possibly be imagined. They would argue that any growing confidence of the poor is a false confidence, that health and financial worries have been replaced (if at all) with the fear of crime, that their education contains a strong element of propaganda, that their newfound decision-making only exists in a narrow and illusory context, and that their voices are only heard if they conform to the party line.

While you can endlessly twist and select facts to portray the Venezuelan revolution in such a fashion, the important point is that those who see this contorted picture are invariably not the ones who needed confidence, healthcare, or education in the first place, and so have been out of the loop throughout these last years! With little or no experience whatsoever of social programs, healthcare services, communal councils or grassroots media, they are attempting to speak on behalf of (and directly contradicting most of!) all those who in fact possess all the relevant experience!

If the constitutional amendment is likely to benefit a sector who already claim they are benefitting from revolutionary policies, and is simultaneously opposed by another sector who are effectively detached from the entire experience, it is only fair to give the benefit of the doubt to those with the authority on the matter.

It would be ridiculous to oppose eliminating term limits if you were in a minority of one (i.e. if there was 99.9% national consensus). That would be an outright repudiation of democracy itself, in addition to a repudiation of additional democratic rights.

The novel aspect of this upcoming referendum is its dual-democratic aspect: a free & fair vote on a question of expanding voting rights. The prospect of 51% of the electorate being able to deny everybody (but particularly the other 49%) such additional rights, based on their majority alone, appears to border on the absurd.

It would be far less absurd if it was 90% of the electorate denying the other 10%. After all, both arguments have merit, even the prima facie anti-democratic one. There is no question that the legitimacy of the eventual democratic result, whichever way it goes, is very much dependent on the size of the majority behind it.

But which would be more legitimate in the moral sense: 51% of voters denying the right to all, or 51% of voters “forcing” the right upon all?

I’d argue the balance is firmly tipped towards the latter. After all, if a minority is against being granted a certain right, they can thereafter freely choose not to exercise it. For a minority (of equal proportion, for the sake of argument) to be denied such a right by a majority who happen to oppose it on principle, would undoubtedly be less fair.

The case in Venezuela today is that the opposition are not even so much against the amendment in principle as they are against it in their particular circumstances! In fact, they see Chavez’s popularity as so disadvantageous that one can assume (with great confidence) their principled arguments are mostly — if not entirely — opportunistic.

Who would bet against them turning around and exercising this right were the circumstances ever in their favour? Not me, that’s for sure.

DEPENDING WHAT YOU WATCH…

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Who are the real bad guys in Venezuela? Watch Globovision and it’s the “repressive police state” and the armed vigilantes on motorcycles (of course, closely aligned with powerful government figures).

Watch state media and it’s the opposition in general, who are under orders from above (ultimately the U.S. state department) to “set the country on fire” and thereby dissuade moderates from upsetting them even further in the coming referendum.

The “repressive police state” has been ordered to give the rebel student movement a dose of tear gas, and throw them in the cells if they deserve it. Now they’ve been caught on video setting fire to part of a national park near the major road artery they successfully paralysed, few would disagree some do indeed deserve it.

And now we’ve seen that a truck, laden above with big speakers as per the Venezuelan tradition, was also laden inside with over 100 (!) ready-made molotov cocktails and rocks as it followed the latest student march.

But switch back to Globovision and the molotovs are just a bit of friendly fun, the incendiarism a practical joke of some sort. The real bad guys are not only the government, with their arsenal of tear gas and dreaded water cannons, but groups such as ‘La Piedrita’ (the little stone) who retain armed control over a small community, where revolutionary propaganda is rife and outsiders are clearly warned not to interfere.

The Chavez government has told ‘La Piedrita’ to moderate their actions, while state media has made suggestions that not all incidents against the opposition may necessarily be the hand of Chavismo. As predicted, the “Pact of Puerto Rico” is being used as a steady propaganda tool, demonstrating that immediately after top opposition leaders and the Globo director returned tight-lipped from a secret meeting in that U.S. protectorate, the students set about radicalising their actions.

No doubt in my mind that two planks of the broader strategy (still unfolding) are as follows:

  • Openly create as much damage and anarchy as possible, to imply that Chavez’s continuation in power will lead to a more violent Venezuela, whether he intends that or not.
  • Create the illusion that the “police state” and allied vigilante groups are unreasonably criminalizing legitimate opposition actions, and persecuting innocent members of the opposition (including the baby-faced students of private universities, who represent the natural heirs to political and economic power in Venezuela).

rc182If a trend develops where opposition figures and their interests are regularly attacked in the run-up to Feb. 15th, we’ll know something’s up. Such behaviour doesn’t help a campaign, a movement, or a revolution. Therefore I won’t be surprised to hear Chavez make an open accusation that false flag operations are being conducted by the opposition themselves.

There have been four incidents in the past two days — the torching of an opposition leader’s car, an attack on the opposition-controlled city hall in Caracas, and tear gas bombs at the central university and the house of RCTV owner Marcel Granier. It seems like a conspiracy is at play.

If you aren’t sure why the opposition would want to do this, imagine the negative media message of a “campaign of persecution” by Chavistas. It creates sympathy for the opposition in general, and also the illusion that this upcoming referendum is swinging towards the ‘NO’ vote. These attacks imply the revolutionary movement is the cause of violence and divisions, while the opposition are in favour of peace and democracy.

Put simply, either the attackers are idiots, or they are working for the opposition. The latter is more likely. This matter needs to be dealt with quickly by Chavez, because the negative media message will be more difficult to combat as time passes. He should state categorically: any attacks from now on should be considered the work of the opposition. In other words, even if this is no conspiracy and the perpetrators believe their actions to be justified, they should be considered members of the opposition.

Any opposition use of false flag ops would be entirely predictable, and now is the perfect time to begin acting like victims. Meanwhile, any revolutionary attempt to conduct attacks plays into opposition hands, and especially at critical electoral moments. It is practically impossible that a true revolutionary could fail to understand this.

ererObama has recognised either that he doesn’t want to respect Venezuelan sovereignty, or that he can’t.

Just before taking office, and before even signalling whether he’s open to a meeting with Chavez, Obama has commented that Venezuela has “impeded progress in the region” and “exported terrorist activity”.

He knows Venezuela is one month away from an important national referendum. He knows the US remains the world’s number one terrorist and obstable to democracy in the world, let alone Latin America. Yet he refuses to make the neutral noises expected of new heads of state, instead opting for an open attack and a clear signal that US/Venezuelan relations are not about to improve.

Aside from closing the base at Guantanamo (which Raul Castro, speaking with his military hat on, has admitted is a hostage of sorts), we can expect nothing more than business as usual in Washington under the Obama administration.

Of course, Chavez will be framed as the culprit in a “missed opportunity”. But I suspect that Obama’s glitz is going to fade around the world extremely quickly, and even within the US itself, as it becomes clear his foreign policy is little more than Bush II with less recklessness and added weasel words.

Obama’s fanatics could see their foreign policy opinions drift to the right as they refuse to believe that Obama, their idol, could be wrong on such issues. But the Venezuelans in the eye of the revolutionary storm know better. And as victims, their testimonies and experiences will be the most useful to truth-seekers.

estudiantes-venezuelaIn one of many opt-repeated idiocies, the opposition media refer to the “student movement” and not the “privileged students of the private universities in Caracas”.

The lower-class Venezuelan population has been historically deprived of higher education. Despite a fleet of new public universities primarily for the benefit of this sector, private universities in Caracas (with tens of thousands of undergraduates) remain the majority of the capital city’s student population. Not surprisingly, this is the where the “student movement” operates.

Most of the attendees of such universities, particularly the Universidad Central of Venezuela (UCV), are privileged youth from privileged families. That’s not to say many aren’t revolutionary or sympathetic to the revolution. But from within a movement has arisen, organised by elite opposition interests in the country and now closely alligned with them. The foremost participants are given $500,000 prizes by U.S. organizations and converted into members of the opposition parties themselves.

This “student movement” is now commonly described by private media as broadly representing students in general. But let’s say you assembled, in a very large open space, all the 18-24 year-olds in full-time education in Venezuela, dressed the opposition students in blue and the revolutionaries in red, and excluded the rest. Without knowing the exact numbers, I’d expect the respective blue and red camps to be fairly equal.

Not only that, but tendencies suggest the red camp will outnumber the blue camp by around 60:40 in the next ten years. So the projection that “the students” are against Chavez and the revolution is ridiculous. Of course, the revolutionary students are more diversely spread around the country and there is no high-profile revolutionary student movement in the capital city.

The roles of both groups are different, too. Revolutionary students content themselves with merging into the general revolutionary support, whereas counter-revolutionary students are a force in themselves. They also merge into counter-revolutionary marches and so on, but their main role is acting alone. Since 2007 they’ve taken to the streets several times at high-profile moments, relieving their “seniors” of having to demonstrate more than once or twice in any serious campaign.

When you see a generalized opposition march, you can tell it’s not really in their interests to walk across the city, or congregate for hours. It’s more of a “day out” that they kind of have to participate in. Plenty of sunglasses, expensive polo shirts and the like. The opposition students, however, are more than willing to manifest their opposition alone, since they prefer to throw things, destroy infrastructure and start fires.

These “privileged students of the private universities in Caracas” were totally unknown until 2007, when they were organized to protest against constitutional reforms, one of which was the removal of presidential term limits. And now that issue is back on the table, expect to see a campaign dominated by these students, with a large opposition march in Caracas to finish, once the students have done all the dirty work. Just remember that the claim that “this is the only revolution opposed a the majority of the student population” is utterly false.