There’s plenty to fear in Venezuela these days. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
After a year without Chávez, is Venezuela unraveling?
Carl Meacham CNN USA March 6, 2014
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Editor’s note: Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (@CSIS) in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
This week, amidst political turmoil that has gripped the country and left more than a dozen dead and hundreds more injured and detained, Venezuela commemorated the passing of President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was best known for his “Bolivarian Revolution,” through which he pursued aggressive, state-centered approaches to alleviate the social, political, and economic challenges facing Venezuela. And by some metrics he was successful – between 2004 and 2012, the country’s poverty rate halved, and literacy and access to healthcare increased substantially.
But Chávez also left behind a country deeply divided along political and socioeconomic lines, one suffering from skyrocketing crime and violence and bogged down by economic instability. Is his successor, Nicolás Maduro, now reaping the seeds of discontent sown by Chavismo?
Regardless of what the U.S. does, it’s clear that what began as a series of student demonstrations in Venezuela has, over the course of just a few weeks, grown into a protracted conflict, splintering the country and spilling blood – and Maduro’s ineffective response to the protests, and the genuine opposition they represent, has allowed for the development of an increasingly complex crisis with ever more grim prospects.
But with the global community understandably focused on Ukraine, there is a risk that Venezuelan protestors’ concerns will fall on deaf ears. True, Russian involvement in the Ukraine – and the implications that carries for U.S. foreign policy – makes that crisis an inherently global one. Yet as the Ukraine destabilizes Eastern Europe, so too does Venezuela destabilize the Western Hemisphere.
The reality is that energy, human rights and regional stability are all on the line right now. Sadly, with most of the world’s attention focused elsewhere, it’s increasingly likely that for now at least the political crisis and injustice currently tormenting Venezuela will continue – and that Venezuelans’ plight will go largely unnoticed.
Below: Eva Golinger, winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009), named “La Novia de Venezuela” by President Hugo Chávez, is an attorney and writer from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela since 2005 and author of the best-selling books…. Since 2003, Eva, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and CUNY Law School in New York, has been investigating, analyzing and writing about US intervention in Venezuela using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information about US Government efforts to undermine progressive movements in Latin America. Her first book, The Chávez Code, has been translated and published in 8 languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Farsi & Turkish) and is presently being made into a feature film.
“A TRIBUTE — CHAVEZ: A Giant Under the Moon”
Eva Golinger Postcards from the Revolution Venezuela March 6, 2014
A year has passed since the physical parting of Hugo Chavez and it’s still impossible to accept. His voice was a constant in revolutionary Venezuela, his discourse was a school in continuous development. A humble man with a noble soul, Chavez had the courage of warriors and a heart filled with patriotism. He defied the most powerful interests without ever flinching. His hand never trembled, he never bowed down, he was always firm with serenity and conviction, ready to confront the most powerful threats. His value was immense, a soldier of the people, a giant of centuries. Knowing him was a privilege and a priceless treasure.
Chavez had an impact on the world, leaving his fingerprint in struggles and dreams of social justice, from north to south. His legacy is transcontinental, without borders. “Chavez” translates to a symbol of dignity in all languages.
I had the honor of accompanying him on several of his international trips. I witnessed the massive support he received on almost every continent. His mere presence inspired millions. He represented the dreams of so many struggles, so many commitments to humanity, and he proved that another world is possible.
All around the world people ran to see him up close, anxious to hear his words full of hope, simple yet full of profound intimacy. Chavez breathed love, and although millions received him with open arms, there were always dangerous threats around him. He was unpredictable, always a step ahead. Washington called him a “wise competitor”, and coming from the US government that wasn’t only a compliment, but evidenced his grandeur. Not even the empire could control him.
Below: Danny Glover is board member of the TransAfrica Forum. James Counts Early is a member of the political committee of the Regional Articulation of Afro-Descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean, and a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Hugo Chavez Frias: In memory, solidarity, commitment to participatory democracy and justice in peace
Danny Glover and James Counts Early Truthout USA March 6, 2014
Visit this page for its related links.
A year after the death of Hugo Chávez Frías, we take time to reflect about his life, his virtues and limitations, his public promises, achievements and unfinished work. Chávez was a bold thinker, uncompromising in his goal of constructing a new, just, economically productive Venezuela.
On March 5, 2014, the government of Venezuela and millions of Venezuelan citizens, joined by many thousands around the world, including heads of state, commemorated the first anniversary of the death of Hugo Chávez Frías. We also will take time to reflect about his life, his virtues and limitations, his public promises, achievements, and unfinished work. At the invitation of the Venezuelan people and government, we joined the commemorations in Caracas, will meet with President Nicolas Maduro and Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, and will make a special visit to talk with Afro-Venezuelan communities in Barlovento about their cooperative economic projects.
We met Chávez for the first time in 2003 in Caracas on an invitational visit of the TransAfrica Forum Board, then chaired by Danny and directed by Bill Fletcher Jr., to participate in the inauguration of the Bolivarian Martin Luther King Jr. School in the coastal town of Naiguata, where large numbers of Venezuelans of African descent live. Our visit also coincided with the launch of official recognition of King’s birthday as a national day of celebration in Venezuela.
We became deeply interested and supportive of his vision and projects to manifest a secure national sovereignty and self-determination project that would foster formulation and implementation of profoundly new forms of democratic participation and material development. We bonded with Chávez in mutual interest and determination to confront racism; overcome a lack of education, health care and employment; and support political participation of the masses of impoverished, marginalized, alienated Venezuelans.
We will forever remember Chávez as we do King and Mandela in their bold convictions about justice, in their deep courage against great destructive powers and in their human foibles that nevertheless led social movements and governance policies that inspired and improved the lives of their societies and the world. And we ask you to do so also, but to do so by critically taking up solidarity with the Venezuelan and Latin American and Caribbean peoples and their governments that in memory of Hugo Chávez Frías are still inspired by his leadership and sincerely strive to improve their democracy, their self-determination and sovereignty, and their material and spiritual well-being.
Venezuela protests: Two dead in barricades clash
Associated Press/Guardian USA/UK March 7, 2014
A National Guardsman and a civilian have been killed in Caracas after a group of men on motorcycles rode into a neighbourhood to remove a street barricade erected by anti-government protesters.
The clash that erupted on Thursday in the mixed industrial and residential district of Los Ruices heightened tensions on the same day the Venezuelan government expelled foreign diplomats for the second time in a month.
More than 100 men on motorcycles carrying pipes and rocks swarmed Los Ruices, with some trying to force their way into buildings. Residents screamed “murderers, murderers” from rooftops and the motorcyclists taunted them from below, urging them to come down and fight.
Venezuelans fed up with food shortages and unchecked violence have been staging nearly daily street protests since mid-February, snarling traffic with barricades of rubbish, furniture and burning tyres. According to government figures, at least 21 people have been killed in related violence in the country’s worst unrest in years.
President Nicolás Maduro’s administration shows no signs of crumbling from the demonstrations, but the country appears in a stalemate. Protesters are mostly from the middle and upper classes, although they do include poorer Venezuelans who don’t protest in their home districts for fear of pro-government paramilitaries.
The mayor of the Caracas district of Sucre, Carlos Ocariz, said residents of Los Ruices reported hearing gunshots after motorcyclists began dismantling the barricades. Some apartment residents began banging pots and throwing down bottles in anger, he said. In the melee, a 24-year-old motorcycle taxi driver was shot dead.
“I’m not going to be irresponsible and accuse anyone,” Ocariz said. “I condemn the violence and the shots must be investigated, but I also reject the brutal repression of security forces.”
When National Guardsmen arrived to secure the area, a 25-year-old sergeant was shot through the neck and killed. Ocariz said that, according to district police, who report to him, in both cases the men’s wounds seemed to indicate the shots came from above.
There have already been almost 3,000 murders in Venezuela since the start of the year
Roberto A. Ferdman Quartz Canada March 8, 2014
Visit this page for its embedded links.
While protests ravage Venezuela’s streets, murders continue to climb in its back alleys.
In the first two months of 2014 (link in Spanish) 2,841 people were murdered, a more than 10% jump from the same period last year, when 2,576 murders were registered. Homicides have grown almost systematically of late in Venezuela. …
During Hugo Chavez’s reign, and since his death last year, the murders have gotten so out of hand that the government created a new armed force to help improve public security. It even stopped publishing homicide data altogether. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) now tracks the data, much to the chagrin of Chavez and his successor, president Nicolas Maduro. The government has countered with its own numbers, widely derided as bogus, which, for example, suggest that they in fact reduced the number of homicides by almost 20% last year.
Venezuela’s growing homicide problem doesn’t boil down to one factor, but instead several. Among them: The country’s growing poverty rate; rampant corruption; high levels of gun ownership; and a failure to punish murderers (91% of the murders go unpunished, according to the Institute for Research on Coexistence and Citizen Security).
Protest stymied after Venezuelan diplomatic win
Fabiola Sanchez Associated Press/ABC News USA March 8, 2014
CARACAS, Venezuela – In a major show of force, hundreds of National Guardsmen in riot gear and armored vehicles prevented an “empty pots march” from reaching Venezuela’s Food Ministry on Saturday to protest now-chronic food shortages.
President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, meanwhile, celebrated an Organization of American States declaration supporting its efforts to bring a solution to the country’s worst political violence in years, calling it a diplomatic victory. The United States, Canada and Panama were the only nations to oppose the declaration.
“The meddling minority against Venezuela in the OAS, Panama, Canada and the U.S., is defeated in a historic decision that respects our sovereignty,” government spokeswoman Delcy Rodriguez tweeted.
Late Friday in Washington, the OAS approved a declaration that rejected violence and called for justice for the 21 people the government says have died since Feb. 12 in street protests. The declaration offered “full support” for a government peace initiative that the opposition has refused to join until dozens of jailed protesters and an opposition leader are freed.
Twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the declaration after 15 hours of debate spread over two days. After Panama sought discussion of the crisis in the body, Venezuela broke off relations and expelled its ambassador and three other diplomats.
The objections from Washington and Panama attached to the declaration were longer than the declaration itself. They argued that it violated OAS rules by taking sides.
“The OAS cannot sanction a dialogue in which much of the opposition has no voice and no faith,” according to the U.S. objection. “Only Venezuelans can find the solutions to Venezuela’s problems, but the situation in Venezuela today makes it imperative that a trusted third party facilitate the conversation as Venezuelans search for those solutions.”
Venezuela says near $1bn debt to Panama fraudulent
Associated Press/ABC News USA March 9, 2014
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s foreign minister says 90 percent of his government’s $1 billion debt to Panama is fraudulent and criminal charges are likely to result.
Elias Jaua says the government paid businessmen dollars for the imports and the goods never arrived. So Panama isn’t owed 90 percent of the debt.
Jaua’s comments broadcast Sunday on the Televen television station on Sunday come after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro broke relations with Panama last week over its call for the Organization of American States to discuss a crackdown on protests in Venezuela. He also froze economic transactions.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said he hopes Venezuela’s break in relations would not affect payment of its debts to Panamanian businessmen.
Joe Biden describes situation in Venezuela as ‘alarming’
Ed Pilkington and Chris Taylor in New York Guardian UK March 9, 2014
Vice-president Joe Biden says people of the Americas are tired of fighting old ideological battles. Photo: MCT/Landov/Barcroft Media
Vice-President Joe Biden has given a stark assessment of the ongoing unrest in Venezuela, accusing President Nicolás Maduro of widespread human rights violations and saying the situation reminded him of Latin America’s troubled and violent past.
In a written interview with El Mercurio of Chile, where Biden arrived on Sunday at the start of his seventh official visit to the region, he called the unstable situation in Venezuela “alarming” and said the Caracas government lacked even basic respect for human rights.
“Confronting peaceful protesters with force and in some cases armed militias, limiting freedom of the press and assembly […] is not in line with the solid standards of democracy that we have in most of our hemisphere. The situation in Venezuela reminds me of past times, when strongmen governed using violence and oppression; human rights, hyperinflation, shortages and extreme poverty ravaged the peoples of the hemisphere,” Biden wrote, according to the Spanish translation published by El Mercurio.
For several weeks, Venezuela has been racked by clashes between government soldiers and student protesters backed by middle class Venezuelans disgruntled by extreme inflation and food shortages. Maduro has laid blame for the unrest against far-right provocateurs, the implication being that the US is fomenting the trouble.
In his El Mercurio interview, Biden disputed the claim, riposting that Maduro was trying “distract his people from the most important issues that are in play in Venezuela by inventing totally false and outlandish conspiracies about the United States. Instead of that, he should listen to the Venezuelan people, and to look to the example of those leaders who resisted oppression in the Americas, or risk repeating the injustices they fought against so bravely.”
He added a frank admission that previous US administrations had been propelled by the struggle against the Soviet Union to side with “leaders who do not share our values” – a reference to the backing given by Ronald Reagan and other US presidents to reactionary paramilitary groups and military governments across Latin America. …
He went on: “We recognise that some hangovers of the cold war remain, so that suspicion goes with the territory. But most people in the Americas are tired of fighting old ideological battles that don’t help their daily lives at all.”