Anti Maduro protests in Venezuela

Protests have been taking place in Venezuela since early February. The root causes are lousy economic policies started under Chávez. I lean towards corruption, the gradual destruction of the country´s agricultural and industrial capacity, monetary policy which lead to high inflation and then hyperinflation, and the Exchange rate peg.

                                             Photograph: Protest in Caracas

These are all linked in a complex dance, and tend to have positive feedbacks. Thus the destruction of internal production capacity led to the need to import more. This in turn required hard currency they got from oil exports. 

                                     Chart: Oil prices from 1946 to 2013 

Chavez had plenty of money after he took over in 1999, because oil prices continued to climb (they went up about six fold from 1999 when he took over). But the government chose to keep import prices very low, and thus they fixed the currency Exchange rate to créate an extremely strong Bolívar. This in turn made local production non competetive, and thus the locals produced less, and there was more need for imports. To map out the whole process I would have to show you a dynamic model in which you can see year after year the gradual decay of the economy. This wasn´t helped by theft and corruption, and the aid Chavez was sending to Cuba and other nations to buy diplomatic cover.

But by early 2012 the economy had reached a really bad crossroads. And yet Chavez faced October 2012 elections, so they decided to borrow a lot of money (about $40 billion from China, for example), and they stopped paying their bills, or slowed down payments to get more cash in hand. So by making a huge effort at throwing money at the economy, Chavez won the election. Then he told the people the truth, he had terminal cáncer, and two months later he disappeared from view. Officially he died in March 2013. Many of us think he died months before.

Before he disappeared in December 2012 Chavez announced Maduro would replace him. Thus Maduro faced a presidential election against a very popular opposition leader, Capriles. This meant Maduro couldn´t fix the economy taking the medicine. He threw more money at the economy, it´s rumoured they even flew gold bars to China in Exchange for more loans (by then the Chinese were getting cold feet). Maduro is said to have won in April 2013, by 51 to 49 %. The opposition asked for a full audit, including the voter registers because it was suspected Maduro got the vote total rigged by having dead people vote (in Venezuela the process to remove a dead person from the voter rolls is very complex).

Thus Maduro "runs" the government from December 2012 to April 2013 throwing money and using chewing gum and bailing wire to try to get popular. Then he takes over and starts a series of really stupid moves. For example he had shut off the secondary Exchange market, SITME, and failed to provide a vehicle for businesses to get dollars to import food, medicine, spares, components, etc. As the hard currency dried up the businesses started cutting back production (for example Toyota, General motors, paper mills, bottlers, the few food packagers left). Maduro is an ex bus driver, and he seems to get conflicting advice. So inflation shot up as the shortages increased, the Price controls being ineffective to curtail inflation, but having a perverse effect by causing scarcity.

But things were going bad to worse when Maduro, facing municipal elections he wanted to have chavistas win, ordered the takeover of stores to force sales at low prices. Many of these stores were actually run by chavistas or people linked to chavistas, but by then Maduro was desperate. In some cases people didn´t wait for the army to take over the stores, so they got looted.

Photograph: Store being looted in late 2013, 
prior to municipal elections (from nuevoherald.com)

By early december the bulk of store and warehouses were nearly empty. But the populace was happy with the cheap junk they got. And thus Maduro´s party got to win a majority of the popular vote. BUT the reds lost all the major cities, except for the Libertador disctrict in Caracas (Caracas has five metropolitan districts, each has a mayor and its own police force, etc).

And this left the country in a funny situation, opposition mayors controling all the major cities. But the government controlled most of the media, started cutting off print to newspapers, and threatened journalists if there was any reporting which went contrary to their line. 

They also control the army, the national guard, the courts, most police forces, secret police, and have tens of thousands of Cubans embedded in Venezuela, which function as anything from medical personnel to supervisors in notaries, as well as control the issue of government issue ID cards and Passports. 

It has been reported they  have people embedded in the military control structure and in the secret police (I can´t confirm this but  the type of Spanish used by government officials has changed and includes many Cuban terms and sentence construction as if they had spent a lot of time with Cubans).

But all of this would have left people incredibly pissed off but not doing much, until there was a small spark in San Cristóbal in Tachira. San Cristóbal has an opposition mayor. The opposition got 70 % of the vote in that particular region during the presidential election. Why? because it´s close to the Colombian border. People there, and I mean everybody, has been gaining from cross border smuggling. They take a bag of flour sold for $1 equivalent in Venezuela, and go over the border into Colombia and sell it to a Colombian wholesaler for $10. The government started cutting off the flow of food, medicine and fuels to the region around San Cristóbal. This caused hunger and a lot of anger. And the angry people included everybody in those towns.

So the stage was set. In Early February there was an atempted rape on campus in San Cristóbal. The girl managed to escape, but the student organization started a protest asking for more cops on campus. It was as simple as that. The National Guard commander was a chavista thug. He knew that town was opposition, and he responded with brute force. There were quite a few people beaten on camera, and six students were arrested.

                                      Photograph: San Cristobal protests turn ugly 

These guys in San Cristóbal are tough. They are the Venezuelan version of the West Texans. People who have their own culture (they are isolated from Caracas and other cities by the Andes or by jungle like áreas full of FARC and thieves). So the protests escalated and it got really nasty.

The student movement in Caracas had planned a protest on February 12th, the Day of the Student in Venezuela. But given the arrests and repression in San Cristóbal they added a move to deliver a demand to the Interior Minister to reléase the prisoners taken in that town. The protest went to the Interior Ministry. It was massive because Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader asked for the people to protest that day and ask for the release of the prisoners and for the government to fix the street crime and lack of food.

AFTER the main protest had dissolved, around 2 PM, a large group of students was walking home in a low middle class área called La Candelaria when they found their way barred by National Guard. Gradually they were all herded in a small sector. All the exits were blocked by National GUardsmen. And these guardsmen allowed a group of shooters (which later was confirmed by the government were secret police agents) to enter the streets where the students were wandering around looking for a way out. The shooting started and they killed one student right on camera.

            Photograph: Basil da Costa, student shot in the head during protest (from infobae.com)

They wounded a few more, and also killed a communist leader called Juan Montoya.I think the purpose of the ambush and the shooting was to kill Juan Montoya, known as a collective leader and also known as Commander Muchachi, leader of the Comandos Carapaica. This guy had already expressed his disapproval of the ongoing corruption. So I suspect Maduro had him killed. Maduro needs to make moves, and a heavily armed bunch of communists running around inside Caracas cant be allowed. So he decapitated that organization. 

(Note: As I write this, I hear Juan Montoya-led collective has organized  an intra-regime protest movement, they are objecting  to Maduro´s decision not to hold internal party elections. But Maduro´s behavior is steered by the Cubans, and I´m sure they won´t allow dissidence within party ranks. The troublemakers who want Maduro to follow party rules will be eliminated.) 

The murders on February 12th  got people pissed off (I think that shooting was a cover, they had to kill at least one more person, that student was shot very neatly with a single bullet in the back of the head). Thus the protests increased. And the government started a wave of repression by unleashing the National Guard, but even worse, they unleashed the Colectivos. These colectivos are like Hitler´s Brown shirts. They are civilians, armed by Chavez with weapons ranging from 9 mm automatics to fully automatic assault rifles (the Carapaica commandos even displayed a rocket launcher in one of their videos).

                                    Photograph: Armed colectivo (biker gang) members 
                                    preparing  to attack protesters (el Comercio, Peru) 

The human rights abuses are a mix of actions, about one third are national guard and police. About two thirds are Brown shirts or biker gangs. The government calls for the Brown shirts to act (this includes a call by Maduro on national TV to "put out the flame" by the "organizations and collectives"). The Venezuelan people also understand Maduro is a puppet and the repression is ordered by Raul Castro. This elevates the anger, and even chavistas hate the idea that Venezuelan may be turning into a Cuban colony.

                                           Photograph: Anti Cuban protest 

Thus things have escalated. The wave of terror is bad. People are holed up in their houses, and now the regime´s brown shirts and security agents  are going inside and dragging people out. There people are taken away and nobody knows for sure how many or where they are taken.

Opposition leaders have been arrested using trumped up or unlawful charges, and the government-controlled "Supreme Court" has been re-writing the constitution at will. The following quote summarizes very well what´s going on: 

"As for Venezuela, things are getting worse. Not only worse in the sense of current events, but also in the sense that the Maduro Government has decided to do away with all semblance of democracy and in one swipe, it has extended the tenure of the members of the Electoral Board indefinitely. Recall that their terms expired a year ago, but now the Supreme Cort, using the same lack of judicial basis that allowed Maduro to become President, while Chávez was still alive, has decided they can stay there forever. Thus, Maduro and Chavismo have wiped their you know what with the 2000 Constitution, as we now have a Comptroller with an expired term by some three years, Supreme Cort Justices by one to two years and the all important Electoral Board by a year and counting. They could be there forever, as far as Chavismo is concerned."
from the Devil´s Excrement: Maduro tightens the noose...

Let me point out something else I see going on: many left wing and “progressives” outside Venezuela have chosen to maintain support for this despicable regime. I read and hear the same arguments over and over. What´s going on is a US inspired coup, the opposition is a small minority of upper class Venezuelans, Chavez reduced poverty, and the media has a campaign against poor Maduro. Their attitude is cowardly, inmoral, and yet so human. The links below show you some of the garbage they like to write: 

Popular Resistance´s Kevin Zeese defends Maduro

Mark Weisbrot writes pro Maduro garbage at the Guardian

Michigan´s George Ciccariello spews pro Maduro venom at Democracy Now

Daily Kos´s Cindy Casella defends Maduro by quoting Eva Golinger, Maduro´s "Tokyo Rose"

If they bothered to learn, they would see that conditions in Venezuela are bad enough to inspire protests, that things wouldn´t have got out of hand if the regime didn´t shoot protesters, that yes, Chavez reduced poverty, but this was thanks to the huge windfall he got from high oil prices,  that the English media doesn´t cover even 10 % of the shenanigans Maduro is pulling in Venezuela……why the hell don´t they bother to read what Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the other NGO´s and human rights groups are expressing about Venezuela? Or do they only bother when the abuses are being committed by the likes of Pinochet and Franco? I got news for you, buddies…Maduro is stupid, but he´s also brutal, I don´t think Pinochet nor Franco are nearly as bad as Maduro. I would say Maduro is a mixture of Fulgencio Batista and Joseph Stalin.

Venezuelans are for the most part a mild mannered people. They are just shooting videos of people getting dragged to jail by Maduro´s police,  and then they cry and make phone calls and get interviewed by foreign correspondents who do manage to get through. Many are just packing and leaving. 

When I consider what I have seen, this is still a D movie. Santa Clara, where I lived when we overthrew Batista was  C. Baghdad when the US invaded is  B. Dresden and Guernica  A.

It can get worse. But I don´t think it will. I see the current terror wave as a means to impose Maduro´s will (and therefore the Cuban´s will) on the population. This will lead to a mass exodus. THus the whole thing may have been planned and encouraged. Maybe this is just a slight variation of  ethnic cleansing,  we could call it a sociopolitical ethnic cleansing campaign.

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