Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chavez Removes the Mask: It Will Be Dictatorship or Freedom

 

"Democracy" Under Chavez:  A National Guardsman Holds a New, or
Perhaps Very Old, Type of Weapon Known as the Garrampiño to Intimidate Protesters

A Political Meltdown in Venezuela?

Things are heating up in Venezuela in ways we have not seen before.  After revoking the broadcast license for independent television station RCTV in 2007, which removed it from the public airwaves in 2008, Hugo Chavez has now forced Venezuelan cable television services to cease providing the RCTV channel to their subscribers, along with numerous other stations he regards as threatening to his regime. This comes on the heels of his closure of some 150 radio stations who did not offer what he deems to be the proper level of support for his policies. Protests have sprouted up all over the country, though the strongest have been very large student-led demonstrations in Caracas and also in the western state of Merida, as police and national guard units have violently responded to what appears to verge on a mass uprising.  There have been at least two deaths thus far, but the situation threatens to take a turn for the worse, particularly in Merida, where a new phenomenon has emerged within the Venezuelan resistance.

In the protests in Merida, the opposition has shot back.

The demonstrations in Merida took an ugly turn Monday when protesters responded to an appearance by the pro-Chavez Tupumaro militia who joined National Guardsmen struggling to resist protesters and restrict their movements when shots felled a 16 year old Chavez supporter named Yorsinio José Carrillo Torres. Other shots ensued, with at least one volley coming from the protesters themselves, who wounded several guardsmen, one of whom was taken to intensive care. An anti-Chavista student was murdered later in the week, which Daniel Duquenal reports was likely the work of the Tupumaro acting in retaliation.

Pro-Chavez Tupumaro Militia Members in Merida Carry the Coffin of
16 year old Yorsinio José Carrillo Torres, Killed Last Monday
Source:  El Nacional

A National Guardsman Wounded in Merida is Taken to Intensive Care
Source:  El Nacional

The protests have spread across the entire country to include the states of Merida, Lara, Zulia, and more. And the results are revealing cracks among Chavez's former supporters. There have been resignations from his cabinet, forcing him to name a new Vice President and Defense Minister. With mounting protests in the state of Lara, Chavez has threatened to nationalize its police force, but its governor and former ally Henry Falcon has rejected the takeover stating that the police in the state have "for months understood the necessity of their internal transformation so as to create an ethical and responsible compromise with the people of Lara." The implications of Falcon's use of the adjectives "ethical" and "responsible" provide some indication of the internal debate which must now be taking place among Chavez's supporters; a most telling sign of the pace and direction of political change in the country.

Henry Falcon, Governor of the State of Lara and Historically
a Chavez Ally, Speaks to the Press on Friday, Rejecting
Chavez's Threat to Nationalize the Lara State Police
Source:  Noticias24.com

Student Protests in Caracas:  The Center of the Storm

The driving force behind the protests now underway all over Venezuela is clearly the activism of university students in Caracas, who have shown up every day this week to demonstrate and at times, especially last Monday, in the tens of thousands.  They are presenting a unified resistance to the closure of RCTV and their dogged, stubborn insistence upon change is igniting and emboldening anti-Chavista elements across the country.

Numbers Matter:  Caracas Students Amassed for a
Demonstration Against Closure of RCTV Earlier This Week
Source: Noticias24.com

Students Arriving for Demonstration
Source: Noticias24.com

The student demonstrations last Monday were peaceful in nature until they attempted to approach the Venezuelan communications agency offices of Conatel, when the police retaliated with tear gas and beatings to disperse them, a response that led to some of the students throwing rocks and returning the tear gas canisters in a substantial display of bravery in the face of intimidation from the regime. 

A Venezuelan Student Wearing a Gas Mask Throws
a Tear Gas Canister Back at Caracas Police Last Monday
Source: Noticias24.com

The Chavez government's retaliation against the students has begun, and it is taking various forms. Andres Bello Catholic University is practically under a state of siege at this time, and students are being arrested, detained, beaten, and otherwise harassed as they come and go from the university grounds. Chavez refers to this move as a "revolutionary action," though the rest of us might view it as simple terror. And the intimidation of student protesters has gone all the way to torture, a charge the Chavez regime has unsuccessfully denied.

Evidence of Chavez Regime Torture:  Students Injured at Hands of Venezuelan Police
My thanks to everyone at Babalú

Analysis:  Something Old, Something New

As has always been the case, it is very difficult to gauge the current political climate throughout Venezuela in terms of the impact of the closure of RCTV, the student demonstrations and larger protests around the country, and the at times brutal response of the Chavez regime. But there is now clearly something new in the mix; the opposition is becoming emboldened and for a number of reasons. RCTV has been one of the most popular television channels in the country for years, and this has as much to do with soap operas and other entertainment, i.e. "non-news," programming as anything else. Its closure cannot be viewed with satisfaction in the country by very many Venezuelans beyond the most disciplined Chavistas, an observation that is strengthened when the RCTV closure is grouped together with the other recent actions taken against hundreds of broadcast outlets in radio and television combined. And all of this is added on to the very real and serious complaints Venezuelans have with the regime for its gross mismanagement of practically all facets of the economy and public life. The students know they have an audience that is willing to listen.

But the most striking thing in my opinion is that the students themselves seem to be showing a newfound courage that leaves them optimistic about their prospects for success, and that is a little more difficult to explain. But take a look at the following photo of students within last Monday's demonstration:

Students Protesting in Caracas Last Monday
Source: Noticias24.com

It is a purely subjective observation on my part, but I make it forcefully. There is something in those smiles and bright eyes that tells me they know something we don't. As best as I can explain it, they have seen the regime unmask itself before the Venezuelan people. Chavez recently acknowledged that he is a Marxist and what we are therefore seeing, in my opinion, are the steps necessary to put aside the trappings of Democracy and to impose dictatorship in its place. The divisions among Chavez's former supporters, the geographical breadth of the protests, and the intensity and courage of Venezuelan student activism tell me that he will fail and the students know it.

Chavez is on his way out.

Around the Blogosphere

The intensity of the recent protests in Venezuela has exploded within the blogosphere and it would be impossible to track it all. But I want to take this opportunity to identify the blogs I believe will offer the most informed insight and who I believe represent some of the finest work done on Venezuela that is now out there on the web.

Alek Boyd has really led the way, being one of the first to truly nail Chavez for what he is and who I acknowledge was a great influence upon my own decision to blog Latin American leftism. Check out his most recent commentary on the Wall Street Journal "weighing in" on the meltdown of the Chavez regime. I am ever an admirer of Gustavo Coronel, who blogs in both Spanish and English. Gustavo sees the significance of Chavez's clash with the students very clearly, give "dictatorship - vs - students: the death of the Chavez nightmare" a look, along with everything else. From within Venezuela, Daniel Duquenal's Venezuela News and Views blog is one of the very best and often has some of the finest insights delivered quickly and succinctly. The "Let's Do the Math on the Gerrymander" article in the Caracas Chronciles blog is only the most recent entry, keep an eye on the site for some excellent and serious analysis. Miguel at The Devil's Excrement has been posting some very fine content. I especially recommend his take on a recent and very influential editorial by Teodoro Petkoff of Tal Cual that seems to have touched Chavez to the quick, as he is now threatening retaliation against the newspaper.

Perhaps the first of the "Freedom Bloggers" on the web were the anti-Castro Cubans and/or Cuban-Americans--I wouldn't want to misname them--and they are not missing the significance of what is going down in Venezuela. The Babalú Blog is among the best at getting out the news in a hurry and you might find them among the first at reporting. Ziva Sahl's Blog for Cuba has been tracking what is going on, frequently in Spanish but at times in English, and very much worth a good look.

Finally, for those looking for exclusively Spanish content, I always recommend Martha Colmenares, who has been posting articles from Venezuelan news sources at a rapid pace recently and who does perhaps the finest job anywhere of "covering the bases"--I don't think Venezuelans would object to a baseball analogy--when it comes to presenting a comprehensive coverage of what is transpiring in the country she loves so dearly.

I will have much more to say on Venezuela in the coming days and months ahead. These are fascinating times.

StJacques
 

19 comments:

Miguel said...

StJacques: Thank you for telling our story, very nice post. I do hope Chavez stays till 2012 to make sure the economic destruction he has caused is forever associated with him and he never comes back.

Miguel from Devil's Excrement

StJacques said...

Miguel, you are most welcome. Please feel free to contact me directly at stjacquesonline@gmail.com in the event you come across any news you feel must be circulated.

AB said...

Thanks for linking StJacques, I'll second what Miguel says, failure of such monumental proportions can only come about with a pariah like Chavez at the helm.

As per MSM weighting in: when I started in October 2002, Miguel would agree having started earlier, very little information could be found in English about what was happening. That's no longer the case, every person with a sane mind has got his number, so our task has become one of documenting what slips under the MSM radar, which is little nowadays.

SAJ said...

Hey, Saint!

Only just found your site. Excellent commentary, as always!

StJacques said...

Well lookee here! SAJ!

Great to see you stop by. I haven't been doing much at Free Republic lately because I am known to disagree with the take so many in the forum have on immigration policy, which has led the mods to frequently move my stuff off center page.

I've been a little busy though, as you can see. And I'm keeping up the good fight too.

Hope to see you again man. Tell the gang hello for me.

Roy said...

StJacques,

I arrived at your site from a link in Caracas Chronicles. There is another blog that you may want to add to your links called Caracas Gringo:

http://caracasgringo.wordpress.com/

Caracas Gringo is a sporadic blogger, in that he does not cover daily events, like some of the others. He is also not very "chatty" and his blogs do not generate much discussion. However, he seems to have some remarkable intelligence contacts. I said "seems" because he does not use references and I cannot vouch for his accuracy. However, his articles are remarkably detailed with names, dates, and figures and have the "ring of truth" to them. You may wish to take his comments with a grain of salt, but I find in his essays with some of the background on the undercurrents and internal political infighting very useful in understanding the context of the news in the press.

We here in Venenezuela appreciate anything you do to get the word out to the international community about what is happening here.

Having said that, from where I am sitting, I am not as optimistic as you about the ability of the student movement to succeed in toppling Chavez. However, they can force him to shed once and for all, his pretense of democracy, so the world can see him for the megalomaniac dictator he is. It is a start...

Martha Colmenares said...

Gracias querido amigo, por mostrar nuestra realidad como siempre de manera tan amplia.
Un gran abrazo, ya lo enlacé

StJacques said...

Reply to Roy . . .

When I wrote "Chavez is on his way out" I did not mean to suggest that the students will topple him, as I now see implied not only in your comment, but perhaps also in Miguel and AB's replies as well. I do not think the students can topple him or that the level of protests threatens this kind of action in the near future either.

What I really meant to say is that Chavez's tenure of office is definitely coming to an end with this term. "The rules of politics in Venezuela are changing" might sum up my view.

My thanks for coming to the point in your response.

And I have added Caracas Gringo to the links in my "Freedom in Latin America" section of the sidebar. I took a look and it seems to be a good read. Thank you for the tip.

StJacques

StJacques said...

Martha,

Como siempre le agradezco tu comentario.

Otro abrazo!

StJacques

Roy said...

StJacques,

"Chavez's tenure of office is definitely coming to an end with this term."

With this statement, I am afraid you don't really understand how far the situation here in Venezuela has deteriorated. I do not believe it is possible for Chavez to stay in power for nearly another three years without a radical shift towards Cubanizing the entire system. If he is still in power at the end of 2012, it will be because he has succeeded in subduing the population into submission with all the normal Communist tools and methods. If there is an election, it will be proforma only, such as the ones held regularly by Castro.

By this time, there will have been a massive exodus from Venezuela of brains, ambition, and capital (again, similar to Cuba). The remaining population will be passive and will lack the will to resist.

If this future scenario is to be avoided, something to change the current course must occur sooner rather than later.

StJacques said...

That is a very interesting take Roy and I must say that Gustavo Coronel has voiced similar opinions on several occasions.

But after witnessing what happened in Honduras recently, I am convinced that the international community will make it all but impossible for Chavez to be removed. They will pay much closer attention to Venezuela since there is so much oil wealth at stake and their positions, especially those of Brazil and Argentina, will matter.

Venezuela will be unable to remove Chavez from office, no matter how bad the situation becomes on the ground, unless they shoot him first and then face the world later.

What I really wonder about is just how much the international community will be prepared to tolerate in terms of electoral fraud, violent suppression of dissent, and the theft of Venezuelan national wealth on the part of the regime in the meantime.

Are you suggesting that a new Revocatory Referendum (Revocatorio) will be called? I doubt that, but I would love to see it.

StJacques

Roy said...

StJacques,

My crystal ball is pretty cloudy in respect to the near future for Venezuela. However, unlike Miguel Octavio, I do not believe that the status quo is sustainable, even to the elections for the National Assembly scheduled for September of this year. The level of unrest and dissatisfaction within the population is high and rising fast.

To understand the situation, you have to understand that Chavez holds the nation hostage to his threat of unleashing a wave of violence by his most fanatic followers. He regularly stokes the fires of hate and resentment of this group against "los esqualidos" and, in fact, they represent his most potent weapon. In a post on "Competing Hypotheses"

http://competinghypotheses.blogspot.com/2010/01/rctv-internacional-cut-off.html

I expounded on my idea that this is Chavez's ultimate "Deadman's Switch". Consider him like a terrorist who has a whole building full of hostages wired with explosives connected to a deadman's switch in which his thumb is on the button. You can kill the terrorist with your sniper, but in doing so, he releases his thumb from the button and you lose the building with all the hostages. So, you keep negotiating with the terrorist, while looking for a solution.

Even Chavez doesn't want to use this weapon, because once it is triggered, even he won't be able to control it. I would estimate we would see a minimum of two weeks of nation-wide rioting, looting and destruction before the military and national guard could restore order. If Chavez were no longer in command, it could be as much as three weeks because it might take longer for the military to first fight it out amongst themselves for internal control first. Anyway you play it, it is a very ugly scenario that would probably result in thousands dead and destroy much of the country's industrial capacity to produce and export petroleum.

It is natural that the most vociferous protests come from the students, since they are young, idealistic, and have the least to lose and the poorest true understanding of the consequences. (Damn, I wish I were young again!) They are ready to risk civil war and "Damn the consequences!" Within the Opposition, more sober and cautious views are carrying the day... for now.

So, the problem faced by Venezuela's Opposition is how do you defeat the terrorist and defuse the "bomb" all at the same time. Most likely, there will be no good solution.

Either, the "deadman's switch" will serve Chavez for long enough to install a Cuban style communist government, or some event (an imponderable) will occur that will set off the bomb or present an opportunity to defuse it.

As for the "international community", there is very little that they can do that would have a positive effect. Both the Obama and Bush administrations have concluded that the situation is best left alone, or at most, contained. After all, who wants to stick their nose into a situation only to have a bomb blow up in their face?

Roy said...

StJacques,

I got carried away and didn't answer your question:

No I don't think a "Referenda Revocatoria" is in the cards, or that it would work. Other bloggers, including Miguel have covered this adequately.

StJacques said...

Roy;

Wow!

That is a fascinating, and I must say believable, take on your part.

I want to think about this a bit before I comment at any great length because I can see that there is something quite valid in what you propose, but I would like to ask you a question first.

I myself have wondered whether Chavez's decision to organize the new militias in preparation for what he calls a guerra asimétrica might in fact be based on his desire to have a more politicized military wing composed of his own followers, a la Hitler's SA and SS, to confront the regular armed forces (and everyone else) in the event that actions are undertaken to remove him from power. It looked like intimidation of everyone to me; something along the lines of "back me or I'll burn down the house."

I would like to know what you think on this.

StJacques

Roy said...

StJacques,

You are giving Chavez credit for more elegant thought processes than he is capable of. The "Militias" are simply a way to put more weapons in the hands of his most fanatic thugs, thus increasing their threat.

StJacques said...

Well Chavez has been using the FARC to train these thugs and I find that to be a very alarming development. I was quite struck by the fact that, after campaigning against the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement and Plan Colombia, as well as telling Americans that they would have to develop an understanding of Latin American leftism, Barack Obama nonetheless approved a renewal of Plan Colombia along with a significant expansion of its reach.

I have been asking myself what explains Obama's change of heart and, while I do not have a full explanation, in one way or another the answer must be that he sees something much more threatening than he did during the campaign. I have never taken Chavez's threats of direct war with Colombia seriously, so when I look more closely, what I see is an attempt by Chavez to give the FARC a more "responsible" (I'm choking on this) role that will make them "players" in both Venezuelan and Colombian affairs. That would represent a threat sufficient to explain Obama's change of heart.

But what I cannot grasp sufficiently is just what Chavez intends to do with the militias in so far as they relate to the Venezuelan military. I know the Venezuelan armed forces are politicized, but I also do not believe they can be entirely counted upon to always march in lock step with Chavez, even though some are very devoted to him.

I think the threat embodied in the organization of the new militias, the increased politicization of the armed forces (Cuban commanders rising in importance), the utilization of the FARC as trainers for the new militias, and the free reign now given to thugs such as the Tupumaro by the national guard all combined to convince Obama that Chavez is becoming more and more of a real threat with each passing day.

But it is just so difficult for me to get a handle on the Venezuelan military that my toughts are all purely hypothetical. I'm trying to connect the dots, but I need more quality information.

I appreciate your input Roy.

StJacques

Roy said...

StJacques,

The original intent of the FARC connection was to actually defeat the Colombian Government. Chavez's dream was unite all of the northern countries of South American (under his command) to realize Simon Bolivar's dream of a "Gran Colombia". One of the steps on that front was to legitimize the FARC. That was the whole purpose behind all the back-channel negotiating for the release of hostages back a few years ago. Fortunately, this attempt was frustrated by some deft maneuvering on the part of Colombia. Today, the FARC is not as potent of a force as it once was, and its survival is dependent on its ability to seek sanctuary in Venezuela and Ecuador. The primary reason that Chavez so vehemently opposes the accord between the U.S. and Colombia for the use of some of Colombia's bases, is that he fears that this will lead to the U.S. being able to provide unassailable proof of his collaboration and dealings with the FARC, including weapons and drug trafficking.

The Venezuelan Military has been purged of anti-Chavista elements already, but there are different factions within Chavismo. The recent resignations of the Minister of Defense (and Vice President) and his wife, the Minister of Environment, are rumored to have been connected to a power struggle within Chavismo. The militias are not likely to present any threat to the military. Their threat is to the domestic population.

As for "connecting the dots" my suggestion is to get a bottle of scotch and some ice and start reading Caracas Gringo's blog from the beginning. Keep note of all the names and keep asking yourself, "Who benefits?".

Miguel's blog really helps understand the financial and economic angles. To understand some of the sociological and psychological angles, I recommend Daniel Duquanel's blog "Venezuela News and Views". Danial also does a superb job with election analysis.

Now, if you want to get into the "Big Picture", you have to include Cuba and its political advisers, who half been the architects of Chavez's very effective media and propaganda campaigns (both domestic and international). To truly understand the scope and power of the Chavez Media Machine, I recommend reading La Gringa's Blogicito account of the Honduran Crisis,

http://lagringasblogicito.blogspot.com/

starting at 28 June 2009. As well, the Cubans have an increasingly powerful role in the Venezuelan Intelligence and Security apparatus. It is speculated that the recent resignations also had to do with an intention to insert Cubans into key positions in the Venezuelan Military.

The bigger the picture, the murkier it gets. Obviously, Obama now knows more than he did when he was campaigning. Unfortunately, it didn't stop him and Hillary from stepping on their cranks and supporting Chavez's puppet, Zelaya, when the Honduran Government wisely moved to prevent their country from moving irrevocably into the Bolivarian/ALBA sphere of influence.

What I am trying to say is that this is a game that is being played out at many different levels. In the bigger picture, Chavez is merely one of the players in a much bigger game.

StJacques said...

Thank you Roy. I am fully aware of everything you have posted.

I am not in any way in the dark about the FARC. I lived in Colombia for a year and I saw what they can do with my own two eyes. I know their history and much more. I've even been published in Diario de America on the subject. I especially know their history very well.

Regarding the blogs you mentioned, I am only unfamiliar with lasgringasblogicito. I will check it out a little later on. I'm using Daniel Duquenal's material quite a bit right now, so I agree that his utility for political analysis is topnotch.

I must mention here that I have a source of my own, who I know to be credible, on the monitoring of Venezuelan communications from inside Colombia. Some of what I am discussing arises from my conversations with this individual and I will leave it at that.

I've got to get back to the new entry I am preparing.

StJacques

 

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