|"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
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
|Students Arriving for Demonstration|
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
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|
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.