Stop blaming the USA for the protests in Venezuela

Melissa Ayesterán is a Venezuelan living in the UK. Her article below is a response to an article written by Christopher McMahon on Venezuela earlier this week.

What an innocent, uninformed and one-sided article written in complete disregard for the current problems that Venezuelans face every day, which are the cause and constant fuel to the unrest. I understand the author may have fallen prey to the leftist propaganda that has been so well received by academics this side of the Atlantic in the past, but I would still expect some sort of fact-checking and respect before publishing such a deluded Chavez-loving piece.

These are student protests, from all straits of society. The rich and “old political elites” in Venezuela are now the people in government who have become offensively rich while the country is spiralling out of control. Inflation has now reached 56%, scarcity of basic goods such as flour, cooking oil, toilet roll, nappies, hygiene products, etc. is rampant and insecurity is now close to unbearable. An attempted rape in a university campus sparked a wave of protests that now encompasses all the demands of the people. Yes, middle class is a major part of these protests. Funny how they are demonised; it would be interesting to see the author of the article try to use public transport in Caracas or attempt to do his weekly shop in a supermarket in a provincial area, let alone walk down the street at night.

The old anti-USA propaganda is now comedic, as they are the ones buying our oil and actually paying market rate for it (unlike Cuba for example). Maduro has now reached out to Obama and asked him to participate in peace talks, instead of acknowledging the thousands (yes thousands) of people calling for the disarmament of paramilitary groups. He has, however, invited people to dance for Carnival and for the ‘colectivos’ to protect the peace. A ‘colectivo’ is an armed group that openly supports and defends the revolution, scaring people off the street with guns and destroying everything that crosses their path. Over 12 deaths in the past 3 weeks of protests, Maduro has not condemned the ‘colectivos’ but the unarmed protesters. There are countless videos and photos that prove the excessive violence that the National Guard and the ‘colectivos’ have used to repress protests, or even to keep people in their homes. You talk about a few tricked pictures online, I can tell you that my family and friends have had to run away from violent groups, and even turned lights off so that the ‘colectivos’ do not think they are home and start shooting. They have destroyed cars, fences, gone into private student halls and thrown tear gas inside the buildings. I’d like to see the author of the article agree with something like this happening in the UK.

Social media has played a major role in the protests, as the national channels have all been censored, even privately owned ones, have now been silenced by the government. On the 12th of February, while protesters were being chased away by groups of armed thugs in motorbikes, national TV stations showed cookery shows and soap operas. A complete media blackout that left Venezuelans in the dark (more than normal, as power cuts affect the country regularly) and made Twitter the best tool for protesters to post real time information about the situation. The government also tried to block Twitter, and has tried to pump as much pro-regime propaganda as possible in the state-led TV stations -which is most of them- while it is expelling from the country the only stations reporting on the real situation: NTN24, a Colombian station, was pulled off the air for their coverage of the protests, and CNN had briefly their permits revoked and its reporters chased out of the country. Their permits have now been reinstated. Kicking CNN out does not uphold the democratic facade that the Chavista government needs in the international scene. Many international reporters and cameramen have reported abuses and have even been robbed of their equipment. I sincerely do not understand how the writer can agree with a government’s threat to freedom of speech, and I wonder how he would react if David Cameron decided he did not like any television shows that portrayed him in a bad light.

The abuse by the ‘colectivos’ under the complicit gaze of the National Guard has included arbitrary detentions, excessive violence and torture. Many NGOs have denounced the shocking situation of human rights in Venezuela, finally getting the attention of international media. Sadly, some people will read the one-sided view expressed by some academics still hypnotised by the utopia that was the Venezuelan revolution. In 2013, one person died every 27 minutes in Venezuela, which is the equivalent of a 747 plane crashing every week, 52 weeks a year. In a country where there is no civil war, it is not about two armed sides fighting, it is about one side protesting for a better quality of life with rocks, tree trunks to block the streets and pots and pans to make noise; against the military, economic and political might of the government, along with paramilitary armed groups and their international accomplices who support this monstrosity.

How contradictory it is to be a socialist in Venezuela today: live lavishly, drive a hummer, fly in private planes and not worry about insecurity as your bodyguards and armoured cars will not let reality touch you. Chavez increased the budget for the Presidency (personal care for him and his family, including travels and donations) by 638% from 2009 to 2010 alone. After 15 years of complete power and control of all institutions in the country (including the oil industry and the biggest proven oil reserves in the world), how is it that our economy is not in better shape? Blaming the USA is a farce and an easy way out when all the indicators point more towards a society in shambles, than to a socialist paradise.

7 responses to “Stop blaming the USA for the protests in Venezuela”

  1. Marian says:

    Such oposites points of view… however, this one seem more realistic and down to earth. I really hope venezuelans find their way out of this goverment.

  2. Christopher McMahon says:

    I’d like to point out that I didn’t call Venezuela a socialist paradise. I am aware that the current protests reflect discontent over inflation, product shortage and the crime rate. I wanted to highlight that aggressive parts of the protest that are really driving for regime change are closely linked to the US, through US funding and US attempts to destabilise the government. You can’t place sole blame for the violence on the colectivos that you talk about, there’s reports of opposition groups lining up barbed wire at neck level. The dead deserve justice no matter what side they were on. You also mentioned family and friends and I hope they are alright.
    I aimed to highlight how there is an effort by the US to destabilise Venezuela for the purpose of regime change and that will be driving aggressive aspects of these protests. On the part of the US it’s a definite attempt to remove a party that made a huge reduction to poverty, and an even bigger reduction to extreme poverty, since it came to power. I just believe that Venezuela can better tackle its issues based on the legitamacy of the majority and that the US involvment I talked about works against that. Supporting pro-US elements may very well see a return to the neoliberal era of rule when under Caldera for example inflation ran at over 100%. Problems like inflation aren’t exclusive to the current government. Because of how close the 2013 election was I think the different political groups in Venezuela should work to hold another election soon in an attempt to restore order and allow people to get on with their lives.

    • Sinai says:

      It’s not a question of who is fueling the protest (US, Obama or who knows!) . The goal is to give back to Venezuelans a normal and human life! It is easy to talk about USA financial support, and reduction of poverty during Chavismo when ones grown up in Europe, and never had suffered shortage, insecurity or violence. A new government surely would not solve immediately the difficult socio-political issues in the country, but Venezuelans deserve a better life, freedom and hope in the future. So if I were you I would spare my comments  about a such complex economical and political situation without knowing all the faces of the subject. 

    • Melissa Ayesterán says:

      Christopher: “The political groups in Venezuela should work to hold another election soon”? I am sorry but your comment proves that you are completely out of touch with the reality of my country. The government does not even acknowledge the existence of the massive groups asking for change and demanding to be heard, only referred to as murderers, nazi-fascists, or as violent outbreaks from the ‘putrid extreme-right’. You say you recognise the dire economical situation, such as 56% inflation, but then also mention ‘the huge reduction to poverty’. Do you see the contradiction? How does someone on minimum wage or below afford the basics for their family? Reduction of poverty does not mean a bigger and more prosperous middle class, it means that people in the barrios now have flatscreen TVs and access to subsidised food, but they are still poor. The government has improved by some degree the condition in the barrios, but it has not taken anyone out of poverty. The size of the barrios has not decreased, on the contrary, it has expanded now to bigger areas. The reality is that it has reduced and choked the middle classes reducing it now to the emaciated layer of society it is today. Ask yourself: if your livelihood depended on a specific government, would you vote against them? It is not about social benefits, it is about a perverse patronage aid system subject to a specific political support, with the purpose of maintaining a social control that will allow them to retain power indefinitely. And I say this with the knowledge that some of my family members and friends have had to participate in pro-governement rallies because if they don’t, they’ll lose their jobs (some in the past 2 weeks). 

      You keep mentioning the USA’s thirst for our oil, why have they not come in and taken it already like they have in other countries? We are a lot closer, we have an extensive coastline, our armed forces hardly represent an obstacle for them and our roads are in a terrible state, therefore hindering the free movement of troops and defence groups. Do you know why multinational companies have not left Venezuela? Chevron, Procter & Gamble, Telefonica and others? Because the substantial oil revenues allows them to enjoy a immense liquidity and amass income regardless of their strategy, efficiency or productivity. Venezuela’s economy is too profitable for these companies to leave. Our socialist policies only touch social and international propaganda, but the practical reality is that capitalism is still alive and well.

      I agree, the 25,000 violent deaths in 2013 alone deserve justice, it is unfortunate that only 3% of these get followed up by the authorities.

      Because of your initial argument, I can tell you have watched the documentary “The revolution will not be televised”. I suggest that you also watch “The revolution will not be televised: radiography of a lie”, and maybe also have a read at the following link: I can also recommend the book “The Silence and the Scorpion” by Brian Nelson. I would like to think this will give you a more balanced view. To conclude, it is clear that your opinion has been formed solely from pro-governement media, I am just trying to give you some facts as someone who has lived and breathed the events. Let me know if you want to discuss this further.

    • MARGARITAGAL says:

      OH Yeah, RIGHT!…What planet are you on? You are not living thru the chaos here…TRY AND HOLD ELECTIONS!!!  HAH!!!

      The US should butt out and take it’s $$ with it!! No more oil from Vzla! Take their FORDS, Hummers and Chevies and let the people drive Russian or Iranian cars!!

      The gov’t here wants it all ways in its favor! Look up the definition of FASCIST and tell me what you see! Fear tactics are not going to work any more! The students protesting today grew up knowing only Chavismo! They learned from the master, PATRIA O MUERTO!! COUNTRY OR DEATH and these kids are willing to put their lives on the line to protect their country, their Constitution, their rights, their FUTURE. 

  3. I agree with the authors assertion that Maduro’s “blame everything on the U.S.” attitude is unconvincing. Equally true is the authors description of censorship and violence committed by the Chavista groups. Nobody can doubt the level of violence committed in Venezuela, but it should be noted that violence is being committed by BOTH sides (thousands of hours of video footage can be found online supporting this). It wasn’t long ago that Cuban doctors (including some friends of mine – and I have friends on both sides) found themselves attacked and their health clinics burned to the ground for their perceived support of the “Bolivarian Revolution”.

    Whilst I feel the authors frustration (the “bolivarian revolution” seems to be intent on turning the country into an economic pariah like Cuba). But I also appreciate the extraordinary polarisation in Venezuelan society. Being an external observer affords me a certain objectivity not found amongst my pro-Chavista and anti-Chavista friends in (or tellingly, out of) Venezuela. The calling of some protesters for the resignation of Maduro is dangerous for everyone and the democratic process in Venezuela should be preserved at all costs (ultimately for the benefit of everybody on both sides). The alternative: chaos and potentially civil war based along class lines. 

    Whilst much of the western media (and for that matter most middle class Venezuelans) would have you believe that Maduro is clinging to power without a supporter in the world, we should remember that whilst Maduro and his United Socialist Party are undoubtedly losing support fast in urban Venezuela (evidenced having lost municipal elections in places like Caracas, Valencia etc) – it should be remembered that the socialists won municipal elections in the country overall by a convincing 10% margin just four months ago! This is hardly an anomaly and we equally shouldn’t forget that socialists have won 18 of the last 19 elections in the country since 1998 (elections by the way which have been consistently deemed as free and fair by international monitors, including the UN).

    Essentially, Venezuela is a deeply divided society along class lines and there is little middle ground between the left and right in a country with enormous economic inequality. Where do we go from here? I believe that protesters should channel their efforts into winning 2015’s National Assembly seats and garnishing enough support to recall Maduro as president in 2016 (half way through his term as the constitution permits). Furthermore they should take a leaf out of Capriles’ book by looking to work with the government on issues such as law and order.    

  4. […] across Latin America. The Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro, blames his country’s problems (including the well documented recent protests) on the greedy Yankees who are hell bent on toppling his government and getting their hands on […]