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Lula Backs Maduro and the Region Debates UNASUR vs. OAS Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Friday, 28 February 2014 11:48

On Wednesday, Brazilian ex-president Lula Da Silva spoke out regarding recent events in Venezuela:

I think that in the first place, Venezuela needs peace and tranquility, so that it can recover all its potential insofar as creating wealth and well-being for its people. All Venezuelans, both pro-government and opposition supporters, should understand that a country can only grow and develop with a lot of peace, with a lot of dialogue. [President Nicolás] Maduro has the best intentions; he wants to give his best for Venezuela.

These remarks come just a day after two other statements from Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff commented on Venezuela’s “advances …in terms of education and health for its people” and a representative of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said that he sees the situation as one in which “the principle of non-interference must be respected.”

As we have noted, Brazil has not been the only country in the region to make statements in support of President Maduro, but there remains the question of which multilateral forum would most effectively allow for a fair and representative consideration of the situation in Venezuela.  The Venezuelan government itself has, in statements made by Foreign Minister Elías Jaua, indicated its support for UNASUR over the OAS.  The Venezuela representative there, Ambassador Roy Chaderton, has blocked, for the time being, a special request by Panama’s representative to the OAS who had called for a meeting on Venezuela while the president of the Permanent Council was absent.

Uruguay’s foreign minister Luis Almagro said in a press conference that his government agrees with Venezuela that UNASUR would be the preferred forum:  “UNASUR has been the natural arena for addressing these regional issues.  If we have the possibility of a request [for discussion] at UNASUR, for us that would be fine.” Most of the region, especially South America, recognizes that the United States has too much power in the OAS, because of its disproportionate funding and control over the bureaucracy, as well as a few allied right-wing governments.  That is one of the reasons that Latin America created CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations), which excludes the U.S. and Canada, and also UNASUR, in recent years.

 
New York Times Corrects False Statement on Venezuela Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Thursday, 27 February 2014 15:29

Kudos to the New York Times for correcting its error regarding TV media in Venezuela.  I had written about this error here on Monday (Feb 24).  It was an important mistake--the Times had led its Friday report with this statement:

“The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.”

The Timescorrection reads:

Correction: February 26, 2014 

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Globovision. Before its sale last year, it broadcast more voices critical of the Venezuelan government than any other TV station, but it was not the only one to regularly feature government critics.

It sure wasn’t, and it still isn’t during the current protests, as documented here.  This is important because the opposition leadership is trying to say that they are living under a dictatorship, and they are justifying their demands for the overthrow of a democratically elected government on this basis.

Many other news outlets have made the same error in reporting on the TV media in Venezuela.  Hopefully they will be more accurate in the future.

Many thanks to Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy and the nearly 13,000 people who quickly signed a petition to the New York Times asking for this correction.

People often ask what they can do to change U.S. foreign policy, and one important thing that almost anyone with an internet connection can do is hold the media accountable for these kinds of misrepresentations.  On the one hand, the mass media can play a huge role in legitimating terrible crimes, as in the run-up to the Iraq War, which cost more than a million lives and probably wouldn’t have happened if the media had done its job.  On the other hand, there are thousands of reporters and editors who are trying to do their job and adhere to basic journalistic standards of accuracy and balance.  Readers and listeners can help them do this.

Now, what about the Committee to Protect Journalists?  Their statement was more outrageously false than the one corrected by the Times: "Nearly all TV stations in Venezuela are either controlled or allied with the government of Nicolás Maduro and have ignored the nationwide protests."

Will they correct it?  Ask them.

 
OAS Meeting Called for Tomorrow; Brazil Defends “Non-Interference” Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 14:28

Yesterday the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that a meeting of the Permanent Council, would take place Thursday morning at 9:30 EST. It now appears that the meeting has been postponed, or that it may not occur at all, as a result of objections presented by Venezuela based on the OAS’ internal directives. The meeting would “consider the request of Panama to convene a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs to consider the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” It would take 18 votes in favor of Panama’s request for the extraordinary session to move forward.

Ahead of the planned meeting, a spokesperson for the Brazilian Foreign Ministry told EFE that “Brazil understands that the principle of non-interference must be respected.” The official added that Brazil “perceived” willingness for dialogue on the part of the Venezuelan government, citing President Maduro’s calls for a “Peace Conference” today. It remains to be seen if opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who chose not to attend a meeting with the government on Monday will attend the meeting with the Venezuelan president today. Bloomberg reported that “Maduro called on a cross-section of Venezuelan society, including union workers, intellectuals, clergy, students and governors to come to Caracas today and sign an agreement condemning violence.”

The Brazilian official also referred to statements made by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff earlier this week, in which she stated, “for Brazil, it is very important that we always look at Venezuela from the point of view of the advances that the country has achieved, during this entire process, in terms of education and health for its people.”

 
Brazilian Social Movements Organize for Political Reform Print
Written by Brian Mier (Guest post)   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 10:27

On January 25, during the Third Social Thematic Forum in Porto Alegre, representatives of urban social movements affiliated with the National Urban Reform Forum started a campaign to support a referendum for removing political reform power from Congress, passing authority over to a newly-created, democratically-elected and sovereign body.

The referendum represents the largest concession that President Dilma Rousseff announced after last year’s June and July protests. Although critics say that it could end up giving too much power to the incumbent PT party, it is supported by 76 social movements and labor unions because it addresses one of the most important problems in Brazil: the fact that a full transition to democracy was never made when the military dictatorship ended in 1985.

Unlike other former dictatorships in South America, the Brazilian government refused to disband the brutal military police. It also gave full amnesty to the military and its puppet government. This meant that most congressmen and senators from the two legal political parties of the dictatorship era, ARENA [the National Renewal Alliance Party] and MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement], were able to stay in power and benefit from the advantage of incumbency in future elections. ARENA changed its name to PFL [Liberal Front Party] and then to DEM [Democratas], and MDB changed its name to PMDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement Party]. Every president between 1985 and 2002 governed in coalition with these two parties. President Lula broke with DEM but was only able to maintain a majority block in the house and senate with PMDB, led by the widely-hated former President José Sarney.

The social movements believe that, due to the inherent structural problem of a congress that is controlled by representatives of the former military dictatorship, it is incapable of reforming the political system. Instead, they support a bottom up process of change. During the next few months they will organize a series of national protests in favor of the referendum. On April 1, on the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964, the social movements will create neighborhood and village committees across the country to discuss the issue.

Read more...

 

 
Leadership of Venezuela’s Student Movement Puts Its Politics On Display in Press Release That is Quietly Removed from Newspaper Print
Written by Alex Main   
Monday, 24 February 2014 18:52

On the night of February 22nd, a bizarre incident took place in the Venezuela media-sphere. At around 4:00 pm Venezuela time, a number of the country’s private media outlets posted a release from a protest group identified only as the “student movement.” The rhetoric and tone of the statement matches the positions often expressed by extreme rightwing factions within Venezuela’s opposition over the last 14 years. Venezuela, it alleges, is in the grip of Cuban communists:

Foreign forces have laid a military siege on Venezuela. Their mercenaries attack us in a vile and savage manner. Their goal is to enslave us and be the masters of our existence, dishonoring the flags that we have held up in the street and that we will defend with our lives.

We want our Freedom. To protect it it's vital to defend the Sovereignty of the Nation, expelling the Cuban communists that are here usurping the government and the Armed Forces.

The release demands that “the usurper [Venezuelan president] Nicolas Maduro and all of his cabinet be deposed” and states that the protests will continue until this and other demands are met. The statement also calls for defensive action against state security:

The regime has declared war on any civilian who doesn't accept its marxist ideology. Our call is for defense: to not allow the invaders profane your street, your avenue, your property. Prevent their access so that they don't shoot up your neighborhood, don't destroy your properties, don't hurt your loved ones and, above all, so that they know that here there are battle-seasoned Venezuelans, who won't allow themselves to be enslaved through the use of force.

The rhetoric found in this release is reminiscent of the language used by the promoters of the “guarimba” protests in 2004 which – similarly to many of the protests that have been occurring in Venezuela over the last two weeks – involved protesters blocking major roads with bonfires and barricades and damaging public property. The explicit goal of the 2004 guarimba protests was to create enormous chaos in city streets thereby forcing the government to either step down or engage in mass repression. Or, in the words of Luis Alonso, the main promoter of the guarimba ten years ago:

Read more...

 

 
Does Venezuelan Television Provide Coverage That Opposes the Government? Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Monday, 24 February 2014 15:39

en español

The New York Times begins its news report on Friday from Venezuela with “The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government was sold last year and the new owners have softened its news coverage.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote last week: "Nearly all TV stations in Venezuela are either controlled or allied with the government of Nicolás Maduro and have ignored the nationwide protests."

Before surrendering to authorities for arrest last Tuesday (February 18), opposition leader Leopoldo López said, “we no longer have any free media to express ourselves in Venezuela.”

Are these statements true or false? Similar statements are made repeatedly in the major international news outlets covering Venezuela, and are generally accepted as true. However this should be a factual question, independent of whether one is sympathetic to the opposition or the government, or to neither.

As it turns out, data published by the Carter Center for the media coverage during the campaign for the last presidential election, in April of last year, indicate that the two candidates were fairly evenly represented in television coverage.

We will return to the Carter Center report, but first a quick fact check based on recent events and coverage. We can look at the recent broadcasts of the largest television stations in the country. The biggest broadcast television station is Venevisión, owned by the billionaire media mogul Gustavo Cisneros. According to the Carter Center, it has about 35 percent of the news-watching audience during “recent key newsworthy events.” If we look at their coverage of the events since the protests started on February 12, we can find plenty of programming where “voices critical of the government,” and in fact opposition leaders are “regularly broadcast.” For example, here is an interview on Venevisión news with Tomás Guanipa, leader of the opposition Primero Justicia (Justice First) party and a representative in the National Assembly. He defends the protests and accuses the government of having tortured students.

Read more...

 

 
Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die? [Updated] Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Sunday, 23 February 2014 20:55

[3/12: This post is no longer being updated. For a updated list, please click here.]

The morning of February 22, Venezuela Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz stated that so far eight deaths and 137 injuries had occurred during the protests that have taken place over the last ten days. Díaz added that “the investigations [into the killings] are advanced.” Many press and NGOs have simply reported that “demonstrators” were killed.  For example the International Crisis Group states in its February 21 report: “confrontation in Venezuela has turned violent in the past few days with the killing of six demonstrators.” However, a closer look at the individuals identified as having been killed reveals that the political allegiances of the victims and their causes of death are varied.  

Since Díaz’s announcement more deaths related to the protests have been reported in the media. Here, first, are details regarding seven of the deaths that Díaz referred to in her statements:

-          Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, an opposition demonstrator was shot, reportedly in the head, and killed  in Caracas during the opposition protest that took place on February 12. The Attorney General announced Friday that an investigation into the killing is close to finished and will be made public in the coming days. An analysis of amateur video and images by the Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias alleges that uniformed and plainclothes members of the Venezuelan intelligence service (SEBIN) were responsible.  The video images show what appear to be SEBIN agents in uniform as well as individuals in plain-clothes firing handguns toward the demonstration after demonstrators had charged at them while throwing rocks.  President Maduro later stated that SEBIN agents weren’t authorized to be present at the protest and replaced the  head of SEBIN.  At least one of the SEBIN officers seen discharging his weapon has reportedly been arrested and, according to Venezuelan media, authorities are engaged in a manhunt to apprehend the other individuals observed firing their handguns. [Update 2/25: According to Attorney General Díaz, three SEBIN officers have been arrested in relation to the killing of Da Costa and Montoya, see below for more.] [Update 3/4: On February 26, the Attorney General announced additional arrests in relation to the deaths of Da Costa and Montoya. In total, at least 8 individuals have been arrested.]

-          Juan Montoya, a pro-government community activist, was reportedly shot in both the head and chest and died. Montoya’s body was found a short distance from the body of Da Costa. It remains unclear how he was killed but Maduro stated that the same gun killed both Montoya and Da Costa.

Read more...

 

 
What the Wikileaks Cables Say about Leopoldo López Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Friday, 21 February 2014 14:19

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been thrust onto the international stage during the past week of protests in Venezuela and his arrest on February 21. López is mentioned at least 77 times in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. Many of the cables focus on internal disputes within the opposition, with Lopez often in conflict with others both within his party and others in the opposition. Given this history, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the current protests that he has been leading, calling for “la salida” – the exit – of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro have also caused internal divisions within the opposition. David Smilde, a Senior Fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America wrote last week:

While Capriles shook hands with Maduro in January, signifying not only a more conciliatory stance but tacitly recognizing Maduro’s legitimacy, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado have both taken a harder line and are working outside of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD).

…..

Without a doubt, in immediate political terms the biggest beneficiary of yesterday’s [Feb.12] violence was López.

This week, Smilde added in a quote to USA Today, "Before this happened, Lopez was playing second fiddle to Capriles… I think his goal is to try and leapfrog over Capriles. The student protests have put him in the spotlight."

The Wikileaks Cables show an interesting history of Lopez’s rise to leadership and also show some of the divisions within the opposition. Below, one party leader is quoted as saying that “for the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez, joking that ‘the only difference between the two is that Lopez is a lot better looking.’” And also, “During a party event December 6, Primero Justicia (PJ) Secretary-General Tomas Guanipa called on Lopez to respect the unity table and its agreements and consensus. Guanipa urged Lopez to ‘not continue dividing us, we should not go through life like crashing cars, fighting with the whole world.’”

The U.S. government has been funding the Venezuelan opposition for at least 12 years, including, as the State Department has acknowledged, some of the people and organizations involved in the 2002 military coup. Their goal has always been to get rid of the Chávez government and replace it with something more to their liking. However, their funding is probably not their most important contribution in Venezuela, since the Venezuelan opposition has most of the wealth and income of the country. A more important role is the outside pressure for unity, which, as these cables and the history of the past 15 years show, has been a serious problem for the Venezuelan opposition. The cables also show that this is a serious concern for the U.S. government.

Below are relevant cables, in chronological order:

Read more...

 

 
PBS Offers “Birther” View of Venezuela, Unrebutted Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Thursday, 20 February 2014 13:22

Carl Meacham, the former Republican senior advisor on Latin America and the Caribbean for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared last night on PBS’ Newshour. When asked by host Gwen Ifill what “is really behind all of this right now?” Meacham responded by questioning the legitimacy of the Maduro government in Venezuela:

Let’s remember this has been probably — it’s been a year since Mr. Maduro — roughly a year since Mr. Maduro was elected — some people say that he won, some people say that he didn’t win — to office.

A statistical analysis shows just how unlikely it was that, as Meachem says “he didn’t win.” In Venezuela’s elections, the electoral authority conducts a rapid recount of 53 percent of the voting machines, selected at random. The probability of getting the audit result, if in fact the opposition candidate had received the majority of the votes, was found to be less than 1 in 25 thousand trillion.

While Meacham is correct in stating that “some people say that he didn’t win”, it is also true that “some people,” – in fact many people – say that President Obama is a Muslim who is holding office illegally because he was not born in the United States. The statement from Meacham is revealing because it is indicative of his close ties to prominent right-wing Venezuelan politicians.

It is unfortunate that PBS did not offer its listeners anything other than a far-right point of view in this broadcast.

 
Why Statements From U.S. Officials About Efforts to Oust Democratically Elected Governments Matter Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 17:07

Greg Weeks, a professor who specializes in Latin America at UNC Charlotte, did not seem to understand my column yesterday in the Guardian.  He dismissed the recent statements from the U.S. government about Venezuela as meaningless.  Since he is Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, perhaps there were others who did not understand these statements as well.  So I wrote some further explanation for him and posted it on his blog.  Today, of course, U.S. statements got even more hostile, after Venezuela expelled three U.S. diplomats. But as explained below, these are not just unfriendly comments by administration officials, but words chosen carefully and deliberately to encourage certain actions by Venezuela’s opposition.   Below is what I wrote yesterday:

Greg, maybe this will help your readers to understand what these statements mean. I wanted to include the White House statement on the Honduran coup for comparison but didn't have room.

You can find it here:

http://www.cepr.net/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/top-ten-ways

The White House statement on the day of the coup did not condemn it, merely calling on “all political and social actors in Honduras” to respect democracy.

This diplomatic language is very important. As any diplomat in this town will testify, this is one way in which governments communicate their positions and alliances. Everybody I know realized immediately from the White House statement after the Honduran coup that Washington supported the coup, and there were no surprises for us in what the Obama administration did in the months and years that followed.

So you see, these statements from Kerry and the State Department are not just random “vanilla” comments on the state of democracy or the economy in Venezuela or concern about arrests. (Maybe you didn’t read the piece very carefully, but my point on the arrests was that in other countries, if protesters are arrested for violent acts, the U.S. does not call for their immediate release.) These are carefully worded statements, like the White House statement on the coup in Honduras, that communicate their position without putting the U.S. government in the position of saying that they support a military coup in Honduras or a strategy of “regime change” in Venezuela, but making it clear to their allies and adversaries that they actually do. They have enormous impact, as you can understand. When Kerry changed his position on the April elections, he didn’t have to say “these elections were free and fair and the opposition should give up its attempt to pretend that they were stolen.” He just implicitly recognized the result and that was the end of the opposition’s campaign, since U.S. allies Spain and José Miguel Insulza at the OAS had already given up, so the Obama administration was the last ally that the Venezuelan opposition had holding out for non-recognition of the election results.

I hope this makes it clearer for you and your readers.

Mark Weisbrot

 

 
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