Peace talks between President Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition are scheduled to continue today, while the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática’s (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition calls for the Central Bank to release March’s official inflation data. The bank generally releases the datain the first 10 days of the month.
The MUD claims that country’s inflation is 60 percent, an increase of 2.7 percent since February. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles announced via Twitter that inflation increased more than 4 percent in March—higher than the annual inflation for several other Latin American countries. While no agenda has been set, financial transparency is expected to be a one of the topics in the peace negotiations that will continue today.
The country’s high inflation was one of the factors that sparked the deadly protests that erupted across the country in February killing at least 41 people. Venezuela’s military strategic command chief, Vladmir Padrino, recently admitted to “excesses” in policing, but maintains that less than one percent of security forces were responsible for the “cruelty and torture.”
A finales de 2002, después de meses de conflicto y de un golpe de estado que dejó al entonces presidente Hugo Chávez fuera del poder por dos días, Venezuela decidió apostar por el diálogo. César Gaviria, quien estaba al frente de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), abrió el debate entre gobierno y oposición, representado por la Coordinadora Democrática, una coalición de partidos, ONGs y agremiaciones adversas al "proceso revolucionario."
En medio de las negociaciones se inició un paro nacional que buscaba presionar la renuncia del Presidente. Dos meses de inactividad comercial asestaron duros golpes a la economía nacional, especialmente a la industria petrolera, pero Chávez salió victorioso. Con la derrota de la oposición, el diálogo adquirió mayor fuerza y condujo a un acuerdo que se cristalizó con un referendo revocatorio presidencial que dejo a Chávez en el poder. Una vez más, Chávez ganó la batalla.
Desde entonces, la oposición y el gobierno han participado en una danza política que ha hecho imposible el consenso nacional. Ambos bandos se han negado a reconocer al otro lado y, ensimismados, parecen ignorar que el país colapsa. Ahora, después de un año de intenso enfrentamiento político, y después de dos meses de protestas con un saldo de 41 muertos y más de 2 mil detenidos, el gobierno, encabezado por Nicolás Maduro, y la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática—coalición opositora que defiende la vía institucional para resolver la crisis—aceptaron exponer sus puntos de vista, frente a frente, en la sede presidencial. La reunión fue obligatoriamente transmitida en cadenas de radio y televisión.
A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela. The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.
The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue. The U.S. State Department had expressed support , as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.
However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.
In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me, on the condition of anonymity, that Maduro was pursuing dialogue and cooperation with the opposition. This was because Maduro had realized that citizen insecurity could sink his administration—and that chavismo could not solve this problem alone. “The opposition controls many of the largest states and municipalities," the official said, and "without the help of these governors and mayors, we cannot solve this problem. […] They are the ones that control the police and bureaucracy in these areas; we don’t.”
Maduro’s decision to approach Henry Falcón, a former chavista and governor of Lara state, as well as elected opposition officials in Caracas, appeared to be paying off. Successful meetings had also begun with Henrique Capriles, leader of the MUD and governor of Miranda state, Antonio Ledezma, the metropolitan mayor of Caracas, and opposition mayors of Caracas’ local municipalities.
Demonstrating Maduro’s seriousness, I was told that PSUV Federal District Mayor Jorge Rodríguez was "fully onboard” with the meetings, despite his reputation as a strident chavista. The “big problem,” according to the Maduro administration official, was Leopoldo López, the leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, who did not have any interest in talks.
Indeed, a section of the opposition was strenuously arguing that it was political suicide to cooperate with Maduro if his polarizing rhetoric and restriction of democratic opposition activity continued unabated.
This sparked "#LaSalida"—a call for protests against the Maduro administration. A bitter confrontation ensued between the pro-dialogue opposition and #LaSalida’s authors—López and María Corina Machado, a national assembly member. When #LaSalida led to protests on February 12, Maduro had Lopez thrown in prison, only reinforcing López’ warnings.
Why couldn’t Maduro restrain his seemingly counterproductive words and deeds? A major reason is that some members of the PSUV feel such antagonism to the opposition that Maduro dared not enter into a dialogue without continuing to vilify and restrict the opposition. Although he had good reasons to seek cooperation, Maduro’s base has been nurtured on highly polarized, class-antagonistic, black-and-white, good-and-evil rhetoric.
Sustaining polarizing rhetoric especially caters to the PSUV paramilitaries Maduro needs to stay in power. Chavismo was never very effective organizing on its own in barrios, and Chávez didn’t even launch the PSUV until 2008, so he turned to groups that already had control in the barrios before chavismo arrived. Today, chavismo’s very effective get-out-the-vote and loyalty-enforcement machine in Venezuela’s barrios relies on allied “ultra-Left” groups, local criminal groupings and motorcycle gangs that have become armed paramilitary groups, euphemistically called “colectivos”—a slander against most colectivos, which are non-violent barrio community groups.
But these paramilitary gangs could turn against Maduro without receiving the clientalist largesse and rhetoric that reifies their sense of solidarity with his administration. Chávez—who began enlisting them following the failed 2002 anti-Chávez coup as future street fighters to protect his government— occasionally spoke sharply to regulate these groups’ excesses, something Maduro lacks a similar authority to do. And, their effectiveness as extra-legal enforcers has been recently demonstrated as they’ve marauded in opposition middle-class neighborhoods, attacked demonstrations and barricades, invaded universities to beat students, and—most importantly for Maduro—prevented open protests in their home-turf barrios.
Maduro’s contradictory dependence on—and fear of—paramilitaries explains why he has called opposition protesters “fascists” and “coup plotters.” This deliberately evokes the romantic logic for paramilitaries, whom Chávez declared would “descend from the barrios” to defend the presidential palace against any future coup.
These PSUV dynamics clearly threaten UNASUR’s new peace dialogue. Especially if the government’s recent economic response to protests fails to produce timely reductions in food shortages and inflation, protests could spread into barrios—the Maduro administration’s worst nightmare—and further cement Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries there.
Even though Maduro’s allies in UNASUR publically advised him in March to abandon inflammatory rhetoric, and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself earlier advised Maduro to “… dialogue with all the democrats,” such steps could directly undermine the loyalty of the PSUV’s core get-out-the-vote, barrio-pacification and street-fighting apparatus. A difficult conundrum, indeed.
After weeks of unrest, the Venezuelan government and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition agreed on Tuesday to “formal talks” to end the anti-government protests.
The two sides have tentatively planned to meet on Thursday for a discussion mediated by the Vatican and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro praised the preliminary talk on Tuesday, but said his government is not willing veer away from the Bolivarian Revolution. “Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism,” Maduro said.
Leopoldo López, the recently-imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and member of the MUD, expressed skepticism about the talks, saying in a message published by his wife on Twitter, “I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.” A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged López with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The announcement of formal talks comes two weeks after Venezuelan government troops cleared the western city of San Cristobál, where the countrywide protests began in February. Since then, 39 people have died and over 600 have been injured in the unrest.
Este mes, parte de Caracas y varias ciudades del país se volvieron campos de batalla entre estudiantes, ciudadanos de todas las edades y los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado. Organizaciones no gubernamentales, como el Foro Penal Venezolano, aseguraron el miércoles 12 de marzo que habían registrado 1.313 detenciones relacionadas con las protestas estudiantiles durante el mes de febrero.
En Caracas y Valencia, hay denuncias y documentación de maltratos de más de 34 jóvenes, y el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa denunció que más de 89 periodistas (algunos corresponsales extranjeros), han sido agredidos: 22 fueron detenidos temporalmente cuando cubrían las manifestaciones y a más de 20 les robaron sus equipos.
Para el 7 de marzo de 2014, la Fiscal General de la República, Luisa Ortega Díaz, ofreció nuevas cifras del conflicto: “Tenemos 318 personas lesionadas y 19 fallecidas. De las 318 lesionadas, 217 son civiles y 81 son funcionarios policiales y fiscales.”
Los venezolanos siempre se han vanagloriado de su “sentido del humor” para superar adversidades. No es una sobrevaloración: vivir en una crisis perenne, a pesar de la riqueza nacional, requiere mucho más que un simple buen talante.
Es comprensible, entonces, que el 5 de marzo, en el primer aniversario de la muerte del presidente Hugo Chávez, una de las noticias más tuiteada fuese: “Se cumple un año del día que dijiste ‘cualquier cosa es mejor que Chávez,’” parodia del site de notas falsas “El Chiguire Bipolar.” Fiel a su estilo, “El Chiguire”–como es conocido en Venezuela–puso el dedo en la llaga con la sátira, claramente crítica a la oposición radical.
El chiste viene como anillo al dedo en el contexto actual. Durante un mes, centenas de personas han salido a las calles para mostrar su descontento con el Gobierno nacional. En manifestaciones improvisadas, golpeando ollas, administrando barricadas, quemando basura o simplemente elevando carteles, los manifestantes sólo piden una cosa: la salida inmediata de Nicolás Maduro, presidente y heredero político de Chávez.
No es que no existan motivos de sobra por los qué protestar en Venezuela. Su capital, Caracas, es la sexta ciudad más cara del mundo, según reveló el reciente análisis Costo de Vida Mundial 2014, producido por la revista inglesa The Economist. El informe evaluó los precios de 160 productos y servicios en 140 ciudades, y concluyó, entre otras cosas, que Caracas es tan cara como Tokio.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
Widespread protests continue for a thirteenth consecutive day in Venezuela as the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, faces increasing criticism—some of it from within his own ranks—for how he has handled the unfolding crisis.
The president’s recent crackdown on the remaining free media in Venezuela and an upsurge of State violence last week have led at least one member of Maduro’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) to criticize the government’s repression of the protesters.
In a radio interview on Monday, the governor of the state of Táchira, José Vielma Mora, an active member of the PSUV, criticized the use of excessive violence against protesters and said that Maduro should release political prisoners from the opposition to ensure peace.
“I am against treating peaceful protests with violence and abuse,” Vielma Mora said. “I support peaceful protests because they help us understand what is happening …Not a single protester has been wounded in Táchira. Not one of them has died.”
On Monday, however, authorities confirmed the death of a protester in Táchira state, which has seen some of the worst repression in the country.
Fifteen people have died so far in less than 13 days of protests across the country. Seven of those killed were shot in the head at political protests.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.