As the day progresses, I expect there to be substantial activity in Venezuela. As I learn of it, updates will be provided here or through new posts.
Few seem to know what to do. Perhaps Leopoldo Lopez does.
According to Daniel, as far as I knew until recently the only English language blogger still hanging on in Venezuela, the country is adrift.
The question here is who is most adrift in Venezuela today, the regime or the opposition? The crisis that started late January in Tachira has spread as no other crisis has spread in Venezuela since “el caracazo” when looting happened in all major cities, to varied extent for sure, but enough to leave a memory.
This time around is not about looting, is not about kicking Chavez out, it is about a country that sees a devastating economic crisis ahead and the implied final loss of hope. Failure to understand that is a major handicap in trying to speculate on “what next?” [Emphasis added.]
The first consequence is that if the opposition is particularly vocal the supporters of the regime are particularly quiet. Maduro is unable to excite them in the defense of “economic” rights that are everyday negated when you have to stand in line for hours for a meager supply of basic staples. Only the violent paramilitary groups who owe their existence, their raison d’être, to Chavez and the regime can be found willingly shooting protesters. And yet this does not imply they are all on board.
The regime is paralyzed, it has no idea what to do so it threatens, kicks out a few USA embassy personnel, accuses Uribe of planning everything. As if Uribe, or anyone for that matter could convince groups to riot from San Cristobal to Puerto Ordaz which surprisingly has had some of the largest gatherings in spite of having one of the worst climate for such rallies. [Emphasis added.]
That does not mean the regime is out. It is desperate enough, compromised enough, scared enough, to try to launch a massive repression if need be. But the future of the regime is strictly along the lines of a dictatorship. The regime knows that never again it will be able to win an election without massive electoral fraud. It could not make it in April 2013, it will not make it later when people are hungry or frustrated at not having the perks they took for granted. By definition a dictatorship has always an expiration date unless it exists on an island jail. [Emphasis added.]
. . . .
The army is the one most adrift. Composed by an overextend fattened and corrupt higher ranks it has to order the middle ranks to go and shoot protesters. Without knowing whether these folks will accept to stain their life sheets to protect higher ups that they cannot possible respect at best, or envy at worst in their desire to replace them and benefit from their corruption. Any officer with a slight amount of education knows what happened to Videla, Pinochet, or Mladic.
Recently, I learned of another English language site from Venezuela, Caracas Gringo. It appears to provide only occasional commentary but frequent You Tube videos, generally with Spanish language audio. The video of an address by Leopoldo Lopez, presented at the end of this post, is from that source and it would be worthwhile to check it from time to time today.
The mess in Venezuela finally is getting significant international attention. In an article at Sky News titled Venezuela Demonstrations Reach Boiling Point notes,
The anti-Government demonstrations in Venezuela may be approaching boiling point with a showdown set for Tuesday in the capital Caracas.
Three US diplomats have been expelled and an arrest warrant issued for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
The demonstrations have grown in intensity over the past two weeks. They are partially a response to an economic crisis in an oil-rich country. [Emphasis added.]
Inflation is the highest in Latin America. Crime has soared, there are power blackouts, the black market is flourishing and food staples are sometimes difficult to find.
The Socialist Government blames shortages on saboteurs and sees the hand of the Americans in the crisis.
David Frum of CNN asks, Will Venezuela abandon Chavismo?
The Chavez regime has held power with four principal tools, all but one of which is gone or going.
The first tool of power was the late president’s own mesmerizing personality. Venezuela has a bitter national history, and nobody has ever better voiced the resentments and yearnings of its subordinated classes and castes than Hugo Chavez. In a nation whose elite historically looked European, Chavez’s face proclaimed his descent from indigenous people and African slaves. He joked, he raged, he bestowed favors on the barrios and made enemies of the traditional upper classes.
By contrast, the outstanding personal quality of Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, was his cringing deference to the leader who elevated him from a bus driver’s seat to the top jobs in government.
The second Chavez tool of power was the shrewd deployment of the nation’s oil wealth to buy support from favored constituencies. Support Chavez, and you might get a free house stocked with appliances, a government job or at least a new playground.
Chavez held the price of gasoline to pennies per gallon and offered subsidized rice and beans in government-owned shops. Meanwhile, he withdrew police protection from the wealthier neighborhoods that despised him, deploying criminal violence as a de facto tool of political repression.
Now, however, Venezuela is running out of cash to pay for these support-buying schemes. Industries are shuttering because they cannot obtain foreign currency to buy crucial parts. Interest rates on Venezuelan debt have jumped past 15%. The economy, which managed 1% growth in 2013, is now shrinking as economic activity other than oil and gas production grinds to a stop. [Emphasis added.]
Chavez’s third tool of power was control of the media. Independent television stations were eliminated. Newsprint shortages and other pressures were manipulated to force the sale of independent print media to government supporters. But it’s difficult to cut populations off from information in the modern age, especially for a ramshackle, technically incompetent regime like Venezuela under Chavismo. Venezuela is not China nor even Putin’s Russia. The people who understand how the Internet works overwhelmingly oppose the government.
The fourth and last tool of power was outright repression. Chavez himself always used this tool sparingly. He preferred economic reprisals against his opponents to violence. He drove them into exile rather than send them to camps. He politicized the army and police, but he hesitated to use them, perhaps because he did not in the end fully trust them.
. . . .
As the Castro regime in Cuba has demonstrated, a moribund authoritarian system can take a long time dying. But the Castro brothers were serious about hanging on to power. Chavismo was serious about nothing.
In an update posted last night, Daniel wrote about an attack on the offices of Voluntad Popular.
The highlight was the attack on the offices of Voluntad Popular that regular readers of this blog know rather well for a visit I did a few months ago. Apparently it was an army platoon of sorts led by General Antonio Benavides, without search or arrest order to show that had no trouble in having some soldiers block access to elected representatives of the nation. There goes the theory that this is a democracy and not a military regime. The videos on the taking over and on what was going outside with civilians trying to defend the Voluntad Popular folks against the abuse of the military are horrifying. I put three of my own tweets to document that barbaric event. [Emphasis added.]
H/t Caracas Gringo for the following You Tube video.
There may be nothing left for Chavismo to do.
But what can and will the opposition do? Perhaps we will have a better idea later today (Tuesday, February 18th) when Leopoldo Lopez intends to take the lead with his followers. In the Spanish language video provided below, he asks them to join him, wearing white shirts to symbolize peace, as he demands that the government
♦ take responsibility for its violence against peaceful protesters,
♦ release all political prisoners,
♦ acknowledge the right to protest peacefully and that
♦ paramilitary forces protect, rather than undermine, peaceful protesters.
He asked those following him, in what will likely be a mass march, to stand behind peacefully as he goes forward alone to present the demands. He may well be be arrested when he does so. He ended his statement with “fuerza y fe,” which translates into “force and faith.”
According to Daniel, there have been
desperate and silly attempts to avoid the Lopez surrender march tomorrow. It is clear that the video of Lopez yesterday shook the regime. Amazing!
International opinion is starting to pay attention and today we got some grudging recognition from Piñera and even Mujica of Uruguay.
I will be trying to follow events as they develop today.
Here is a link to Daniel’s post this morning on his recollections of meetings with Lopez. Among others he comments on these:
The first time I saw Lopez was many years ago, during the massive protests of 2002-2003. He was young and the mayor of what in Venezuela is the closest to la-la-land and a bachelor and gently flirting with a few cute groupies after some march. Now he is a main leader about to make the ultimate sacrifice, the one that can make his career great or ruin him and maybe cost him his life. That is what I like in him, his capacity to grow, to lead from the front. Like all politicians he has his foibles, his weaknesses and has made his share of mistakes. But he went forward and tried to learn from them.
This opinion has been comforted through the years. It started when I was invited to talk to him when Voluntad Popular was barely a growing project until a few months ago when I toured the offices of Voluntad Popular. Lopez has talked to all, has listened to all. And then he made his mind. Some may say that he is stubborn, that he does as he pleases, that his ego is bloating. Maybe, but I can vouch personally of something, before he makes his mind he has talked to a lot of people.
According to an article in the English language edition of el Universal,
The presidential palace of Miraflores, downtown Caracas, has been militarized as well as most areas in the Venezuelan capital.
Supporters of the Venezuelan government gathered early on Tuesday morning to attend the demonstration to be held by workers of the oil industry, convened by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Armored cars have been deployed by the Government in areas where Opposition protesters supportive of Sr. Lopez plan to gather and ” the presidential palace of Miraflores, downtown Caracas, is heavily guarded by military officers who have restricted access.”
The protest organized by Leopoldo Lopez has begun and Henri Capriles has joined it.
Henrique Capriles [an opposition leader] said via social networks that he was joining the march from the headquarters of the Simón Bolívar Command in Bello Monte, southeast Caracas.
He departed from the headquarters of the Simón Bolívar Command in Colinas de Bello Monte, southeast Caracas, and is heading for Chacaíto, northeast Caracas.
Civil society representatives and university students gathered from early in the morning on Tuesday in the streets of Chacao municipality, near the point designated for their rally, and around the Francisco Fajardo Highway and Avenida Boyacá. Demonstrators are heavily guarded by government security forces.
The Bolivarian National Police and the National Guard banned the media from accessing the dais, and also prevented the free passage of pedestrians and vehicles to Chacaíto. They set roadblocks and checkpoints. [Emphasis added.]
Caracas Metro stations of Sabana Grande and Chacaíto are not operational. [Emphasis added.]
Denial of media, pedestrian and vehicular access to the site where the rally is to occur may be among the reasons for a general absence, thus far, of media coverage.
Another opposition leader, María Corina Machado, has urged support for Sr. Lopez’ protest rally.
Opposition Deputy María Corina Machado said Venezuelans would join the demonstration convened by the opposition at Brión Square in Chacaíto, eastern Caracas.
In a . . . (tweet), Machado said it is time to accompany “the Venezuelans who are being persecuted for defending democracy and our future. We, the ones who love Venezuela, are the majority.”
“Today, Maduro and his regime are being watched by the whole world. Any repressive action will be known immediately (…) they cannot torture all of us,” she added.
According to BBC News,
Mr Lopez got into an armoured vehicle after giving a speech to an opposition rally in Caracas to give himself in on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Ahead of the rallies, Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez warned that he had not authorised Tuesday’s opposition march.
I have found no confirmation of the report elsewhere.
CNN has confirmed, stating that
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, accused by the government of conspiracy and murder, turned himself in to national guard troops Tuesday, his political party said.
. . . .
He was placed in a military vehicle and driven away.
“I made the decision to present myself before the justice system of my country, a corrupt and manipulated system, because I am not a delinquent, I have not committed any crime, and because I have the obligation to deal with this,” Lopez said in an exclusive audio statement sent to CNN’s “Amanpour” on Monday.
“To leave the country or to hide would be to plant doubt about what our motivation is, which is to rally millions of Venezuelans in order to effect change — social change, political change — in the face of a reality the affects us all,” he said.
The opposition protesters have withstood gunfire, tear gas and water cannon.
Yet after a number of deaths in their ranks, protesters in Venezuela continue to take to the streets to demand better security, an end to scarcities and protected freedom of speech.
. . . .
The tension leading up to the march was not subtle.
The government plainly said that the opposition march lacked a permit and was not authorized. [Emphasis added.]
Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro organized a “concert for peace” at the same site where the opposition march was supposed to start. The pro-government event was granted a permit. [Emphasis added.]
The protesters changed their meeting place but said their march would happen regardless.
. . . .
The current protests are the biggest that the Maduro government has faced in its 11 months in power.
. . . .
“The protest will continue as long as the government gives no sign of resolving the problems of the Venezuelans,” Capriles said.
Here, with a tip of the hat to Caracas Gringo, is a You Tube video showing Leopoldo Lopez addressing the rally today. Some at the rally, but fewer than half, appear to be wearing white shirts, as he had requested, to symbolize their peaceful intentions.
Here is an interim update from Daniel. I shall excerpt only a bit here, so please read the whole thing at his linked site.
Briefly the events. The regime made an extraordinary deployment of police and troops around the gathering point of the march called by the opposition. NOTE: I say the opposition as a whole because the cause is now well beyond Voluntad Popular or AD or Capriles, or… The objective was to block access, in the silly idea that people would simply turn back and go home or work. It did not work out. The regime even had closed nearby subway stations. People came anyway and the result is in the two pictures around, one of the police circle, and one of the people filling up, all in white, the Francisco de Miranda avenue. Note: there are gazzillions of pictures on the Tweet, better than those I picked earlier this morning. But the ones I pick will do.
Here are just two of many:
The white shirts in these photos appear substantially to outnumber those in the video provided earlier.
Daniel says he will write more as things settle later today. In the meantime, he says, correctly I hope, “History was made today. That much I am sure.”
This post at Caracas Gringo suggests (at least to me) that the dissension there noted among top Chavistas, particularly between the “very brittle” Maduro and the “also very brittle” Cabello, may be increasing sufficiently to weaken the regime enough for the Lopez, Capriles et al opposition to dispose of it.
In the video embedded below, the beloved Oliver Stone explains, among many other things, the protests in Venezuela.
Ah yes, the Venezuelan government, elected in a free and fair democratic election.
Here’s a link to a report on today’s events from The Devil’s Excrement. It includes several photos, including this one of Sra. Lopez being lifted by protesters to say “goodbye” to Sr. Lopez just before he turned himself in.
Quoting from the article,
And the show of support was nationwide, as students organized protests in all major cities, all of them with huge crowds, all ending at the Palaces of Justice of each State with the students handing in their demands.
I went to the march, leaving somewhat late, but was surprised when a couple of Kilometers away from the march, the street was still full of people walking towards Chacaito. And when I got to Chacaito it became difficult to get through because it was so crowded. Once in the intersection with the main Country Club Avenue, I was surprised by the sea of people coming down from that direction. It turns out it was the people from the West of Caracas, who, because the march was not allowed beyond Chacaito, had to come via Libertador Avenue to where Lopez turned himself in. From there, we turned South towards Las Mercedes, went under the Autopista and then climbed back on it, only to find that the students had not only blocked it, but occupied it all the way to the Cienpies Distributor. There were people everywhere, in front, below, above. And there was lots of police and guardsman, but they they were clearly given the order to do nothing, despite our fears that we could be gassed any minute.
There were also significant protests in Valencia, where seven students have been shot.
This, I think, is an excellent observation from The Devil’s Excrement:
Lopez now becomes a hot potato for Maduro: Keep him in jail he becomes a symbol, release him, you look weak (and somewhat dumb!)
Lopez seems to have scored a victory sooner than he thought when he started going out to try to gather the protests under his wing. Even Capriles went to the demonstration as all opposition politicians showed up at the demonstration.
UPDATE, February 19th:
“The arrest of Leopoldo Lopez is an egregious violation of one of the most basic principles of due process, which is that you can’t jail someone without evidence linking them to a crime. The Venezuelan authorities so far haven’t provided any serious evidence, just insults and conspiracy theories. The only probable cause here seems to be the fact that Lopez is a political opponent of the president–but unfortunately, in a country without an independent judiciary, this may be enough. The international community should demand Lopez’s immediate and unconditional release.”
That will close my post here. There will be more via separate posts as events warrant.