An Old Method / Fernando Damaso

Photo Peter Deel

In relation to the ongoing tense situation in Venezuela, the Cuban government and its Government Organisations unceasingly make declarations of support and solidarity with the government and the people of that country, bundling them up together, as if those who are protesting and joining in demonstrations are not a part of that people. It is worth remembering that in the last elections, 5,300,000 voters endorsed the official candidate and 5,000,000 the opposition candidate.

What’s more, our official communication media only show one side of the coin; the Chavista*. The opposition demonstrations, as numerous as the government ones, are hidden. This distorts the reality of a country in crisis, and creates confusion.

It’s an old method which the Cuban authorities don’t stop repeating: in the old Czechoslovakia, they supported the Soviet invaders and the Treaty of Warsaw, in Poland, the Communist coup d’etat, in the old USSR those who opposed Gorbachev, in Iraq against Saddam, in Libya against Gaddafi and now in Syria against Assad and the pro-Soviet government in the Ukraine.

The opposition, without any kind of distinction, are referred to as mercenaries, employees of the Western powers, antisocials, delinquents, etc. It’s a cracked record, which we always hear in Cuba. For many years the Cuban government has only known how to ally itself with similar governments and to support the worst causes: the reactionary and anti-democratic.

Now, with Venezuela, you have to be able to read between the lines and find the censored pictures, in order that what might happen does not catch us by surprise, as happened when the notorious Berlin Wall fell and pulled European socialism down with it.

An old song goes: God creates them and the devil brings them together. Sometimes it isn’t necessary for the devil to unite them: they do it all by themselves.

*Translator’s note: Chavista refers to supporters of the late Hugo Chavez and his party, which remains in power.

Translated by GH

18 February 2014

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One Response to An Old Method / Fernando Damaso

  1. Omar Fundora says:

    Latin America activism: Venezuela
    As the March 5th anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s death approaches, there is turmoil in
    Venezuela. Students have been protesting against the government in nation-wide
    demonstrations characterised by disorder and violence that have led to the death of three
    people. Initially organised to protest against economic shortages and insecurity, these
    demonstrations have been calling for ‘la salida’ – the exit of President Nicolás Maduro. They
    have been supported by sections of the opposition alliance, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática
    (MUD), led by Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado.
    For many commentators – and for the government itself – these events mark a rerun of earlier
    events, when the opposition pushed for the removal of Chávez through a failed coup in 2002, a
    private sector lock-out in 2002-3 and a recall referendum against Chávez in 2004. Maria
    Corina Machado, a signatory to the 2002 ‘Carmona Decree’ that temporarily dissolved the
    Chávez government, was a key protagonist of the recall referendum. Her ‘civil society’
    organisation, Súmate, received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy in
    Washington, where she was feted by President George Bush in May 2005.
    Lessons All Round
    The Chavistas learned a number of lessons from the events of 2002-2004: the importance of
    consolidating grassroots support (hence, the launch of the social policy initiative, the Missions);
    the need to build regional solidarity (hence, the acceleration of regional integration initiatives
    such as the ALBA); the capacity of the private sector to paralyse economic activity (hence, the
    deepening of the state’s role in the economy); and the urgency of countering false reporting on
    the country (hence, the funding of community and public media and new regulatory codes for
    broadcasting). It was this period that was the catalyst for the transformation of an initially
    centrist Third Way project into Socialism of the Twenty First Century.
    The opposition similarly absorbed lessons, after anti-government unions, business associations
    and the local Roman Catholic Church failed to galvanise public opinion behind regime change
    in 2002. It adopted an electoral path as the balance of power swung to moderate factions, and
    radicals associated with unconstitutional tactics were pushed to the margins. This reaped
    dividends in national and regional elections after 2008 as the MUD focused on
    bread-and-butter voter concerns and wooed Chavistas alienated by the government’s statist
    lurch with soothing language of reconciliation and promises to improve, rather than remove, the
    benefits delivered by the Missions. At the same time, the protagonist role of the private sector
    media was gradually tempered by introduction of European-style broadcast regulations.
    US-based lobbies antagonistic toward the advance of Chávez’s socialism (and sympathetic to
    marginalised radicals) no longer saw these elements of ‘civil society’ as an effective
    oppositional vehicle and jettisoned them, deciding that a new tool for regime displacement had
    to be nurtured. Students in private sector universities became the new vanguard of
    ‘democracy promotion’.
    Rise of the Student Opposition
    In 2008, the US-based Cato Institute awarded the US$500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for
    Advancing Liberty to student leader Yon Goicoechea for his role in mobilising protests against
    the suspension of private broadcaster RCTV’s licence. At the same time, a sizeable amount of
    the US$45 million in funding provided annually by US institutions to Venezuelan opposition
    groups was channelled to ‘youth outreach’ programmes.
    With financial support and media training, Venezuela’s student and opposition-aligned Juventud
    Activa Venezuela Unida (JAVU)
    became vociferous and mobilised, focusing after 2010 on the alleged censorship by the state of
    private sector broadcasters
    and on government legislation intended to democratise the administration of the universities.
    The latter was portrayed as a threat to university autonomy and some public institutions, such
    as the Universidad Central de Venezuela, were driven into the opposition camp.

    In 2011 JAVU activists staged a hunger strike in support of ‘political prisoners’[3] and
    demanded that the Organisation of American States should intervene. Protests in 2012 focused
    on underfunding in the higher education sector and in 2013 demonstrations were organised
    outside the Cuban Embassy, first to demand the return of Chávez from chemotherapy in
    Havana and then to challenge the result of the April presidential election.

    Given this history of protest, why have the current protests gained such significance?
    A Problematic Turn
    The current protests are important on two counts. First, they mark a coming together of the
    student movement and radical elements of the MUD. López and Machado have been
    organising with the student leadership,[5] in particular in relation to the February 12th
    demonstrations on Venezuela’s Day of the Youth, which commemorates the role of young
    people in the 1814 independence battle of la Victoria.
    Frustrated by the slow dividends of the electoral route, López and Machado are challenging the
    position of Henrique Capriles as MUD leader, even though he defeated them both in the MUD’s
    2012 primaries. As Capriles in recent weeks has nudged closer toward dialogue with President
    Maduro on the issue of public security, following January’s murder of former Miss Venezuela
    Monica Spear, the uncompromising López and Machado have sought to open a chasm
    between Capriles and grassroots anti-government sentiment.
    In turn, the student movement has embraced the ‘salida’ demand of López and Machado,
    threatening to stay on the streets until Maduro leaves office. This is against a backdrop of
    growing tension, with ongoing raids by security forces on private sector warehouse facilities,
    where food and goods are allegedly being hoarded to create artificial shortages, and with the
    interception of a recorded conversation between a former Venezuelan ambassador and a
    vice-admiral where plans for violence and ‘something similar to April 11th’ were being
    discussed.
    The second distinctive aspect relates to the role of social media. Although mobilisations and
    related violence have been on-going, with two student deaths in 2010, they have not received
    the same level of attention as the protests earlier this month. One indication of an orchestrated
    campaign has been the frenzied activity by opposition youth on Twitter, which seems to be
    substituting for the once vociferous but now calmer private sector media[7] that could
    traditionally be relied upon to galvanise international attention.
    Despite claims that social media ‘democratises’ the media, it is clear that in Venezuela it has
    had the opposite effect, exacerbating the trend towards disinformation and misrepresentation,
    with overseas media groups and bloggers reproducing – without verification – opposition
    claims and images of student injuries allegedly caused by police brutality and attacks by
    government supporters. In its reporting, the Guardian newspaper[8] cited tweets by opposition
    activists claiming pro-government gangs had been let loose on protestors. No evidence to
    substantiate this extremely serious allegation was provided. It also reported on the arrest of 30
    students on 12 th February,
    following serious disorder, including barricade building, tire burning and Molotov cocktail
    attacks, as if it were an egregious assault on human rights. The report was subsequently
    tweeted by Machado. By way of context, 153 students were arrested in the UK during the 2010
    protests against tuition fees.
    The images disseminated, for example, to a Green Movement activist in Iran and then
    circulated to her thousands of followers with the tag line ‘pray for Venezuela’s students’, and to
    other democracy movements around the world show Egyptian and not Venezuelan police
    beating demonstrators. This same image was carried by the Spanish newspaper ABC.[9]
    Photographs and video clips of Chilean, Argentinian and Bulgarian police suppressing
    demonstrators and carrying out arrests (in their home countries) have been circulated and
    published as of they were assaults in Venezuela,

    and one widely reproduced image shows Venezuela’s Policia Metropolitana corralling student
    protestors. The Policia Metropolitana was disbanded in 2011. Twitter has additionally been
    used to harangue commentators, including this author, who checked the accounts of her
    abusive critics to find most had only been tweeting for a day and in that space of time had
    accumulated around 40,000 followers
    Lessons Not Learned
    Capriles has been steering the opposition down the electoral path in recognition of the fact that
    ordinary voters are alienated by violent protest and disorder. It has been widely acknowledged
    that such a strategy will take time to produce results, but it allows the MUD to build an electoral
    base and credibility as a political alternative. This hard work will be undone by a return to
    unconstitutional activities. The students and MUD radicals offer no governance plan, with ‘salid
    a ’
    serving as a hash tag, not a strategy, according to one opposition blogger.
    Just as in 2002, radicals have forgotten that the people they must convince are Venezuelan
    voters, not international opinion. There can be no short cut to replacing a movement and
    government that is genuinely popular. Attempting to induce regime overthrow is unnecessary
    when the option of a recall referendum is available, and it is irresponsible when the outcome of
    violent change will only be a cycle of violent revenge. Finally, journalists have yet to learn that
    authoritative reporting requires fact-based accounts, not recycled and unchecked tweets from
    Twitter – a mechanism that can be used to promote delusion as well as democracy.

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