Venezuela: Where Does This Go Next?

With the situation in Venezuela getting more and more complex and more and more tense, today Latino Rebels tries to present a list of pieces that we think look at the complexities and nuances of the situation. We are also sharing some of the latest this morning being posted on social media as well as some pieces that speak to how heavily biased some of the current coverage was this week.

Most of the attention has been on the Venezuela state of Táchira, which borders Colombia and has been a outpost of opposition.

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Is Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro cracking down on protesters?

From what is being reported by the international media, the answer is yes. Here are a few sources from the last 24 hours:

Reuters UK

In the city of San Cristobal, which some residents are describing as a “war zone”, many businesses remained shut as students and police faced off again. The government says it is taking “special measures” to restore order in Tachira.

“This is not a militarization,” Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on state TV from San Cristobal.

“We are here to work for the great majority of people in Tachira. … Before we have dialogue, we must have order.”

Maduro says he will not let his rivals turn Tachira into “a Benghazi,” referring to the violence-wracked Libyan city.

A Reuters Venezuela Twitter account is presenting latest verified updates. This morning, Reuters also ran a piece about how jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López is urging for protesters to maintain peaceful demonstrations against the government.

Al Jazeera America:  In anticipation of possible clashes today in response to the funeral of Genesis Carmona, a former Miss Tourism who was killed this week during protests, AJAM is reporting that Maduro is sending paratroopers to Táchira:

President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents charged Thursday that he had unleashed the military, police and civilian militias against those who blame the administration for hardships in a country that is rich in oil but struggling with overheated inflation and one of the world’s worst homicide rates.

Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed opposition leader who organized the mass rally, was ordered early Thursday to remain in detention to face charges that include arson and criminal incitement.

The unrest has been particularly high in Tachira state, on Venezuela’s western border with Colombia, where anti-government protesters have clashed with police and National Guard units, disrupting life in its capital, San Cristobal.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres announced Thursday that a battalion of paratroopers was being sent to Tachira to help bring calm. “These units will enable the city to function, so food can get in, so people can go about their normal lives. It’s simply meant to restore order,” he said.

Social media has been sharing unverified videos and posts about alleged actions by the government. One post from Caracas Chronicles, which has been highly critical of the government and is heavily promoting its content to the international press, called recent clashes as how the “game changed” in the country. The videos posted do suggest that a crackdown by the Maduro government is happening, but very little context about the videos is being shared. On February 19, Latino Rebels shared a few of the videos, but could not independently verify them.

A new Facebook video posted by opposition supporter has also gone viral in the last 24 hours. It shows what appears to be government security forces spraying an unidentified individual with a water hose.

Did President Maduro say that he wants to expel CNN from the country?

Yes, according to the BBC. Here is what the outlet reported:

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has threatened to expel the US news network CNN from the country over its reporting of recent protests there.

Mr Maduro said he would take action if CNN did not “rectify its coverage”.

Earlier, Mr Maduro said he was sending troops to the western state of Tachira, where there has been continuing unrest.

With tensions running high, the leader of the opposition, Henrique Capriles, has called for a fresh, peaceful anti-government march on Saturday.

There were reports of further clashes in the state of Tachira and in districts of the capital, Caracas.

The same story also shared what Maduro said:

On national television, President Maduro accused his opponents of promoting violence.

He vowed to take the perpetrators of attacks against the Caracas metro, who were allegedly also caught on video, to court.

Mr Maduro also lashed out against the coverage of the protests by foreign news organisations.

“Enough war propaganda, I won’t accept war propaganda against Venezuela. If they don’t rectify themselves, out of Venezuela, CNN, out,” he said.

Are global outlets covering some of the nuances of the protests? Not many, but here are a few pieces that are presenting the crisis through a different lens:

Democracy Now!

The Guardian ran an opinion piece this week from Mark Weisbort. Here is an excerpt:

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer last week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government’s “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela”, and said that there was an obligation for “government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens”. He was joining the opposition’s efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any “regime change” strategy.

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerrydid the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Another opinion piece from Argentina presents a different thesis:

The protagonist of the last few days has not been Capriles, but Leopoldo López, who has been explicitly calling for the “exit” of Maduro. National deputy Maria Corina Machado has also become quite prominent. Both of them were actively involved in 2002′s failed coup against Hugo Chávez, have close ties with the US, and López has been linked to former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

What the opposition had in economic power and support from the elites, it lacked in street presence. Here’s where the students come in. As Dr. Julia Buxton points out in a recent article, students from private universities in Venezuela have been trained and financially supported by the opposition’s traditional ally – the US – since as early as 2008. Since, a number of protests have served as a build-up to last week’s Youth Day demonstrations, in which they colluded with members of the political opposition such as López and Machado.

Indeed, US support of Venezuelan opposition is a story on its own. It is nothing new, and the government is very aware of this, as this week’s expulsion of three US diplomats from Venezuela shows. Back in 2002, George W. Bush’s administration was quick to justify the illegitimate and short-lived government of Pedro Carmona that resulted from a military coup, and it has been alleged that, at the very least, it knew about -if not cooperated directly with- the coup. Buxton estimates the combined financial support from US institutions to Venezuelan opposition groups since 2002 in as much as US$45m, much of it aimed at ‘youth outreach programmes’, whilst researcher Mark Weisbrot mentions the US$5m earmarked in the federal budget “for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela.”

Is some of the latest news reports incredibly biased and somewhat embarrassing? Sadly yes. One recent report from Fusion’s calls the protests a “Toilet Paper Revolution” and says that if the country had Costco, a lot of its problems would not exist.

We understand that this story is fast, it is quick, people’s passions are heated, there is plenty on social media and there are so many developments and angles. Our instinct right now is to try and present as full a picture as possible, and if you have a solid tip or angle, you can always tweet us @latinorebels and we will do our best to share what we can.

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