These days the audience of Venezuela’s four most important private TV-channels must have the impression that there is a popular revolt against the Chávez government going on. Globovision is in a leading position with an uninterrupted live program. The local news-source for CNN is selling the idea of street fighting throughout the whole country. Even images of two burning litterbags or simply some rocks lying around are supported with dramatic music while aggressive politicians from the opposition talk about a supposed dictatorship and make calls for disobedience. Reporters of the same channel are filmed in front of a completely normal city highway and declare with a certain flavor of invitation: „The protests here will begin about midday, we’re gonna stay here until the blockades start.” On Venevision, also an organ of the coup-friendly sector of the opposition, we can observe messages of supposed calls of the audience on the bottom of the screen: „Out on the streets!” “Fight the dictatorship.” “Blockades with any means.” “Shame! Nobody can stay at home!” And a hysteric voice declares in a phone call: “People have to wake up! The regime is executing people on the streets all over the county!”
Reality on streets is obviously different. Several members of the opposition have been arrested during violent acts, while Carlos Melo, a former leader of “Causa R” (CR – Radical Cause), was arrested by the investigative police (DISIP) with two automatic high-powered rifles in his car.
But just as during the April 11th 2002 coup attempt, the mass media, controlled by rightwing businessmen, play a central role in the destabilization strategy of the opposition. So the virtual reality of the opposition, which is mainly formed by the same sectors that robbed the country for 40 years and kept most of those who now support the Chávez government in poverty and controlled them with repression, finds an echo in the international mass media.
The documentary “The revolution will not be televised” won several international prizes and was shown all over the western world; in some countries such as Germany and Britain even on public television. Nevertheless, very few journalists seriously thought about the virtual set-up of the coup. The same politicians that participated in the coup are today once again presented as the “democratic opposition” and the same TV channels that helped organize and support the coup are today once again the main source of information for the international press.
The mass media and the US government are following the destabilization script together with different opposition sectors that have no political program apart from getting rid of Chávez. Opposition politicians threaten via the private TV channels to create a situation “like in Haiti.” William Lara, member of Venezuela’s National Assembly, even denounced that the ongoing actions correspond to the guidelines of a CIA counterinsurgency handbook.
After the coup of April 2002 and the sabotage of the oil industry and the lockout of workers by national and transnational enterprises in December 2002/January 2003, we actually face once again a strategic culmination point of opposition activities. Facing the debacle of the two attempts to force Chávez out of office, in May 2003 the opposition apparently accepted the idea of following the constitutional path of a referendum against Chávez. To call for a referendum, 20% of the electorate, about 2,45 million people, must sign a petition. The details had to be set by the National Election Council (CNE), which had to be elected by the National Assembly. While the opposition on the one hand spoke out in favor of a referendum, on the other hand it blocked the naming the new election council within the National Assembly.
When the Supreme Court decided to overcome the blockage and name the CNE members, the opposition applauded the decision. But the happiness didn’t last for long. When the opposition recognized that the CNE wouldn’t decide in their favor, but based on the constitution and the law, it started a campaign to undermine the CNE’s credibility.
By the beginning of December the petition was signed. At the same time that the opposition turned over the signed petition to the CNE, it strengthened its campaign against the CNE. Apparently it was conscious of not having collected enough signatures. Finally the opposition declared that it turned over 3.4 million signatures to the CNE for verification – but the real number was just about 3.1 million. Right from the beginning a growing number of denunciations and reports indicated major fraud on the part of the opposition. And while the government immediately declared its acceptance of any CNE decision, the opposition didn’t pronounce itself about until today. Some opposition representatives even declared in a more or less diplomatic manner that they will just accept decisions that are in their favor.
In the course of several months we also saw an ever-repeating game of public declarations from US government officials. First an article was published in the US press, citing unnamed or low-profile US government representatives who make declarations about Venezuela’s supposed ties to international terrorism, reaching from the Colombian FARC to Al Qaida. This is followed by an official protest from the Venezuelan government and after that a higher-ranking representative of the US administration declares that nothing indicates such ties.
The decision of the CNE was originally announced for the middle of February, but verifying the signatures lasted longer than planned, so that it finally was announced on March 2nd. The strategy of the opposition is thus to present the result, which validates only 1.89 million signatures and sends 870.000 of them to be publicly re-certified between the 18th and 22nd of March, as an arbitrary decision of a dictatorship. On the other hand, the opposition wants to create the impression of instability and generalized ungovernability on the streets of Venezuela and to increase international pressure on the Chávez government. This way the leading sectors of Venezuela’s opposition hope to stimulate once again a military coup or even a US intervention. A few hundred even demonstrated in front of the US embassy in Caracas in favor of an intervention, holding up posters saying “1. Hussein; 2. Aristide; 3. Chávez.”
Coup and intervention both seem fairly unrealistic at the moment. Apart from all polemics and propaganda, even Washington should be conscious of the enormous support the deep political and social transformations carried out by the Chávez government have. But the fact that the US administration is playing an important role in the script of the destabilization of Venezuela is obvious. Apart from the direct involvement in the April 2002 coup attempt, the US government finances, via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), different opposition organizations. One of them is the private enterprise Sumate, which, in cooperation with various companies, put pressure on thousands of workers to sign against Chávez. Sumate distributed, near the collection centers, cards confirming the signature against Chávez, while the companies asked their workers for the card to keep their jobs.
We can find other financiers of the script in the European Union. For example, the Spanish government or the German Christian-democratic Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which provides economic support to the new party “Primero Justicia” (PJ – Justice First). PJ participated in the coup and party representatives “arrested” ministers of the Chávez government at that time. Finally, PJ representatives apparently coordinated the attacks and the destruction of a building of the “Movimiento V. Republica” (MVR - Fifth Republic Movement), Chávez’s party, which was set on fire during a so-called “peaceful demonstration” of the opposition on Friday, February 27th. The “peaceful demonstration” also attacked another building of a government-friendly party and open fire on the National Guard.
At the same time, little opposition groups acted violently in different parts of the capital, especially in the wealthy areas of El Hatillo, Baruta and Chacao, and set up road blocks with burning barricades. The National Guard and Military Police, which tried to disperse the “peaceful demonstrations” were attacked with rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire.
Only a few hundred people participated in these activities, but they can be prevented only with difficulty, since the police force of the capital Caracas (which has a mayor who was elected on the Chavez ticket, but later switched over to the opposition) and of the three above-named districts do not intervene. They either remain out of sight, actively support the violent protesters, or participate in civilian clothes. Several police officers have been arrested by the National Guard.
The police force of the city’s largest district, of Libertador, which is governed by a pro-Chavez mayor and which, with its over two million inhabitants, has more inhabitants than all of the other districts put together, is not allowed to be active in the rest of the city. And the National Guard and the military police are, as long as there is no state of emergency, only allowed to protect the main thoroughfares and city freeways. So as to provide the necessary mood during the demonstrations, the oppositional company Polar, which is the largest beer producer in Venezuela, has been distributing free beer to the “demonstrators.” Also noticeable is that numerous freeway blockages are being organized with Polar trucks. In this way small groups can, at least in the virtual reality of television, plunge the city into chaos.
An important goal of the street violence is also to provoke reactions among the large masses of people who support the government and to this achieve an armed conflict on the streets and generate the impression of civil war. The government thus constantly issues calls to its supporters to maintain their calm. That the population has so far not fallen into the opposition’s trap probably has to do with the same collective intelligence that already on the second day of the coup managed to mobilize millions of people to chase away the coup government, without the help of a mass media and despite massive repression and 45 deaths.
In some cases members of the opposition have fired shots from buildings and have wounded at least two National Guard soldiers and two journalists. Tuesday morning two bodies of individuals from the barrios appeared, which showed evidence of having been tortured. People in the area suspect the metropolitan police to be responsible for the murders. At the same time, the “democratic opposition” appears in the media, saying that the presence of National Guard and Military Police are proof that Venezuela is a military dictatorship. This is a solid film, in accordance with the script of destabilization, which is being sold with much success to the international media.
Dario Azzelini is a freelance journalist and filmmaker.