What is really happening in Venezuela?

Since early April this year, Venezuelans have been suffering the consequences of violent street protests, resulting in more than 60 deaths, hundreds more injured and millions of dollars in value in the destruction of public and private property. We are deeply sorry for the death of so many people, both civilians and law enforcement agents. Media reporting on this situation, however, has been strongly biased, with news outlets falsely depicting Venezuela as a country in state of economic collapse and at war, where peaceful protesters are violently repressed by a dictatorial government.

Here are the facts:

  • PROTESTS ARE NOT PEACEFUL:

Protesters marching against the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro are very often far from peaceful and come equipped with home-made weapons, Molotov cocktails, bazookas, ammunitions, explosives, stones as well as firearms, which they use against the forces of law and order. Opposition demonstrators have set government buildings on fire, vandalized and destroyed public and private property, looted and burned hundreds of small shops and have even perpetrated attacks against two maternity hospitals which they tried to set on fire. In the case of the Hugo Chavez Maternity Hospital, the three-hour attack by opposition armed thugs gravely endangered the lives of 54 babies, mothers in labour, nurses, doctors and patients all of who had to be evacuated. A few weeks ago some of the most violent opposition demonstrators started to throw human and animal excrements at the forces of law and order. There is no need to mention the danger of all kinds of diseases erupting in a tropical climate with streets full of excrements and in a delicate health situation due to the increased appearance of the Zika virus.

Only a few weeks ago Venezuelan opposition supporters attacked Venezuela’s Diplomatic Mission in Spain, asking publicly on social media for Venezuelan ambassadors to end up like the former Russian Ambassador in Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in Ankara last year. In fact, also a few weeks ago, our Consulate in the Caribbean island of Bonaire was attacked by sympathizers of the Venezuelan opposition who unlawfully entered the premises of the diplomatic mission and vandalized equipment and materials, in clear violation of international law. Unfortunately, similar incidents have also taken place in many other Venezuelan diplomatic missions worldwide.

Worse still, opposition armed thugs have thus far set two people on fire, one of whom, Orlando Figuera (age 22) was brutally beaten, doused with gasoline and then set on fire, he suffered 80% burning of his body and died on June 5. Disgracefully there has been scant reporting in the mainstream media (MSM) on the hundreds of instances of highly visible opposition horrific violence and wanton destruction despite the fact that world media outlets have hundreds of correspondents and journalistic teams based in Venezuela itself. And most MSM reporting on violence is falsely attributed to government repression. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that MSM avoids telling the truth about opposition violence and destruction because it contradicts their false narrative that the protests are about ‘beleaguered democrats’ fighting against an increasingly ‘authoritarian government.

  •   NO POLITICAL PRISONERS

In Venezuela people have been arrested because they have committed criminal acts, causing violence in the streets leading to the death of dozens of people and putting many lives at risk, not because of their political position. This is the case in most countries. In the United States, the U.S. Code (Title 18 Crimes and Criminal Procedure) punishes any person participating in any action construed as rioting carries the penalty of 5 years in prison (Ch. 102), and any action construed as sedition to bring about “regime change”, that is advocating overthrow of the government (Ch.115) carries the penalty of 20 years in prison. If to these crimes we add the list of offences committed by the opposition armed thugs since the current wave of violence began in April 2017 and about which there is irrefutable evidence, period in which they committed crimes such as arson (Ch.5), assault Ch.7), civil disorder (Ch.12), importation, manufacture, distribution and storage of explosive material (Ch.40), illegal importation, distribution and use of firearms (Ch.44), terrorism defined as violent acts intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population (Ch.113B), carry penalties from 5 to 20 years in prison. Since the armed thugs deployed by the opposition have perpetrated all the crimes listed above, had they carried them out in U.S. territory and had they been applied US legislation (Chapters in brackets) they would be facing prison sentences ranging from 5 years to several decades in prison.[1]

The US Code (Title 18 Crimes and Criminal Procedure) specifies with total clarity what rioting is:

“…a public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual.

As used in this chapter, the term “to incite a riot”, or “to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot”, includes, but is not limited to, urging or instigating other persons to riot, but shall not be deemed to mean the mere oral or written (1) advocacy of ideas or (2) expression of belief, not involving advocacy of any act or acts of violence or assertion of the rightness of, or the right to commit, any such act or acts.”

Of the over 60 persons who have lost their lives so far, only seven deaths have been attributed to government authorities, and those responsible have been charged and currently face prosecution.

The full list of fatal victims of the wave of violence is as follows:

14 during lootings Eight of whom died electrocuted when they intended to loot a bakery in El Valle; one died during another looting when the owner shot him dead; and the owner of a small restaurant was killed by the looters;
9 in street barricades Most of whom died when trying to cross them leading to their vehicles overturning and/or were confronted by violent armed demonstrators who were guarding the barricades;
7 by law and order officers The culprits have been identified, all have been arrested and all face prosecution; 29 is the total number of officers arrested for these deaths;
3 shot by firearms From arms fired by criminal gangs
2 by lynching A retired lieutenant of the Bolivarian national Guard and a young man who was participating in opposition demonstrations was set on fire alive and died due to 80% of body burning
1 health condition A person could not get to an emergency health center due to the street blockade installed by armed opposition gangs
1 in a fight Among members of a gang in a barricade;
17 passers-by Who had no connection whatsoever with either opposition protests or governmentdemonstrations – one of them, Almelina Carrillo, was killed by being hit in the head by a bottle containing frozen water thrown from a building by opposition lawyer Hugo Trejo;
3 members of the law & order forces One of them was shot dead by a sniper, the other two were brutally killed by opposition protesters
24 persons have died in unclear circumstances Their cases are still under investigation – six of these have died by being hit with ball bearings fired from “metras’, home made guns, used by opposition protesters; two of them would be passers by; two more would have died by the action of the forces of law and order.[2]

The Venezuelan authorities are doing everything in their power to investigate those deaths and charge the perpetrators, regardless of their political allegiance.

In this context it is important to point out one more time that Leopoldo Lopez is not a political prisoner. He was indicted and has been charged for publicly instigating violence, asking protestors to use non-peaceful means in order to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro, and about which there is irrefutable public evidence. And Henrique Capriles, was charged and banned from public office because of illicit administrative practices during his tenure as a governor of the Miranda state, not because of his role as an opposition leader.

  • FOOD SHORTAGES

Food shortages in Venezuela are not due to the fact that Venezuela has run out of financial means. Just about a month ago Venezuela repaid US$2.7 billion on its debt. Food and medical shortages are created artificially by the blocking of opposition-controlled production and distribution channels. Evidence for Economic Warfare has been collected by numerous academics. Their research is available at http://www.15yultimo.com/.[3] The economic war that was unleashed against Venezuela in around 2012 has the following components:

  • Hoarding of basic foodstuffs and items of basic necessities including medicines
  • Gigantic operations of contraband of foodstuffs, items of basic necessities and gasoline to Colombia to take advantage of the massive exchange rate differential thus selling them at several times their Venezuelan, heavily-subsidised, prices
  • Currency speculation taking advantage of the Bolivar’s low exchange rate which occurs on a large scale principally in the municipality of Cucuta, across the border in Colombia
  • Catastrophic fall of the oil price brought about deliberately as a geopolitical weapon aimed at crushing the economies or Russia, Iran and Venezuela (in 2008 the world price of oil was US$148 the barrel, by 2016 had fallen below US$28 the barrel, in consequence the Venezuelan government lost about 85% of its revenues in hard currency)
  • International financial blockade of Venezuela thus seeking to make it impossible for our nation to obtain credits in the international financial market.

All of these aspects of the economic war against Venezuela take place in a highly unfavorable world context for commodity-producing nations because they were all hit very hard by the world “credit crunch” which has also affected the advanced economies most of whom went into acute crises. In short, most of the economic difficulties Venezuela faces are either domestically induced or externally generated.

On top of this, last month Julio Borges, head of the Venezuelan parliament, sent more than a dozen letters to major banks asking them not to carry out transactions with the Venezuelan government. The financial blockade is a central component on the ongoing economic war against our country. The strategy to artificially create a situation where basic foodstuffs and medicines are in short supply is not new.

The same happened to Chile in the early seventies, where economic warfare was one of the many dirty methods used to oust the democratically elected government of the socialist President Salvador Allende. In spite of the intensity of the ongoing economic warfare against Venezuela, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has declared Venezuela a country where the percentage of undernourished persons, relative to the whole population, was less than 5 % during the years 2014-2016 (the same percentage as in Western Europe), that is, though there problems, there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

  • POSTPONEMENT OF REGIONAL ELECTIONS:

Postponement of the regional elections has been falsely portrayed as a government “strategy” to suppress elections altogether. In reality, the main reason for the postponement was to give smaller parties the chance to comply with all legal requirements necessary (first and foremost the 0,5 % signature threshold) in order to participate in elections, as indicated in the “Law on Political Parties, Public Assemblies and Demonstrations” (Title I, Chapter III, Article 26). Nonetheless, on 23 May, the National Electoral Council (CNE) set 10 December 2017 as the date for regional elections in Venezuela.

Yet, despite the fact the Venezuela’s right wing opposition has unleashed the current wave of violence on the false argument that elections have been totally suppressed in Venezuela, instead of welcoming the CNE announcement of regional elections in Dec 2017 as a victory, they have instead rejected it and have strongly hinted that they would boycott these elections (something they also did to their detriment in 2005). In other words, we confront an opposition that does not believe in democracy.

It is important to stress here that the 19 elections held throughout the last 17 years, have all been declared as completely transparent, free and fair by the Carter Centre, the Organization of American States, European Union observers and other international election observers.

  • WHY HAS THERE NOT BEEN A RECALL REFERENDUM?

The answer is simple: according to the Venezuelan Constitution, a recall referendum needs to be carried out before half-term of the leader who may be recalled from office (Arts 72 and 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution). Opposition parties had not presented the signatures necessary for the referendum before half-term (July 2016). Carrying out a recall referendum after that deadline would be unconstitutional, just like calling general elections outside the period established in our Constitution would be unlawful. Venezuela is the only country in the world that can recall elected representatives at every level.

  • SEPARATION OF POWERS DOES EXIST IN VENEZUELA

Separation of powers in Venezuela exists within the framework of the principles stipulated in the 1999 Constitution, as it is the case in most countries. The best example of this has been the recent debate about the Supreme Court (TSJ) on the National Assembly, after stating that Parliament remained in contempt of Supreme Court previous rulings. The opposition-led National Assembly repeatedly refused to process ordinary, uncontroversial but above all constitutional initiatives from the government, such as investment decisions, financing of infrastructure projects, and so forth. The Supreme Court made a ruling to itself approve such Executive initiatives from there on. Venezuela’s Attorney General disagreed on the grounds that it might contravene some principles of the Constitution. Faced with a divergence that emerged among two key state bodies – normal in any nation, which conclusively confirms the independence of all state bodies – the matter was resolved through a discussion in the appropriate body, the Defence Council of the State.

  • VENEZUELA LEAVING THE OAS

The General Secretary of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has violated the fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states, acting against a number of articles of the OAS Charter. Almagro’s almost daily statements against he government of Venezuela have no precedent even in the murky story of the OAS. Every single such statement by Almagro on Venezuela breaks not only the sacred principle of non interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation but they also scandalously contravenes the OAS own Charter which in its Article 1, stipulates that “The Organization of American States has no powers other than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.”

Despite repeated attempts by the OAS Secretary General to apply the Democratic Charter against Venezuela and suspend it from the OAS, this has failed. It is important to stress here that the OAS has never taken the decision to apply the Democratic Charter to Venezuela as Almagro and many media keep falsely asserting. Furthermore, none of Luis Almagro’s pronouncements against the government of Venezuela have ever got the endorsement of the OAS, of any of its bodies or the OAS Permanent Council (though there are some governments in the region that do share Almagro’s views on Venezuela, notably Brazil’s Temer golpista government).

Nevertheless, working hand in hand with the Venezuelan opposition and the US government, Secretary Almagro has abused his role in order to help create an impression of Venezuela as a failed state and put pressure on other countries to do so as well, with the explicit intention to bring about external intervention. Such development has no precedent in the history of OAS. His actions have prompted calls for resignation by Chilean legislators, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry and progressive social movements in the region, such as the Salvadorian Network in Solidarity with Venezuela.

  • US ILLEGAL FINANCING OF VENEZUELA’S OPPOSITION: ‘REGIME CHANGE’

As part of her research, Eva Golinger, an American solicitor, has revealed that between 2002 and at least 2014, the US Government has channelled around 120 million US dollars to finance Venezuelan opposition parties and organizations[4]. This flow of money represents a violation of the Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination Act of 2010 that bans foreign funding of political groups in the country.

The US Government has sent this funding to Venezuelan opposition groups mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and USAID, all of which have worked closely with the CIA to bring about “regime change” in Venezuela. The spirit of this huge influx of resources was confirmed by President Obama’s Executive Order of 9 March 2015, and renewed a year later, which falsely declares Venezuela to be “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. If you bring this funding to the US scale it would amount to a hostile foreign power channelling the equivalent of US$6.4 billion to bring about regime change.

  • FIGHT AGAINST ILLICIT DRUGS:

Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, but it unfortunately sits between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, and the world’s largest cocaine consumer, the United States. This  is why it always had and still has to fight illicit trafficking as well as  international narco-mafias within its borders. Venezuela has developed a comprehensive strategy to fight illicit drugs through international cooperation, the implementation of measures to reduce domestic consumption, the interception of illegal drug shipments, the destruction of clandestine airstrips, border monitoring measures and the detention and extradition of drug traffickers. Between 2008 and 2012 alone, 102 drug lords were captured and arrested.

Twenty-one of them were promptly deported to the US and 36 to Colombia, at the requests made by the authorities of these countries and in compliance with international agreements on the fight against organized crime. The firm determination to combat international drug trafficking mafias led President Nicolas Maduro to enact a law in 2012 enabling the interdiction of any drug-trafficking aircraft violating Venezuelan airspace. Thanks to this legal instrument, Venezuela has destroyed, disabled or brought down over 100 aircraft belonging to the drug transporting structure of Colombia and other countries illegally flying over our territory. In fact, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDC) recognises these efforts in their World Drug Report of 2015 stating that

In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, cocaine seizures decreased to 20.5 tons in 2013 (from 27.6 tons in 2012). According to authorities in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the country remains a transit point for cocaine, particularly cocaine trafficked by air in private aircraft, but newly introduced legislative changes related to air traffic control have decreased the entry and exit of uncontrolled aircraft, which has led to a decrease in drug trafficking by air (54).

  • WHY SO MANY FAKE NEWS  STORIES ABOUT VENEZUELA?

Ever since President Chavez passed away in 2013 and, even more openly, since the opposition won a parliamentary majority in 2015, Venezuela’s opposition has tried to oust the democratically elected government of Venezuela, explicitly stating that their aim as to “get rid” of President Maduro within six months, no matter how. As it was clear by the end of 2016 they had failed to do so whether by legal or violent means, so they have adopted an international strategy. Their plan is to create the impression that chaos reigns in the country so as to justify and bring about external intervention. With the overwhelming majority of the media in opposition hands, and with the enthusiastic support of the world corporate media, a campaign of intoxicating proportions has been waged daily against the Venezuelan government. This strategy has already been tried in the past, with the help of the US government, as evidenced in declassified papers.

In spite of all these years of economic warfare, financial blockades, media and psychological warfare against the government of Nicolas Maduro, we have managed to build 1.7 million heavily subsidised houses in the last three years. More than 1 million people have been lifted from illiteracy and the number of people receiving pensions and students has increased fourfold.

So as to respond to the food shortages resulting from the ongoing “economic war” waged against our government, in March 2016, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAPs) were established. CLAPs distribute food packs filled with the most important Venezuelan staples such as pasta, rice, flour, edible oil, coffee, butter, canned food or salt at a fair price. According to the research institute Hinterlaces, 60 % of all Venezuelans believe that CLAP is the right way to deal with the economic crisis in Venezuela. So far, the 30.000 CLAPs in Venezuela are distributing food packs to about 6 million households. Even the opposition admits that the CLAPs are working effectively and that they have helped ease social tensions.

According to Datanalisis, 50 % of Venezuela’s population receives products through the CLAPs. In addition, in 2016 the government created three new ministries commissioned to address the current food shortages in Venezuela: The Ministry for Agricultural Production and Lands, the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture as well as the Ministry for Urban Agriculture. The latter in particular is expected by 2020 to satisfy the needs of more than 3 million people through urban gardens, urban parcels, productive courtyards, organoponics vegetable gardens and urban greenhouses.

  • US FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS VENEZUELA

It is well known that practically since 1999, US foreign policy towards the Bolivarian government of Venezuela has been informed by (a) an intense hostility originating and (b) its very existence is as an “anomaly” to be reversed as soon as possible. Thus, the US since 1999 has been centrally involved in every single seditious effort to overthrow the democratically elected and legitimate government of Venezuela, notably in the April 2002 short-lived coup d’état. That is, for 18 years US foreign policy has sought to eradicate lock, stock and barrel, what it considers the anomaly of the Bolivarian government and its policies.

This US framework did not change one iota even when there was a wave of progressive governments that came to office in Latin America shifting the whole region sharply to the left thus historically producing the biggest gains in social progress, expansion of democracy and strengthening of national sovereignty, with millions being taken out of poverty and many more millions being economically, politically, socially and culturally included in their nations. In other words, the Bolivarian “anomaly” spread like wildfire throughout the continent.

US foreign policy makers instead of reshaping policy to take stock of the new context seeking to minimise ruptures by adopting a constructive attitude to the emerging geopolitical reality, the change towards Cuba notwithstanding, it launched itself into a vigorous policy of destabilization and “regime change” on a continental scale which targeted Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, but the emphasis was Venezuela where the destabilization intensity was and continues to be the highest.

Following years of open hostility especially during G.W. Bush’s presidencies, it reached its zenith when president Obama issued the infamous Executive Order declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” in 2015 which he renewed in 2016, and that under president Trump has taken the form of sanctions against Venezuela officials accused of drug trafficking without bothering to produce any evidence whatsoever. Worse, the US SOUTHCOM has made very threatening statements talking about a “compelling” need to intervene in Venezuela.

President Trump and the US extreme right have massively intensified their aggression against the Venezuelan government, but despite that President Maduro insists on seeking dialogue and good, normal relations with the US. Likewise, President insists on seeking a dialogue with Venezuela’s right wing opposition. In other words, Venezuela wants nothing more than

  • Full respect for international law and unconditional support for our right to self-determination and sovereignty
  • The rejection of any form of interference in our internal matters, especially from the US, international law ought to be respected
  • The condemnation of any form of violence and of any illegal, violent and unconstitutional means to topple the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro.
  • Support for dilalogue and peace , together with UNASUR, the Vatican, the three former presidents and the various countries that have formally joined the process.
  • Any existing difference or disagreement that may exist between Venezuela and the US to be addressed and ideally resolve through constructive engagement and diplomacy
  • HOW BIG IS THE WAVE OF VIOLENCE?

Opposition protests are taking place in less than 1% of the Venezuelan territory. The majority of the Venezuelan people wants to live in peace and has grown tired of the ongoing protests, which make their life even more difficult. Polls persistently show that well over 80% reject the right wing opposition’s wanton violence. The Venezuelan government has insisted all along on dialogue and has reached out to include Pope Francis as well as the former Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in the discussions. Recently, President Maduro, invoking Arts 347, 348 and 349 of the Constitution, has announced a Constituent Assembly to modify the 1999 Constitution so as to unlock the current political impasse and bring about peace. Although fully in line with our laws, this act has falsely been called a “coup d’état” by opposition leaders, who since 2013 have continually campaigned for a Constituent Assembly even collecting signatures for it. It is puzzling they quietly dropped the proposal when Art 348 states that it can also be called by “15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry”, something they could easily achieve. The Venezuelan government will continue to act fully line with the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 and asks you to respect and support its efforts for peace and dialogue. Furthermore, Venezuela’s right wing opposition’s alleged central reason for the current wave of violence was the “cancellation” of the regional elections. The National Electoral Council has just announced they will be held on 10th December 2017 but, true to their undemocratic and seditious nature, all opposition leaders have rejected and have said publicly they oppose these elections in the same way they now violently oppose the Constituent Assembly which they once strongly campaigned for.

We are happy to provide more evidence for every single point mentioned above. Please do not hesitate to contact us at cbalbertolovera@gmail.com

Footnotes
[1] All the information comes from the U.S. Code – Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure – See more at: http://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-18-crimes-and-criminal-procedure/#!tid=NE93D63E2CF2444E4AF661A26F1A907B8 (visited 8th June 2017)
[2] All the information about the list of fatal victims comes from “Lista de fallecidos por las protestas violentas de la oposición venezolana, abril a junio de 2017” Albaciudad 96.3FM, http://albaciudad.org/2017/06/lista-fallecidos-protestas-venezuela-abril-2017/ (visited 8th June 2017)
[3]For a discussion in English, consult Dr. Curcio’s latest book “The visible hand of the market. Economic Warfare in Venezuela”, to be downloaded at: http://www.15yultimo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/THE-VISIBLE-HAND-OF-THE-MARKET.-ECONOMIC-WARFARE-IN-VENEZUELA.-PASQUALINA-CURCIO-C.pdf
[4] http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/25/the-dirty-hand-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-in-venezuela/