TIM YOUNG takes an in-depth look at some of the recent violence in the country
SINCE early April, violence by anti-democratic, extreme elements associated with right-wing protests in Venezuela have resulted in at least 120 deaths and over 1,200 people injured.
The right-wing opposition coalition claims that it is defending democracy and human rights but its central purpose is to bring about “regime change,” and for some of the right-wing this includes by violent, unconstitutional means.
The current street campaign is the latest effort in a consistent line of undemocratic attempts to topple elected presidents in the country, dating back to the failed coup in 2002 which tried to unseat president Hugo Chavez.
The campaign’s wave of violence has been taken to a new and disturbing level. In the process, both pro-government supporters and anti-government protesters have been killed or injured, as well as bystanders and other people caught up in the violence.
A number of police officers and members of the army have also been killed and injured, on two recent occasions by roadside bombs being detonated to blow up police motorcyclists.
As part of this, a key tactic engaged in by elements of the right-wing has been co-ordinated action to blockade over 50 main roads across the country. This has led to a number of deaths, through buses and motorcycles colliding with the barricades or victims being shot as they tried to bypass them.
Alongside this, extreme acts of vandalism and arson have been targeted against infrastructure and public institutions, including state electricity facilities and food distribution networks.
On June 30, for example, a food storage depot in Anzoategui state (supplying free school meals for children) was set on fire, destroying 50 tons of food.
Alarmingly, attacks have also been made on creches, with children inside, and hospital patients.
For two consecutive days the Carrizal Maternity Hospital was put under siege. Barricades of burning rubbish were set up by protesters just 50 metres from the building, requiring mothers and newborn babies to be evacuated.
Ramping up this tactic to a new level of illegality, on June 27 a right-wing opposition-supporting policeman piloting a stolen helicopter fired shots and dropped grenades in an attack on the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court in Caracas. The pilot was identified as Oscar Alberto Perez, an inspector with one of Venezuela’s specialist police agencies.
A series of videos posted at the same time as the attacks to Perez’s Instagram also showed him reading a statement, surrounded by several men in military uniform, masked and carrying machine guns, in which he claimed to represent a group of military and other officials committed to toppling the government.
In an echo of the use of right-wing death squads in Latin America in the 1980s, a number of pro-government supporters appear to have been the target of assassinations. These include trade unionists such as Jose Luis Rivas Aranguren, who was also a candidate for the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly, and activists in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Pro-government supporters have also been killed on the streets. In one horrific case, Orlando Figuera died in hospital from knife wounds and extensive burns to his body, after masked protesters accused him of being a government supporter as he was passing through the opposition stronghold of Chacao.
Unfortunately, hardly any of these cases have been mentioned in much British (or US) media coverage, where often the impression is given that violence in Venezuela only originates from one side of the country’s deeply polarised political divide.
There is a desperate need for dialogue in Venezuela. But media impressions that the government is the only side responsible for the violence can be taken as a green light by extreme sections of Venezuela’s right-wing to feel it can use violence without international condemnation.
It is important to recognise that a number of anti-government protesters have been killed as well and that all violence must be condemned. Every loss of life is a tragedy and those responsible for each death must be held to account.
Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has reiterated that incidents of police brutality will not be tolerated, and that officers who use excessive force will be punished.
Cases are being pursued where members of the security forces have been suspected or positively identified as perpetrators of unlawful killings, and arrests and indictments have already taken place.
Venezuela’s current difficulties are best resolved by dialogue as a way to peacefully address the problems the nation faces, where all forces renounce violence as a way to achieve political ends.
The means for a regional dialogue under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) exist, with the participation of the former presidents of numerous countries. The Venezuelan government and much of civil society have indicated a willingness to take part in such talks.
Instead, Venezuela now has to contend with the further imposition of sanctions by US President Donald Trump against the country, including against President Nicolas Maduro himself.
Additionally, the CIA recently confirmed the courting of Mexico and Colombia as part of its strategy of regime change. All this will further embolden the extreme elements of the right-wing opposition in its violent campaign and make a dialogue process less likely.
Governments internationally, including Britain and the EU, should do all they can to facilitate and support such a dialogue process. Trump’s sanctions will not help the Venezuelan people, or to facilitate dialogue, but exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions.