martha rosler on Sat, 13 Apr 2002 22:20:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Update & Venezeula Report

dear list,
 i said i would post tw items on Venezuela, to improve the dialogue and
move away from the one-sidedness of the posts from ricardo bello. I
apoogize if this further one is one too many, but i just received it and
foubd it very itneresting, of course, if it is not interesting to you,
delete it.
martha rosler

Status: RO
>From: "Michael Albert" <>
>To: <>
>Subject:  Update & Venezeula Report
>Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2002 07:37:52 -0400
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>This is a ZNet Free Update -- you can alter your relations via the links
>on ZNet's top page (
>Of  course, as usual, ZNet has major new essays and content in many
>areas. The most activity bears on the Mideast, with a major new piece
>from Chomsky and pieces from Monbiot, Bhargouti, Prashad, etc.
>Cynthia Peter's essay on the upcoming events in Washington tops various
>new contributions in that TNI Vieques protest, Kagarlitsky
>on anti-Americanism, and many many more.
>But...I am writing to convey to you the following two pieces. The first,
>arrived moments ago, describes today's coup in Venezuela. The second,
>which went online on the 10th, predicts it and provides context. This
>coverage is so informative, and such a needed counter to confusion, that
>I hope you will not be put off by the length of including two pieces
>rather than only one.
>Coup in Venezuela: An Eyewitness Account
>By Gregory Wilpert
>The orchestration of the coup was impeccable and, in all likelihood,
>planned a long time ago. Hugo Chavez, the fascist communist dictator of
>Venezuela could not stand the truth and thus censored the media
>relentlessly. For his own personal gain and that of his henchmen (and
>henchwomen, since his cabinet had more women than any previous
>Venezuelan government's), he drove the country to the brink of economic
>ruin. In the end he proceeded to murder those who opposed him. So as to
>reestablish democracy, liberty, justice, and prosperity in Venezuela and
>so as to avoid more bloodshed, the chamber of commerce, the union
>federation, the church, the media, and the management of Venezuela's oil
>company, in short: civil society and the military decided that enough is
>enough-that Chavez had his chance and that his experiment of a "peaceful
>democratic Bolivarian revolution" had to come to an immediate end.
>This is, of course, the version of events that the officials now in
>charge and thus also of the media, would like everyone to believe. So
>what really happened? Of course I don't know, but I'll try to represent
>the facts as I witnessed them.
>First of all, the military is saying that the main reason for the coup
>is what happened today, April 11. "Civil society," as the opposition
>here refers to itself, organized a massive demonstration of perhaps
>100,000 to 200,000 people to march to the headquarters of Venezuela's
>oil company, PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. The day leading
>up to the march all private television stations broadcast advertisements
>for the demonstration, approximately once every ten minutes. It was a
>successful march, peaceful, and without government interference of any
>kind, even though the march illegally blocked the entire freeway, which
>is Caracas' main artery of transportation, for several hours.
>Supposedly at the spur of the moment, the organizers decided to re-route
>the march to Miraflores, the president's office building, so as to
>confront the pro-government demonstration, which was called in the last
>minute. About 5,000 Chavez-supporters had gathered there by the time the
>anti-government demonstrators got there. In-between the two
>demonstrations were the city police, under the control of the
>oppositional mayor of Caracas, and the National Guard, under control of
>the president. All sides claim that they were there peacefully and did
>not want to provoke anyone. I got there just when the opposition
>demonstration and the National Guard began fighting each other. Who
>started the fight, which involved mostly stones and tear gas, is, as is
>so often the case in such situations, nearly impossible to tell. A
>little later, shots were fired into the crowds and I clearly saw that
>there were three parties involved in the shooting, the city police,
>Chavez supporters, and snipers from buildings above. Again, who shot
>first has become a moot and probably impossible to resolve question. At
>least ten people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in this gun
>battle-almost all of them demonstrators.
>One of the Television stations managed to film one of the three sides in
>this battle and broadcast the footage over and over again, making it
>look like the only ones shooting were Chavez supporters from within the
>demonstration at people beyond the view of the camera. The media over
>and over again showed the footage of the Chavez supporters and implied
>that they were shooting at an unarmed crowd. As it turns out, and as
>will probably never be reported by the media, most of the dead are
>Chavez supporters. Also, as will probably never be told, the snipers
>were members of an extreme opposition party, known as Bandera Roja.=20
>These last two facts, crucial as they are, will not be known because
>they do not fit with the new mythology, which is that Chavez armed and
>then ordered his supporters to shoot at the opposition demonstration.
>Perhaps my information is incorrect, but what is certain is that the
>local media here will never bother to investigate this information. And
>the international media will probably simply ape what the local media
>reports (which they are already doing).
>Chavez' biggest and perhaps only mistake of the day, which provided the
>last remaining proof his opposition needed for his anti-democratic
>credentials, was to order the black-out of the private television
>stations. They had been broadcasting the confrontations all afternoon
>and Chavez argued that these broadcasts were exacerbating the situation
>and should, in the name of public safety, be temporarily shut-down.
>Now, all of "civil society," the media, and the military are saying that
>Chavez has to go because he turned against his own people. Aside from
>the lie this is, what is conveniently forgotten are all of the
>achievements of the Chavez administration: a new democratic constitution
>which broke the power monopoly of the two hopelessly corrupt and
>discredited main parties and put Venezuela at the forefront in terms of
>progressive constitutions; introduced fundamental land reform; financed
>numerous progressive ecological community development projects;
>cracked-down on corruption; promoted educational reform which schooled
>over 1 million children for the first time and doubled investment in
>education; regulated the informal economy so as to reduce the insecurity
>of the poor; achieved a fairer price for oil through OPEC and which
>significantly increased government income; internationally campaigned
>tirelessly against neo-liberalism; reduced official unemployment from
>18% to 13%; introduced a large-scale micro-credit program for the poor
>and for women; reformed the tax system which dramatically reduced tax
>evasion and increased government revenue; lowered infant mortality from
>21% to 17%; tripled literacy courses; modernized the legal system, etc.,
>Chavez' opposition, which primarily consisted of Venezuela's old guard
>in the media, the union federation, the business sector, the church, and
>the traditionally conservative military, never cared about any of these
>achievements. Instead, they took advantage of their media monopoly to
>turn public opinion against him and managed to turn his biggest
>liability, his autocratic and inflammatory style, against him.
>Progressive civil society had either been silenced or demonized as
>violent Chavez fanatics.
>At this point, it is impossible to know what will happen to Chavez'
>"Bolivarian Revolution"-whether it will be completely abandoned and
>whether things will return to Venezuela's 40-year tradition of
>patronage, corruption, and rentierism for the rich. What one can say
>without a doubt, is that by abandoning constitutional democracy, no
>matter how unpopular and supposedly inept the elected president,
>Venezuela's ruling class and its military show just how politically
>immature they are and deal a tremendous blow to political culture
>throughout Latin America, just as the coup against Salvador Allende did
>in 1973. This coup shows once again that democracy in Latin America is a
>matter of ruling class preference, not a matter of law.
>If the United States and the democratic international community have the
>courage to practice what they preach, then they should not recognize
>this new government. Democrats around the world should pressure their
>governments to deny recognition to Venezuela's new military junta or any
>president they happen to choose. According to the Charter of the
>Organization of American States (OAS), this would mean expelling
>Venezuela from the OAS, as a U.S. state department official recently
>threatened to do. Please call the U.S. state department or your foreign
>ministry and tell them to withdraw their ambassadors from Venezuela.
>An Imminent Coup in Venezuela?=20
> =20
>by Gregory Wilpert=20
>April 10, 2002=20
>It appears that the strategy of President Chavez=92 opposition is to
>create as much chaos and disorder in Venezuela as possible, so that
>Chavez is left with no other choice than to call a state of emergency.
>This, in turn could either lead to a military coup or U.S. military
>Given that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the western
>hemisphere; it is distinctly possible that the U.S. government is going
>to intervene overtly, if it is not already doing so covertly. This means
>that the current crisis in Venezuela is probably a planned conspiracy to
>topple the Chavez government with the support of the U.S.=20
>As I write this, on April 9, Venezuela=92s largest union federation, the
>Confederaci=F3n de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) has called for a
>two-day general strike. Venezuela=92s chamber of commerce, FEDECAMERAS,
>has joined the strike and called on all of its affiliated businesses to
>close for 48 hours.=20
>This was the second time in four months that the two federations, of
>labor unions and of business owners, decided to join forces and strike
>against the leftist government of President Hugo Chavez. What is
>happening in Venezuela? Why are these and many other forces uniting
>against Chavez?=20
>Chavez took power in late 1998 in a landslide electoral victory, calling
>for a =93Bolivarian Revolution,=94 in reference to Latin America=92s =
>hero of
>independence and Venezuela=92s favorite son, Simon Bolivar. Since then,
>Chavez has tried to root out the entrenched powers of Venezuelan
>society, represented by a political and economic elite, which had
>governed Venezuela for over 40 years in a pseudo-democratic form by
>alternating power between two entrenched political parties.=20
>Chavez first reformed Venezuela=92s constitution, through a =
>assembly and a referendum, making it one of the most progressive
>constitutions in the world. The old elite were nearly completely driven
>from political power in the course of seven elections, which took place
>between 1998 and 2000. However, the old elite of the labor unions, the
>business sector, the church, and the media are still in power and have
>recently begun making life as difficult as possible for Chavez.=20
>Although Chavez originally had popularity a rating of around 80%, his
>popularity has steadily declined in the past year, supposedly reaching
>the low 30=92s now. Whether the reason for this decline was the slow =
>of his promised reforms, the lack of significant progress in reducing
>corruption and poverty, or if it was because of the incessant media
>assault on his government, is not clear =96 most likely it is because of =
>combination of these factors.=20
>The conflict between Chavez and the old elite has recently come to a
>head. First, when Chavez passed a slew of 49 laws, which, among many
>other measures, were supposed to increase the government=92s oil income
>and redistribute land. The chamber of commerce vehemently opposed these
>laws and decided to call for a general business strike on December 10.=20
>Venezuela=92s labor union federation, the CTV, decided to join the =
>supposedly out of concern for the harm the laws did to the business
>sector and thus to employment in Venezuela.=20
>More likely, though, the CTV=92s support of a general strike was in
>retaliation for Chavez having forced the unions to carry out new
>elections of the CTV=92s leadership and for not recognizing its
>leadership, due to charges of fraud, when the old guard union leadership
>declared itself the winner of the election and refused to submit the
>official results and ballots to the government.=20
>The second major issue, which has resulted in a serious challenge to
>Chavez, occurred when Chavez appointed five new members loyal to him to
>the board of directors of the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, the
>largest oil company in the world and the third largest supplier of oil
>to the U.S.=20
>Also, he appointed a prominent leftist economist and long-time critic of
>PDVSA as its president. The management of PDVSA cried out in protest,
>arguing that the appointments were purely political and not based on
>merit and thus threatened to undermine the company=92s independence and
>its meritocracy.=20
>Chavez has since countered that board members and president have always
>been political appointments and that the state needed to regain control
>over PDVSA because it has become increasingly inefficient, a state
>within a state, whose top management is living a life of extreme luxury.
>Furthermore, and less explicitly, Chavez wants to assure that PDVSA
>adheres to OPEC=92s production quotas, so that the oil price remains at =
>stable and profitable level. PDVSA, however, has a history of
>undermining OPEC quotas because its management places a higher premium
>on market share than on a good oil price.=20
>Following a two weeks of protest and of labor slowdowns within PDVSA,
>mostly on the part of management, the labor federation leadership of the
>CTV, who all belong to the discredited old elite, decided to join the
>conflict in support of PDVSA=92s management, arguing that it was acting =
>solidarity with PDVSA workers in its call for a day-long general strike.
>The chamber of commerce rapidly followed suit, seeing this as another
>opportunity to humiliate and perhaps topple Chavez, and supported the
>strike as well. Considering the first day a complete success, the CTV
>and the chamber of commerce have decided to extend the general strike
>another 24 hours. However, as PROVEA, Venezuela=92s human rights agency
>has noted, even though Venezuela=92s constitution guarantees the right =
>strike, the strike is completely illegal because it bypassed the legal
>requirements for democratic legitimation of such a strike.=20
>Given that a large majority of private businesses are members of the
>chamber of commerce and oppose Chavez, the strike has appeared to be
>quite successful. Whether workers actually believe in the strike and
>intentionally stay away from work in protest to the government, is
>almost impossible to tell, since most businesses were closed by
>Many businesses were open and most of the informal sector was actively
>selling its wares on the streets as usual. Of course, all government
>offices and all banks, whose hours are regulated by the government, were
>open. Together, these sectors account for about 40% of Venezuela=92s
>The conflict in Venezuela has come to take on epic proportions, if one
>listens to the rhetoric of the two sides of the conflict. Both sides
>make extensive use of hyperbole, alternately calling the strike either a
>complete and total failure or a complete and total success.=20
>Other examples of how passionate and heated the debates have become are
>reflected in the opposition=92s repeated references to Chavez as a
>=93totalitarian fascist dictator=94 who wants to =93cubanize=94 =
>Chavez and his supporters, for their part, refer to the opposition as a
>squalid (=93escualido=94) corrupt oligarchy.=20
>Both sets of labels are caricatures of the truth. Certainly, =
>oligarchical elite opposes Chavez, but the opposition to Chavez has
>become quite strong and has grown far beyond the oligarchy, to include
>many of his former friends and supporters. On the other hand, even
>though Chavez uses a lot of inflammatory rhetoric, the opposition has
>yet to find a single instance in which he has violated Venezuela=92s =
>democratic constitution in any way.=20
>Chavez=92 greatest failure, from a progressive point of view, probably
>lies in his relatively autocratic style, which is why many of his former
>supporters have become alienated from his government. Whenever someone
>opposed his policies he has tended to reject them and cast them out of
>his government circle.=20
>The result has been a consistent loss of a relatively broad political
>spectrum of government leadership and a significant turn-over in his
>cabinet, making stable and consistent policy implementation quite
>This loss of broad-based support has made itself felt particularly
>strongly during the recent crises, making Chavez look more isolated than
>he might otherwise be. Other than his party supporters, who are quite
>significant in number and come mostly from the poor =93barrios,=94 the
>progressive sectors of civil society have been neglected by Chavez and
>have thus not been active. Instead, the conservative sectors of civil
>society, such as the chamber of commerce and the old guard union
>leadership are among the main mobilizers of civil society.=20
>Still, Chavez=92 policies have been almost without exception progressive
>in that they have supported land redistribution for poor farmers, title
>to the self-built homes of the barrios, steady increases in the minimum
>wage and of public sector salaries, and the enrollment of over 1 million
>students in school who were previously excluded, to name just a few
>In terms of international issues, Chavez has been on the forefront in
>working for greater intra-Third World solidarity, in opposing
>neo-liberalism, and in supporting Cuba.=20
>Figuring out what this epic conflict is about has been somewhat
>difficult for an outsider. Passions are so inflamed that it is
>practically impossible to find calm and reasoned analyses about what is
>going on. Are the chamber of commerce, the labor federation leadership,
>the upper class, and significant sectors of the middle class really
>primarily concerned about the =93politicization=94 of PDVSA and the
>appointment of a pro-government board of directors?=20
>Perhaps. But does opposition to these appointments justify a general
>strike? Definitely not. More likely these sectors are concerned that
>politicization of PDVSA means a loss of access to Venezuela=92s =
>oil. Not only that, the most common complaints one hears about Chavez
>have more to do with his style than with any concrete policies he has
>implemented. There often is a racist undertone to such complaints,
>implying that Chavez, because of his folksy and populist style and his
>Indio appearance, is sub-human, a =93negro.=94=20
>It does not help that almost all of the media, except the one
>government-run TV network, out of about five major TV networks, and one
>out of approximately ten major newspapers is completely opposed to
>The media regularly cover nearly every single opposition pronouncement
>and rarely cover government declarations. Chavez, out of frustration
>with the media has relentlessly attacked the media for belonging to the
>old guard oligarchy and for printing nothing but lies, occasionally
>threatening them with legal action for slander.=20
>The media has, of course, responded in kind, by accusing Chavez of
>intimidating journalists with his pronouncements and of sending gangs to
>threaten journalists with physical violence. The media has tried to
>embarrass Chavez internationally by taking its case to the Organization
>of American States and to the U.S., which have responded favorably to
>their complaints and have criticized Chavez for his supposed lack of
>respect for human rights.=20
>The other thing Chavez has done to combat the media is to exploit a law
>which permits the government to take over all of the airwaves for
>important government announcements. All TV and radio stations are
>required to broadcast these announcements.=20
>During the general strike Chavez decided to go all-out and interrupted
>all TV and radio broadcasts numerous times during the strike. The
>government=92s use of the airwaves has now provided additional =
>to the opposition and constituted an important factor in their deciding
>to extend the strike from one day to two.=20
>Chavez=92 greatest error has been his truly fundamental neglect for
>cultivating a culture which would support his =93Bolivarian =
>one which progressive sectors of civil society would support and promote
>amongst the population and internationally, even against a strongly
>oppositional media.=20
>Despite this grave fault of his presidency, Chavez continues to deserve
>the support of progressives because the only alternative that has
>presented itself until now is a return to the status quo ante, where the
>upper class, together with selected sectors of the labor movement and
>the government bureaucracy share Venezuela=92s oil pie amongst =
>leaving the poor, who constitute three quarters of Venezuela=92s
>population, to fend for themselves.=20
>Currently, however, the most immediate and most likely alternative to
>Chavez is either a military coup or U.S. intervention, since Chavez
>definitely won=92t resign and since he is legally in office at least =
>the 2004, when a recall vote can be called. This means that progressives
>around the world should act in solidarity with Chavez=92 government and
>support him, if another Chile-style coup is to be avoided.=20
>Gregory Wilpert lives in Caracas, is a former U.S. Fulbright scholar in
>Venezuela, and is currently doing independent research on the sociology
>of development.=20
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