World

Is Venezuela on the Verge of Another Coup?

While there is more than enough evidence to suggest a coup may indeed already be in the works for Venezuela in the near future, a wide range of opinions comprise Venezuelan public opinion regarding the opposition’s latest call for protests.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on March 23, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on March 23, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

Current events in Venezuela and the political opposition’s call for global protests against President Nicolas Maduro conjure up memories of the 2002 coup d’état – a moment marked by violence that was all too familiar to most Venezuelans. The opposition’s public call for national and international protests, slated for September 1 – accompanied by transportation strikes in some of the nation’s opposition strongholds, along with rising inaccessibility to most basic staples –  indicates a strong possibility for the rise of  rampant guarimba (protest) violence reminiscent of the 2014 opposition demonstrations. So it would seem that a potential coup d’état is in progress.

Yet, what are the real possibilities? What are the grassroots movements and other organisations aligned with the Bolivarian process saying about the opposition’s upcoming demonstrations? What strategies are in place? And, more importantly, how are the grassroots preparing to respond come September 1?

2016 opposition protests and their political backdrop

This week’s protests centre on the Venezuelan opposition’s insistent demand for a recall referendum to occur this year. This is not the first time Venezuela has faced a potential presidential impeachment.  As teleSUR English’s Iain Bruce reports, “On August 15, 2004, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, faced his opponents in the first and only recall referendum against a sitting president in modern world history. The opposition parties were confident they would win. They assumed they would naturally recover the positions of power they had lost.” However, Venezuelan history proved otherwise and Chávez remained in office, securing a majority.

Since the people’s election of Chávez in 1998, the Bolivarian revolution has marked a distinct transition away from an oligarchy that historically siphoned oil and resources from the people, effectively devastating Venezuela’s majority poor nation. Over the last 17 years, Venezuela’s Bolivarian process has made major strides in inclusionary rights, economic access and raising political consciousness domestically and on an international scale.

However, the opposition, actively supported by the US, continues to strategise against the Bolivarian process which has radically transformed people’s material conditions and improved the majority poor’s livelihood.

On several occasions, the opposition has illegitimately pushed for a recall referendum to happen this year. Yet, the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) president Tibisay Lucena publicly announced earlier this month that according to constitutionally established timelines, the recall referendum will not happen this year. This is due to the opposition consciously beginning the process too late for all the steps to be completed this year.

Nonetheless, the opposition has found support of right-wing factions throughout the region such was the case earlier this month when 15 out of 35 Organisation of American States (OAS) members released a joint statement calling for the Venezuelan government to carry out what would be an unconstitutional referendum process before January 2016.

We’ve witnessed the same tactic over and over again. The corporate media wages a seemingly endless battle in the political arena – to delegitimise Venezuela, allege that the country is breaching its constitution and highlight its challenges, both economic and political. To a certain extent, the opposition has successfully confused millions internationally about the diverse realities facing most Venezuelans.

The economic lead-up to this year’s call for protests parallels that of the 2002 coup. Just last week opposition legislator Freddy Guevara admitted that the opposition had used an ‘economic boycott’ to force the government out. Moreover, he vowed that the opposition would reach Miraflores Palace on September 1, just as they did in 2002 when the opposition suddenly diverged from its pre-determined route and decided to march to Miraflores resulting in a direct confrontation between the right-wing opposition and the Venezuelan popular forces.

The opposition’s other tactics have included a campaign to prevent the country from assuming Mercosur’s pro tempore presidency. Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez along with grassroots movements aligned with the Mercosur process has denounced the continued refusal to transfer power over to Venezuela without grounds.

While international reports may paint a picture of disaster across the Latin American left and especially of more progressive governments, the continued efforts to destabilise Venezuela indicate that US imperialism is re-positioning itself in the region and returning to relationships with its historic right-wing allies.

With this said, the direct hand of the US government in these destabilisation attempts against Venezuela remains ever present, even after sanctions were renewed in April this year. For instance, the Venezuelan foreign ministry’s North American agency released a statement this Monday that renounced the US state department spokesperson John Kirby’s call to release the former mayor of San Criśtobal, Táchira state, Daniel Ceballos from prison.

Ceballos was transferred to prison after spending time under house arrest for his role in the 2014 guarimbas. The Ministry of Justice asserted that the transfer happened after recent information surfaced of Ceballos’ potential escape plans to “coordinate acts of violence” this week.

“The brand and authorship of the coup being planned for September 1, 2016, in Venezuela, in collusion with the anti-democratic opposition and international right, has become clear,” read the statement. It continued, “[President Barack Obama’s government] is seeking to destabilise Venezuela and the region in its final days to legitimise its imperial plans against peace and the development of the people.”

Likewise, US’s prize winning opposition spokesperson Yon Goicoecha was also arrested this week for the alleged possession of explosive making equipment.

Voices from the Bolivarian process

While there is more than enough evidence to suggest a coup may indeed already be in the works for Venezuela in the near future, a wide range of opinions comprise Venezuelan public opinion regarding the opposition’s latest call for protests.

For example, the government has taken steps to prevent violence such as prohibiting drones from entering into Venezuelan airspace for the next 120 days unless sanctioned by the defence ministry. Many private businesses are also closing their doors amidst security concerns.

Meanwhile, grassroots spaces such as community councils and local media outlets have called for marches in support of the Bolivarian process starting Tuesday, August 30, as well as reminding people to behave non-confrontationally on September 1 to avoid any possible bloodshed.  For example, the Bicentennial Women’s Front convened “a great mobilisation in defence of the revolution … we will demonstrate that we are the guardians of Chavez and the Revolution.”

In an exclusive with Venezuelanalysis, María Helena Ramírez, student organiser and resident of San Crístobal, Táchira state, stressed that despite the opposition’s alleged call for “peace”, “some right wing spokespeople have remarked that ‘there will be deaths’ and ‘blood will run’ in public interviews.” during the September 1 demonstrations.

Ramírez also remarked on the opposition’s strategic use of transportation, highlighting that, “there will be buses leaving many regions of the country toward Caracas. This is a very interesting strategy given that Chavista social movements have mobilised across the country to march in the capital for years and the opposition historically has not.” The opposition most certainly counts on selling the impression internationally that their political position has a consolidated and unified base.

Likewise, in Táchira, Ramírez confirmed reports that there has been a transportation strike called for nine days meant to interrupt and complicate citizens’ daily lives contributing to heightened levels of frustration and concern. Similarly, this past weekend when Ramos Allup, the current opposition leader in the National Assembly, visited Táchira, people found road blocks made out of tires in the same places that were strongholds for the 2014 guarimbas.

Ramírez suspects that, “what we are seeing is the beginning of an attack against Venezuela meant to push the people to the limit and carry out a coup.” However, Ramírez highlighted that the grassroots along with the Bolivarian government have committed to “protecting the people of Venezuela, especially in Caracas and the Bolviarian Revolution.”

José Vicente Rangel, long time comrade of former president Chávez who also served as a minister during his administration, publicly expressed similar concerns over the September 1 marches to Venezuelan media – distinctively drawing parallels to the prelude of the 2002 coup. “In the time of a tense climate, this march could have very grave consequences. Any detail can be explosive and although the same promoters [of this march] insist that it will be civil in character, [our] experience proves otherwise,” Rangel said.

“As the march can occur in all normalcy, it can also repeat the brutal experience of [the] April 11, 2002 march and other episodes of violence like the guarimbas, we must put forth with urgency: dialogue,” he said. He added that dialogue is favoured by 80% of Venezuela’s population.

“There are factions intent on creating a chaotic situation and provoking the rupture of constitutional and democratic order, as well as foreign interventionist adventures that would severely affect our national sovereignty. The opposition that exists in this country seems bent on disaster and total institutional rupture to facilitate [their] access to power; apparently all other options, except violence, are blocked,” Rangel stressed.

It is also worth noting that Maduro also conveyed similar concerns at a rally this weekend and denounced what he called “an imperialist attack on all.” Maduro cited ongoing US interference and right-wing assaults against the governments of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador among other examples.

Dissenting opinions

However, there are dissenting opinions. These opinions rest on the memory of the ingenuity of the Venezuelan people, who can defy all odds and prevail against an avalanche of uncertainty.

In his recent publication The Takeover of the Cities and Power (and the desire to take), Venezuelan public intellectual José Roberto Duque explains why he believes September 1 will be another unsuccessful attempt by the opposition to destabilise the nation. Principally, Duque believes that very few historical cases exist that show that ‘rebellions’ lead to drastic societal shifts.

“The only mobilisations of this historical time that have toppled governments or at the very least have shaken [them] include:
1) sudden and spontaneous [rebellions] (Venezuela, 1989); 2) [rebellions] directed, defined and inspired by genuine leaders (Venezuela, 1998); or 3) [rebellions] headed or financed by the international war machine (Libya, 2011),” he attests.

Additionally, Duque explains that while there may be a series of violent episodes across the country, due to the opposition’s lack of effort to build a consolidated base – combined with the Venezuelan Chavista population’s will to rectify the errors of the revolutionary process – nothing will mark a definitive ‘exit’ to Maduro’s administration.

“Maybe blood will be spilt in some places, maybe they try and prolong for a few days the media sensation of a rebellion (the cameras and audiovisual production are ready, count on that),” Duque writes. However, he continues, “And perhaps from our side, from the side building this country, we will probably forget the arguments and demobilizing divides, and maybe we will remember in unison that the revolution charges us with an important task, parallel or previous to all the others: avoid at all costs that the transnational corporation’s racist plague take ahold of the institutional management of the state.” He concludes, “If this is the result, we will have obtained another political victory as others walk around announcing our decisive defeat.”

What about international solidarity?

While we’ve assessed the vast array of hypotheses regarding Venezuela’s future, time is the truest test. While one may argue that it would be foolish for the opposition to carry out a coup at this time when they are relatively close to securing a recall referendum for early next year, we have seen how often the opposition is prone to bouts of sabotage and violence at the expense of stability and people’s lives.

However, in the process of writing this piece, what remains glaringly clear is the incredible need for international grassroots movements to re-engage with Venezuela and develop a renewed sense of commitment with the Bolivarian process. Hypothesising serves us little in the larger scheme of Venezuela’s future.

The growing divide between the Venezuelan grassroots movement and global left is not only systematically intentional but also discouraging..

The international media’s barrage with all its exaggerations, misleading headlines and largely unfounded coverage has been critical for building one of the greatest imperialist and interventionist offensives in Latin America and the Caribbean region. The historically racist isolation of Haiti and the distance between the global left and the popular movements carrying on more than 200 years of revolutionary process on the island may be the only case similar to Venezuela in the western hemisphere.

As the impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff is underway in Brazil , it’s necessary to redraw our shared political lines to defend Venezuelan, Latin American and ultimately oppressed nations’ sovereignty and defeat capitalism’s steadfast determination to persevere no matter what.

What the world needs is for Venezuelans to face this trying time head on and win. A coup for Venezuela would mark what promises to be an already challenging era for our political generation as this chapter of great revolutionary fiesta winds down and we are charged with the real task of building other worlds different than our present. Venezuelans already embarked on a path to achieve the nearly impossible. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to identify, create and consolidate viable economic alternatives as well as cultural and structural shifts in society. Seventeen years is not nearly enough to decolonize and undo over 500 years of imperialism, colonisation and devastation.

International solidarity needs to be ready on September 1 to accompany the Venezuelan people and defend their revolutionary process.

This article originally appeared in Venezuelanalysis

  • K SHESHU BABU

    The US corporates and media are out to destroy Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular. The continent has vast natural resources and nations like Venezuela have rich oil and gas. The industrialists of USA and right- wing forces of Venezuela have been trying to topple the strong left government since Hugo Chavez times but they failed to muster people’s support. Now, they may try to stage a coup d etat by force and military action. Every country and human rights activist must express solidarity with the people of Venezuela and thwart the imperialists dreams of usurping power.