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Venezuela death toll mounts in growing unrest

CARACAS, Venezuela – The death toll from escalating anti-government protests in Venezuela jumped to eight on Friday, as President Nicolás Maduro’s leftist administration threatened to cut off fuel to areas “under fascist siege.”

Students and the opposition are spearheading a movement that has spiraled into the biggest challenge for Maduro since he was narrowly elected last year after the death of Hugo Chávez, with 137 people wounded and more than 100 detained since the demonstrations broke out this month.

The protesters are agitating against a government that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but which has also overseen deteriorating economic conditions, rampant street crime, corruption and increasingly dire job prospects.

The nationwide unrest has spilled into Venezuela’s international relations, with U.S. President Barack Obama calling on the government to address the “legitimate grievances” of its people, while Maduro has threatened to block U.S. broadcaster CNN, accusing the network of inciting “civil war.”

CNN said Friday that several of its journalists working in Venezuela, on both Spanish-language and English-language programs, had seen their press credentials revoked or refused.

As well as cracking down on foreign and domestic media, Maduro’s government — which blames right-wing infiltrators for fomenting unrest — warned it would cut off gasoline supplies to restless areas.

“We will be obliged to suspend the supply of fuel to areas under fascist siege in order to preserve the security of all,” Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez said on Twitter, in the latest move to squelch more than two weeks of demonstrations that have frequently descended into violence.

‘Chilling effect’ 

Ramírez, who also heads the state oil company, provided no precise details on when or where gasoline supplies could be withheld, but the unrest started in the western state of Tachira in reaction to the attempted rape and robbery of a university student.

There have since been near-daily protests in San Cristobal, the state capital, while four of the eight killed nationwide have been in Caracas – three from gunshot wounds during a huge student and opposition protest on Feb. 12, Attorney General Luisa Ortega said.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a press conference in Caracas on Feb. 21, 2014. The death toll from escalating anti-government protests in Venezuela jumped to eight on Friday, as Maduro threatened to cut off fuel to areas “under fascist siege.”

Juan Barreto/AFP

In the north-central state of Carabobo, a young beauty queen was shot in the head during opposition protests and a prosecutor died after crashing his car while trying to evade a roadblock set up by protesters.

Investigators also were examining the case of a young man allegedly “raped with a gun” after being arrested in Carabobo’s capital, Valencia, one of the epicenters of the unrest.

Among the injured, 100 are civilians and the rest are from the security forces.

More protests on Saturday 

The opposition is planning another major march in the capital on Saturday to demand the disarming of pro-government civilian groups reportedly involved in attacks on demonstrators.

The government has called for a rival rally by “Chavista women” at the same time, raising the specter of more clashes between the two sides.

The United States expressed concern Friday over the jailing of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López and insisted that any charges against him be handled in an “impartial and transparent” manner.

The Harvard-educated economist, 42, in custody since his arrest Tuesday, has been charged with instigating violence, property damage and criminal association. He was blamed for the fatal shootings on Feb. 12.

“We are concerned about this situation and the legal process moving forward,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs, told reporters in Washington.

She emphasized that López had called for a peaceful protest on Feb. 12.

His arrest, she said, appeared to be designed to have a “chilling effect” on the Venezuelan opposition.

“Most important is that any charges brought against him be thoroughly adjudicated, in an impartial and transparent way,” she said.

Venezuela’s relations with Washington, long strained under Chávez, have remained sour and distrustful under Maduro, who has hewed closely to his predecessor’s socialist policies.

Follow developments in Venezuela by clicking on our hashtag, #Bolivarian Revolution

Raúl Arboleda/AFP

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The CIA has been secretly funded by right wing billionaire capitalists since its inception. They perpetuate the right wing agenda at the international stage. Propoganda is an important instrument, and friends like Rupert Murdoch ensure the protection of the ultra exuberant business class. This is why Fox News was born. They have conspired with worldwide partners like the PLN in Costa Rica for decades, just as they have with their GOP partners at home. It’s time people understand the truth. This organization is responsible for inundating inequality in all industrialized nations and their 3rd world partners. One must wonder how much control Obama really has over them?….and yes, I just copied and pasted my same statement from last week.

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The US media is almost unanimously propagating the falsehoods that the government of President Nicolas Maduro is using violence against the opposition, that the US government is not trying to promote a coup and that Maduro is destroying the economy by continuing the transition to socialism begun by Hugo Chavez.

Nothing could be further from the truth. An objective analysis of the promotion of violence by the opposition is provided in the article below by Steve Ellner. Regarding a coup the media must be blind if it believes that the US is not backing the opposition to the hilt in its efforts to overthrow Maduro. This is the administration that declares it can use drones to kill anyone it judges to be a terrorist without any due process. And as Edward Snowden’s documents reveal, the US believes it has the right to spy on and intervene in the affairs of countries around the world, including allies.

The economic situation in Venezuela recalls that of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity government that I witnessed from 1970 to 1973. Richard Nixon ordered the CIA “to make the economy scream.” The destabilization of the economy was a critical factor leading to the military coup.

The opposition in Venezuela is also hell-bent on destroying the economy, using the the capitalist market place to cause speculation, inflation, shortages of commodities and capitalist flight.

What is occurring in Venezuela is a critical battle in the struggle for national sovereignty and twenty-first century socialism. At the fifth annual gathering of the World Social Forum on January 30, 2005 Hugo Chavez declared: “It is necessary to transcend capitalism…through socialism, true socialism with equality and justice.” As part of the roaring crowd of 15,000 at the Gigantinho stadium in Porto Alegre, Brazil, I heard Chavez go on to say: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.” This is an historic call to confront capitalist-dominated globalization, the mammoth transnational corporations that promote hyper-speculation, the concentration of wealth, perpetual conflict for markets, and the destruction of the environment.

Roger Burbach, Director,

Center for the Study of the Americas,
Berkeley, California

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Venezuela: Violence caused by opposition, not government

Friday, February 21, 2014
By Steve Ellner, Puerto La Cruz

Opposition protesters in Merida, February 19.
The slant of Venezuela’s private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence.

In the first place, it is said, government-ordered gunmen are shooting at peaceful demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces.

But there is considerable evidence that shows the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:

1. Violent actions have been carried out by the opposition since the time of the 2002 coup. Theguarimba, which means urban violence (or “foquismo”) was publicly advocated by opposition leaders in 2003-2004 as the only way to prevent the establishment of a “dictatorial regime” in Venezuela.

2. On April 11, 2002, the day late president Hugo Chavez was overthrown, the Venezuelan and international media, and the White House, used juxtaposed images of Chavistas shooting pistols in downtown Caracas, on the one hand, and peaceful anti-government demonstrators, on the other to justify the coup.

However, the Irish-produced documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and other documentaries demonstrated by the flow of the camera that the demonstrators were far away from the Chavistas and they were shooting in response to sniper fire against them.

If snipers were responsible for the 15-20 killings (of both Chavistas and opposition demonstrators) that justified the 2002 coup, is there any reason to doubt that the unidentified individuals who are attacking demonstrators are acting on behalf of sectors of the opposition?

3. The violence that has rocked Venezuela during the past two weeks has targeted public buildings, such as the headquarters of the attorney-general, the public television Channel 8, the state-owned Banco de Venezuela, the house of the Chavista governor of Tachira, trucks of the state grocery store chain PDVAL, and dozens of metro buses in Caracas.

4. None of the opposition leaders have explicitly condemned the opposition-promoted violence. Opposition mayors in Caracas and elsewhere have refrained from using their police force to contain the violence.

5. The so-called “peaceful” demonstrators engage in disruptions by closing key avenues in a bid to paralyse transportation. Where I live, on the main drag between the twin cities of Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, the demonstrators occupy two of the three lanes on both sides, causing traffic to back up for miles. A number of tragedies have been reported of people in an emergency unable to make it to a hospital or clinic on time.

6. The term “salida”, which has become a main slogan of the protesters, implies regime change. The opposition is not calling for a constitutional solution, in which Maduro resigns and is replaced by the president of the National Assembly (and leading Chavista) Diosdado Cabello, as the constitution stipulates. Regime change is a radical slogan that implies radical tactics.

7. Political scientist and Venezuelan specialist David Smilde of the University of Georgia, who is not pro-Chavista but rather evenhanded in his analyses, points out the Venezuelan government has nothing to gain by the violence.

8. The government has nothing to gain by the violence because the media is largely on the side of the opposition and present a picture of the violence that directly and indirectly blames the government. Consider the following front page article ijn the February 20 El Universal titled “Capital City Suffers Night Violence”, one of Venezuela’s major newspapers: “Last night, the National Guard and National Police attacked almost simultaneously different demonstrations that were taking place in distinct areas of the capital city.

“In the confrontations there was gunshot [and] tear gas while people banged on pots and pans from their windows (opposing the government).”

9. The Venezuelan government has shown great restraint in the context of opposition-promoted violence and disruption. In nearly any other country in the world, the disruption of traffic in major cities throughout the country would have resulted in mass arrests.

10. Governments, particularly undemocratic ones, which lack active popular support and completely control the media use repression against dissidents. This is not the case in Venezuela. None of the non-state channels and newspapers (that the vast majority of Venezuelans get their news from) supports the government and most of them are ardently anti-government.

Furthermore, unlike governments that use massive repression (such as Egypt under Mubarak), the Chavista government and movement has a greater mobilisation capacity, particularly among the popular sectors of the population, than the opposition. As Smilde says, the use of violence by the government makes absolutely no sense.

[Professor Steve Ellner has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, since 1977. He is the author of many books on Venezuelan politics.]

President Maduro Calling for Peace and Non-Violence

Author and Activist Roger Burbach along with Zoe Dutka, a journalist live from Venezuela, will discuss the efforts of the right wing opposition and the US to destabilize and topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro. As in the case of Chile under Salvador Allende, the opposition is bent upon sabotaging the economy and carrying out violence to precipitate a coup against a legitimately elected government that won a resounding victory in the municipal elections in December.

Many of the opposition’s supporters are students from private universities while students at the new ‘Bolivarian’ Universities tend to support the government.

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