|The Chavistas (L) and the Opposition (R) in competing marches in Caracas on September 1, 2016
At the beginning of August, 2016 the leaders of the coalition of anti-government political parties, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) declared it would launch a massive mobilization it billed as "The Taking of Caracas" on the first day of September to protest the lack of food and medicine and to bring down the government of Nicolas Maduro. Its leaders promised they can do it through the recall referendum but with a fervor that smacked of an impending coup. They demanded that the CNE (Electoral Council) violate the constitutional process by speeding up the referendum to oust President Maduro. They called on members to flood the streets in the nation's capital in subsequent marches of even greater magnitude and aggression on the 7th and 14th and called for a National Strike asking their members not to report to work and to refrain from buying anything in the stores. They hailed September as a "turning point" for the future of Venezuela.
Throughout the month of August opposition television, newspapers and social media pumped up the volume building hope for a coup among their readers and viewers to take control of the government and finally end their 16 year nightmare of the Bolivarian Revolution. “Chisme” (rumors) is a favorite past time among Venezuelans and for a month the chisme was buoyant with hope and confidence among some friends of mine who have a visceral hatred for the government and others who feared the authorities would take violent action against the marchers. When I questioned them specifically about MUD leaders like Henry Ramos Allup, president of parliament, Capriles Radonski governor of Miranda and MUD's Secretary General, Jesús "Chúo" Torrealba their reactions were all negative.
When speaking with government supporters some expressed fear of violent action by some opposition members or by Colombian paramilitaries and others were confident that the government had everything under control and others thought the march on September 1 would be negligible. The owner of a successful restaurant in La Victoria is a soft spoken man who has a reliable pulse of Venezuelans, left and right. His restaurant of 30 years has a rich political mix of customers lively with good natured debate Monday through Saturday. When I asked him what he thought would happen September 1 as he sat at my table he chuckled, threw up his hands and simply said "Nada! Nada! No se preocupe!" (Nothing! Nothing! Don't worry!)
On September 1, friends came to my house to watch the two marches in Caracas and other parts of the country on television, and exchange views regarding their size and significance. We watched the action on 2 public television stations, VTV and teleSur, and on Globovision, the largest of several private opposition channels. Here I will try to give an accurate account of what took place based upon our observations and news reports from both, opposition and government sources.
On the day following the march, a friend in the US of many years sent me an article published by the Washington Post authored by Mariana Zuñiga on September 2 titled ‘Huge crowds march in Venezuela to force recall of President Nicolás Maduro’. This report fairly represents the massive coverage of the September 1 marches by the corporate media throughout the United States and Europe. The WP report can be read in it’s entirety here, but we include some quotes from the Washington Post as a summary:
- Opposition supporters take part in a rally to demand a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas.
- Opposition parties hailed the protest, dubbed the “Taking of Caracas,” as the beginning of a new stage in their struggle to end the “revolution” started in 1999 by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Maduro’s popularity has plunged as the economy of this oil-rich country has sharply contracted and hunger has grown widespread.
- The government, clearly nervous, arrested several prominent opposition activists in the days leading up to the protest and barred at least six foreign journalists from entering the country … Fearing violence, downtown shops closed, and police in yellow vests took up positions around the city.
- But the demonstration had an upbeat note, with participants dancing and joking, even as their chants reflected growing frustration with the government. “There are no eggs, there are no chicken, there is nothing here,” one group yelled.
- Others shouted: “It’s going to fall, it’s going to fall, the government is going to fall.”
- Maduro claimed the turnout was about 30,000, but the crowd appeared far larger. Opposition groups estimated it at over 1 million.
- The opposition has tried to organize demonstrations before but lacked organization and failed to attract large numbers of people. On Thursday though, demonstrators arrived in Caracas from as far away as the Amazon. Many wore white, a symbol of their commitment to peaceful protest. Others sported hats or T-shirts with the Venezuelan flag. Some carried signs reading “We’re hungry” or “We need medicine now.”
- Venezuela is enduring a severe recession caused by the fall in global oil prices and what many describe as the government’s poor economic management.
- Several thousand government supporters in red shirts held a smaller counter-protest in downtown Caracas.
I'm happy to report that with few isolated exceptions both the Opposition and Chavista marches took place peacefully and successfully with virtually no violence and no oppression by the government. The opposition met in Chacao, the wealthiest single municipality in Venezuela and some say in all of Latin America. Those who attended are nearly all from the most privileged socio-economic class in Venezuela. It's often been said that Venezuela is the only place on earth where the rich protest and the poor are content with their lives.
Writing for Resumen Latinoamericano (Latin American Summary), a media outlet covering events across Latin America, Miguel Ligas attended the September 7 protest and later wrote, Venezuela: No Hay Suficiente Gente (Venezuela: There are not enough people)
|"The events planned for September 1 by the imperial alliance of the opposition on the one hand had been to perform a gigantic mobilization called, “The Taking of Caracas,” which at least according to their purposes would shake the foundation of the Bolivarian government, not discarding the play already filed to force its overthrow as events develop.
"On the other hand, in response to such plans the Bolivarian government and patriotic forces initiated the promotion, from that emblematic day until December 31, a popular street counteroffensive in order to ensure social peace and political stability in the country and within it, the convening of a red tide on Avenida Bolivar in Caracas to give a concrete response to the onslaught of the right wing opposition." (Translation - Axis of Logic)
Comparing the September 1 Marches by the Numbers
For years, dating back to the 1960s protests and throughout the last 15 years of anti-war protests in the US, it’s been my experience that all parties and the media tend to measure the success or failure of a protest by either exaggerating or minimizing the numbers. While the numbers are important, it is reductionistic to measure the success of a protest by numbers alone. However, we discuss the numbers primarily to evaluate the claims of the opposition and the right wing international media.
The Opposition: First, members of the opposition in the September 1 march turned out in impressive numbers to be sure as the reader can see in the photos. On Venezuela's National Public Radio and Television their numbers were estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 people. Based purely on visuals, I suspect their numbers exceeded this figure. However, that a million members of the opposition marched on September 1, declared throughout the corporate media is clearly false. The street in the Caracas municipality of Chacao chosen by the opposition for their march is long and narrow, a method often used to magnify the size of the protest.
|The Opposition turned out in impressive numbers demanding that the CNE speed up the process to remove President Maduro by referendum. (more details below)
Government Supporters: The Chavistas flexed their political muscle in what can only be described as a gigantic demonstration denying the opposition their day in the sun. Consisting mostly of Venezuela’s working class and poor, they came down from the mountainside barrios and from throughout the city’s low income municipalities to Avenida Bolivar stretching through the Libertador Municipality of Caracas. Avenida Bolivar is a six lane boulevard where I have been on a number of demonstrations in the past and the Chavistas filled the breadth of the avenue for at least the same length as the opposition march if not longer.
|Chavistas rallied en masse to support the government rejecting any attempt to remove their elected President
As videos of the two marches were placed side by side on television it was clear that this pro-government concentration easily matched that of the opposition in numbers and appeared to outsize it substantially. Please remember that the final line in WP’s hit-piece quoted above stated, “Several thousand government supporters in red shirts held a smaller counterprotest in downtown Caracas.” This lie was repeated throughout the Western Media. The Chavistas who didn't or couldn't make it to Caracas September 1 also took to the streets in major cities and towns across Venezuela, a thing ignored by the corporate media.
Comparing The Content
The spirit and energy of the people in both marches were very high and by reviewing the corporate media coverage and our own observations, the spirit of the opposition protestors can fairly be characterized as negative and angry, laden with complaints about the economy, food shortages, alleged failures of the government.
demanding an expedited recall of President Maduro or an immediate coup to be initiated. On September 2 a young member of the opposition, Orlando Avendaño wrote of his expectations of MUD and of his disappointment in the opposition march decrying the lack of direct action by MUD leaders. Opposition members with whom I spoke and many writing in social media expressed similar sentiments:
"No, the Great March on Caracas was not a Success"
week’s expectations for the March on Caracas were colossal. The
largest march in recent memory looked to be what the country needed to
change the horrid situation Nicolás Maduro and his administration have
created. Thousands of Venezuelans were to arrive in Caracas to demand
that the government count the votes cast for a referendum to remove
Maduro before the end of 2016. A few hours before the event, hopes were
high as people began to massively stream onto the streets. September 1
looked to be a historic day, one in which civil society could retake
the country’s freedom from the grasp of a socialist dictator. Memories
of the 2014 popular movement hung in the air
[Note: the "2014 popular
movement" that this young man wished for was fomented by the opposition and resulted in at least 43 dead, 870
wounded, thousands of trees cut down for the barricades, forest fires,
schools, clinics and government buildings attacked and $815 billion in
damages. - lmb] He continued ...
"That protest had been quelled. This one, though, was
supposed to be different. Media then began releasing the first images
of the event — hundreds of thousands of people flooding the streets of
Caracas with AFP reporting at least one million people turning out. He
[MUD's Torrealba] said the protest was over, and there would be another
one in seven days with even more to follow at the end of the month.
What exactly is the strategy behind this? The 'historic' protest in
Caracas was over, with support was shown but not action was taken. The worst
part about it is that the schedule put forward by Torrealba and MUD is
mediocre at best and lacking in greater perspective."
While Orlando Avendaño's disappointment in the September march can be appreciated, it is clear that he and many others had things in mind that would have gone beyond the peaceful political demonstration that it turned out to be.
The lack of content in the September 1 demonstration is also apparent in the international media which do not provide a single speech by the leaders of MUD. Rather, they focus on complaints and quotes of angry marchers and anecdotes of people demanding a coup and claiming to be hungry due to food shortages which they blame on the government. These " hungry people" are mostly people who comprise the upper middle class and wealthy who can afford to buy what they want at today's artificially inflated prices. Again, the irony remains that Venezuela is the only country where the wealthy protest and at times with violence while the low income and poor defend peacefully all they have gained in affordable incomes, housing, free education and health care under the Chavez-Maduro administrations.
Importantly, the Chavista counter-demonstration took place despite suffering for months with shortages of food and other essential products, hoarded, dumped and smuggled out of the country or sold at inflated prices by the bachequeros (black market sellers) through the opposition's control of the distribution system. (I'll be reporting on this economic war in the near future) The revolutionary response to these "shortages" on September 1 can be explained in three points:
- They know who is behind the empty retail shelves and they don't blame the government.
- The Maduro government has initiated 2 parallel systems, successfully delivering food directly to the people through the thousands of community councils across the country. and
- Because they firmly possess the socialist, anti-imperialist ideology they learned from former President Chavez, reinforced in practice by President Maduro.
As we sat in my house on September 1 watching the grand Chavista September 1 demonstration on Avenida Bolivar my visitors upended with laughter when I commented, "There are people in the US State Department, CIA and Council of Foreign Relations watching this on television today just like we are and one guy turns to another and says, "Well, I guess the food shortages didn't work."
The MUD leaders put forth no positive platform or cogent national plan before, during or after their demonstrations. Rather, their message focused on division, attacking the government without offering hope for their own followers much less for all Venezuelans. This has always been true of MUD, a coalition that began with 11 political parties in 2008 and counted over 50 by 2010 has been fraught with division and internecine battles competing with one another for power and control over what they hope will be their US backed oligarchy in the future. It was that way before the "Democratic "Unity" Roundtable" was conceived and since. Envy, greed, hubris and hatred for the socialist government reigns supreme among them and they get about as close to honest self-evaluation as Henry Ramos Allup or Jesús Torrealba will ever get to the poor in Barrio Petare.
When opposition leaders do speak of future plans for the country, they only refer to the US-backed neoliberal agenda to put the country under the heel of the World Bank and IMF, which brought about bankruptcy during the 4th Republic and led to the people taking control of their own destiny in democratic elections since 1999. The focus of their September march was to decry the alleged failures of the Maduro government and to demand that the CNE (the Electoral Commission) force an immediate referendum to recall President Maduro which would be a clear violation of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution.
|On the left is Henry Ramos Allup who was elected president of Asemblea Nacional (Parliament) when the right wing gained control in the December 5 elections last year. On the right is Jesús Torrealba, Secretary General of MUD, the coalition of opposition political parties.
In contrast, the content and spirit among the Chavistas followed President Maduro's constant call for peace, solidarity and stability through the democratic constitutional process and the positive energy and emphasis on victory through peace and love was palpable.
More important than size was the happy, confident fighting chavista spirit, energy and love compared with the tide of vitriol, bitching, negative energy and obvious hatred that dominates the spirit of upper middle & wealthy classes who have it all here in Venezuela. All, that is, except for absolute control of government. The Chavista march in Caracas recalled the "Great Red Tsunami" as it was known during the Chavez years.
|President Nicolas Maduro enjoying the people on Avenida Bolivar in Caracas on September 1, 2016
In an upbeat and powerful 2-3 hour discourse on Av. Bolívar, President Maduro took pleasure in reminding the masses of all they have gained during 15 years of the Chavez and Maduro administrations. He attacked Henry Ramos Allup who became president of Asemblea Nacional (congress) when the right wing gained power of the legislative body last December 5. He reminded the people that the right wing failed to fulfill any of their promises to the people over the last 10 months if elected and have called for privatizations of the education, health and housing missions created by the socialist government with funds that flow from the people’s own petroleum industry. To the obvious delight of the people, Maduro poked fun at Allup and the right wing and called attention to the current parallel food distribution programs that are successfully replacing the opposition–dominated distribution system for food and other essential products. Throughout his discourse, the people often interrupted him with cheers & chants, breaking into song and dancing on Av. Bolivar. Please believe me, there is nothing in the world to compare with a people who are truly empowered. Throughout his speech, Maduro preached nonviolence & winning democratically, peacefully and with the power of love. Question: Where do you hear that from a head of state anywhere?
Government security for the Marches
The reason some
violent elements in the opposition's September marches didn't succeed is
due to the government's excellent intelligence services and professional
conduct by the police. The government did arrest 92 people in the week leading up to September 1 (I report that later in this article.) The corporate media predicted a violent crackdown by the government on protestors but no such thing occurred. But, and this is key in the media war, their predictions will be quickly forgotten now that the false images have been planted in the minds of their readers and TV watchers. The Venezuelan national police, national guard and military are well trained in self-restraint even while under attack. If anyone has doubt about this, read our photo essay of a typical guarimba which I covered on March 5, 2014 when I witnessed and photographed the Venezuelan National Guard under attack by “peaceful student protestors” with bricks, rocks and Molotov cocktails for 8 hours and saw their response.
The government learned from the 2014 guarimbas and was very well prepared for the September 1, 2016 opposition protests as intelligence services discovered illegal arms and explosives in their possession, preventing violence on Thursday. Among those arrested
were Yon Goicoechea and Daniel Ceballos. Goicoechea who was caught with explosive equipment two days ahead of the demonstration. He was one of the organizers of the violent “student protests” in 2007. He graduated from Catholic University in Caracas and returned to Venezuela in July after completing graduate training in the US and Spain. Diosdado Cabello, former president of parliament and current vice-president of the United Socialist Party for Venezuela (PSUV), said of his arrest,
At the September 1 Chavista demonstration President Maduro announced that Colombian paramilitaries and other mercenaries were captured on August 30 in Northern Caracas. VTV reported, "The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro Moros, reported that in the area north of Caracas, specifically 500 meters from the Palacio de Miraflores (the presidential palace), 92 Colombians were captured, members of a paramilitary camp and mercenaries." The Ministry for Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace reported, "In addition, important leaders of the right coup, who had the intention of carrying out plans for the placement of explosive devices, were in possession of weapons and forged dollars to execute actions with a view to thwart democracy."
detained, and they found in his possession detonator chords for
explosives. This man was trained by North American imperialism for
years ... We prefer a million times over to imprison a murderer in
time, than to let a drop of blood flow through the streets of Caracas,
because that is what they want.” Following his anti-government work in
2007, The Cato Institute
in the US awarded Goicoechea the $500,000 “Milton Friedman Prize for
Advancing Liberty.” Yes, that's the same Milton Friedman who engineered
the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. After Goicoechea's
arrest this time, Diosdado Cabello wryly commented, "It looks like his
money ran out and he wants to come here to seek blood. They gave him
the order there in the United States."
Daniel Caballos was an opposition leader moved from his house arrest to prison before the September 1 demonstration. He was mayor of
San Cristobal in Tachira State when he was arrested in 2014 for fomenting violence in his city on the Colombian border. He had been under house arrest but was transferred to prison to prevent him from efforts to destabilize the government during the opposition’s call to overthrow the government on September 1. The US and European media call him and Leopoldo Lopez, now serving a 13 year sentence after being convicted of incitement to riot and violence, "political prisoners" and the phony "human rights" orgs decry oppression and violation of his human rights by the Maduro government.
There were a few isolated acts of violence within the opposition march and some were photographed, including attacks on the Venezuelan National Guard (GNB) with molotov cocktails. What US or European police would tolerate this without a violent response?
Maduro's Warning: In the week prior to Thursday’s marches the veiled threats and calls for another coup were met with tough words by President Maduro who warned the opposition that the government’s response to an attempted coup in Venezuela will make Erdogan’s action in Turkey’s attempted coup look like a mother breastfeeding a baby. It appears that Maduro has learned from the past mistakes of giving amnesty to those guilty of the attempted 2002 coup and allowing them to walk, only to attempt destabilization over and over again during the subsequent 14 years.
|The GNB has a method of selecting key individuals involved in violence. With 2 on a motorcycle they quickly move in, handcuff them and sandwich them between, whisking them away to jail. The GNB is trained as professional security officers not to beat prisoners but to take them out of the crowd and deliver them to the authorities. It's difficult for people to grasp or believe this in the United States where police kill unarmed suspects every day.
The opposition's call for massive demonstrations against the government with dreams of another coup in the air on September 7 and yesterday, September 14 turned out to be a massive failure of the opposition and another grand victory for the Maduro government. On September 7 even Reuters reported, "Foes of President Nicolas Maduro protested across Venezuela on Wednesday to demand a referendum to end his socialist rule, but numbers were far smaller than a huge opposition showing last week and matched by parallel pro-government rallies." The opposition sails hung empty of opposition wind and yesterday's planned opposition march didn't even make it into the opposition news. MUD pathetically murmured that they decided to postpone the march because of rain when everyone knows that the Chavistas proudly relish marching through hell, high water and wind with rain streaming down smiling joyful faces. A search of the international corporate media using "september 14 protests venezuela" produces naaada.
However! This week in Margarita
When the "Great Mobilization" didn't get mobilized on September 7 nor on 14, what else was happening in Venezuela? This week Venezuela's hosted in the Venezuelan State of Nueva Esparta (popular known among Venezuelans and tourists the beautiful island of Margarita). 120 countries at the 17th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the second largest international organization after the UN, a "global body meeting in Venezuela [which] has been instrumental in the fight against colonialism, imperialism, racism and oppression."
TeleSUR reported President Maduro's comments stating that "he would propose to transform the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) into an international organization that defiantly says 'No' to the new colonialism. The global body is creating agreements for the promotion and defense of world peace, one of the fundamental principles of the movement. Mabasa Sasa, Editor of The Sunday Mail Zimbabwe writing for the Harare Bureau announced President Mugabe's attendance at the summit quoting President Maduro, ambitious to say the least, "We have a plan to jointly drive this great historic movement and convert it into a spear head to reform the system of the UN so that it serves the people and not the elites of the world."
Most Pro-US media predictably played down the importance of the NAM calling it "irrelevant" or "dying." Reuters was forced to admit that, "A Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela will offer solidarity to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, a draft of the final document shows, despite opponents' hopes the event would expose his international isolation," and then their final touch, "But its relevance has declined since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall."
|Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez opened the summit with the inaugural address.
With the slogan "United on the Path for Peace,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez gave the inaugural speech Tuesday as her country assumes the organization's rotating presidency for the next three years after taking over from Iran. Rodriguez also said during the summit her country will ratify the defense on the right of the people of the world to fight for peace and sovereignty and that NAM is the second largest international body after the United Nations with 120 member states including 53 members from Africa, 39 from Asia, 26 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 observer countries and 10 observer organizations. She declared, "Emancipation, anti-imperialism and peace are the flags that define the XVII NAM Summit Venezuela 2016."
TeleSUR reports that the summit, which ends on Sept. 18, will have meetings scheduled in three consecutive segments: meeting of senior officials, foreign ministers meeting, and a conference of heads of state and government.
Conclusion: Topping it off last night, the 14th, in contrast with the opposition's "massive mobilization" that didn't happen and as Venezuela hosts the Non-Aligned Movement this week, Diosdado Cabello, parliamentarian and former president of Asemblea Nacional, popular among the masses for his wit and attacks on opposition malfeasance, always backed by discovered secret meetings, memos and videotapes, presented his weekly television program, Mazo Dando in Margarita to thousands of young people who demonstrated the same fervor we witnessed on Avenida Bolivar on September 1. They opened the 3 hour show on their feet for a full 20 minutes before a smiling Cabello could speak, chanting, singing and celebrating their September victory over the opposition plans for a coup.
Among my friends and acquaintances among the opposition I see a dying interest in actually overthrowing the government because most tell me that they have no confidence in the opposition leaders who offer no rational alternative plan for the country. Moreover, they realize that more instability in the country is not something they want. But Washington and the corporate media will continue to villainize the Maduro government and while Thursday’s events ended successfully and peacefully we Venezuelans know full well that the US State Department, CIA and CFR will go back to their playbook and decide what to do next. It appears they will not give up and the irrepressable force of the revolution shows no signs of abatement.
(All translations from Spanish by Axis of Logic)
Essays and Poetry by Les Blough
|President Maduro on Avenida Bolivar on September 1.
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