Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

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Seeking New Direction, Maduro Government Confronts Dissent

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

On Wednesday the Maduro government responded forcefully to the continuing fallout begun by the letter of former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani. Several former ministers have expressed criticism as have other sectors from the left of the government coalition. On Wednesday Maduro referred to the dissenters as “petty bourgeoisie that want to confuse the people.” Other government figures echoed his statements.

On Tuesday, during the anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June, Maduro called for “union and maximum discipline of all the revolutionary forces of the Fatherland,” and added that “we cannot allow dissolving forces to prevail. These forces prevented the strategic union of the people in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”

In her speech at the same event, Defense Minister Carmen Meléndez, stressed the need for “civic-military unity” in the face of “internal threats” to independence. The President of PDVSA Rafael Ramirez for his part said that “in this day of the Fatherland, the Bolivarian people have to show unity and maximum loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro and to the Comandante Hugo Chávez.”

But that same day PSUV leader and ex-minister of education complicated Maduro’s position further. Like Giordani, Navarro is considered to be part of the left wing of the Chavista leadership. In a public letter, Navarro asked “is it Giordani who is a traitor because, for example, he denounced the assignation of dollars to fictitious companies and suggested ways to prevent this from occurring?”

Navrarro asked Maduro to “act like a statesman” with respect to criticism. He also suggested that the fact that the “financial right” has shown relief at Giordani’s exit from the government is a troubling sign.

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The National Police and the Collectives, Collaboration or Competition? (Who is Policing the Protests? part II)

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A water tower in Catia with Hugo Chávez’s face on one side and the face of Lina Ron (founder of the Venezuelan Popular Union party and symbol of La Piedrita, another well known collective) on the other © Richard Snyder 2014

A previous version of this article was published at Anthropoliteia.net

Rebecca Hanson

Speculation about the participation of armed citizens in “policing” the cycle of protests that began in February has raised questions about the relationship between these citizens, the government, and state security forces.

In my first post in this series I looked at how officers from the National Police view the role and actions of the security force that is playing the most active role in policing Venezuela’s protests: the National Guard. Regrettably (and despite their own relatively extensive training in human rights) National Police officers strongly support the National Guard’s presence precisely because they are not encumbered by human rights regulations like the police are.

In this post I look at an even more complex relationship: how the National Police view the actions of what officers, the media, and many Venezuelans refer to as “the collectives.” 

Journalists have suggested that police are working in collaboration with the collectives to repress protestors (see, for example, Wall Street Journal , BBC, and Al Jazeera). And in May Human Rights Watch published a report which, though carefully avoiding the term “collective,” suggested that the police and “armed pro-government groups” were collaborating.

But National Bolivarian Police (PNB) officers describe this relationship quite differently. For them, their relationship to the collectives is one structured not by collaboration but competition for territorial control, access to arms, and even state protection.

In fact, ever since the Metropolitan Police in Caracas participated in the 2002 coup against Chávez, police officers have felt that the government trusts the collectives, who came out in support of Chávez during the 48-hour coup, more than the police to work the protests.

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Removal of Planning Minister Reveals and Creates Tensions in Chavismo

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

The removal of Planning Minister Jorge Giordani announced by president Maduro this week has turned into an open political row within Chavismo. Giordani has been one of the key architects of the government’s economic policy over the past fifteen years. He is from the left of a leftist coalition and is a hardline supporter of economic controls and planned economy.

Analysts in Venezuela agree that Giordani’s exit could mark a more pragmatic government approach to the economy. And it was not a surprise given that Giordani had been removed from the board of directors of the Central Bank the week before. However the most immediate impact of the event has been political.

Giordani published an extensive open letter in the Chavista independent web page Aporrea almost immediately after Maduro’s announcement. The letter makes strong criticisms of Maduro and has renewed criticisms of the government from within the ranks of Chavismo.

In the text, Giordani protests his progressive exclusion from government decisions after the death of Chávez. He reveals that he suggested himself as the head of the foreign exchange control mechanism CADIVI, to try to get a handle on illicit dollar requests. He also suggests that he repeatedly urged for the reduction of public expending.

Interestingly, perhaps incredibly, Giordani does not describe any relation between the economic controls he helped to establish and the current economic problems faced by the government. Analyst Luis Vicente Leon suggests that instead of a mea culpa, the statement amounts to an “it wasn’t me” letter. Leon says he has a difference of opinion with Giordani. “He thinks the cause of the crisis is that they didn’t pay enough attention to him. I think the cause of the crisis is that they paid too much attention to him.”

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PROVEA Releases its 2013 Report on Human Rights in Venezuela

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Venezuela’s most influential human rights organization has issued its Annual Report for 2013. The Venezuelan Program for Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) report gives a mixed review of 2013. It points to advances in poverty reduction and access to education, but also casts doubt on the sustainability of these advances. The report also strongly criticizes the government for deterioration of the health care infrastructure

PROVEA starts its report by suggesting its human rights researched was seriously hampered in 2013 by a lack of information provided by the government. Only 9.3% of public institutions have published its 2013 annual reports [Memoria y Cuenta] on line as required by the Constitution. PROVEA says the consistency and scale of the lack of information suggests a deliberate policy.

In its report PROVEA recognizes the important achievements of the Venezuelan government in poverty reduction and particularly in the “Rights to a Proper Alimentation” of the population. However it also points to possible negative effects of high inflation and scarcity on poverty. Most worrying for PROVEA is the fact that these economic problems could have an impact in poverty reduction.

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Comparing the Ukrainian and Venezuelan Protest Cycles

Timothy Gill

The recent issue of Trajectories, the American Sociological Association’s Comparative and Historical Sociology section’s newsletter, features a brief comparative analysis I wrote on the origins and trajectories of the Ukrainian and Venezuelan protests.

I argue that while “the Ukrainian crisis responds to geopolitical struggle and conflicting nationalist sentiments, the Venezuelan conflict is more clearly about class issues.” I also suggest the Yanukovych government fell apart after receiving widespread international and domestic criticism and experiencing defections from several high-ranking members. By contrast, the Maduro government has received support from regional partners and institutions, has not experienced any serious defections, and remains in power.

You can read the piece in its entirety here.

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Maduro Critiqued From the Left

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

President Maduro has again been receiving intense criticism from the left wing of Chavismo, most notably in the opinion pieces at the website Aporrea. Top Chavista leadership is increasingly being questioned ahead of the upcoming Third Congress of the Socialist Party (PSUV), which will be held from July 26 to 28.

Before the opposition protest movement began in early February, Aporrea had been publishing pieces critical of Maduro’s stewardship of Chávez’s legacy. Maduro was strongly criticized for appointing militaries to important posts and for removing leftist leaders from office. Aporrea commentator Toby Valderrama even called on Maduro to publicly respond to allegations that the “internal right” had toned down Chávez’s political treatise, the “Plan de la Patria.”

However, the opposition protest movement muted internal criticism, as Chavismo closed ranks. But as the protests have decreased in the last two months the previous political dynamics have returned. Economic problems have again become central. Poll numbers released in May show that the government’s approval ratings have continued to decline with the general population. And internal tensions in Chavismo have reignited.

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Understanding Venezuela’s Latest Poverty Figures

Lissette González

The Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) released Venezuela’s latest official poverty figures on May 23th. To calculate this indicator the INE uses what is referred to as the “poverty line” method for its measurements. This method compares household income to a poverty threshold estimated as the average purchasing cost of a preestablished set of basic consumer goods (la cesta básica). However, in Venezuela’s a polarized political context, even basic policy measures like this are subject to varying interpretations.

From a pro-government standpoint, the latest numbers supply evidence that Venezuela is again on the path of poverty reduction. Poverty rates decreased from 29.4% to 27.3%, if you compare the first and second semesters of 2013.

From the opposition’s perspective, in contrast, the numbers show that Venezuela is losing the fight against poverty. The poverty rate has increased by more than 6% if you compare the second semester of 2013 to the second semester of 2012 when the poverty rate was 21.2%.

Both narratives are based on the same data and are factually correct. What both lack though, is a longer temporal perspective.

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Luis Vicente Leon: Sanctions Will Strengthen Maduro’s International Position

David Smilde

Venezuela’s leading pollster Luis Vicente León weighed in on targeted sanctions in his weekly column in El Universal. Here is a translation of the last two paragraphs.

Big actions against [government] officials do not damage the President’s image, but rather provide him with an opportunity to justify the crisis and the failure of the dialogue. The population will ask itself who gave a foreign power a candle to hold at this funeral, and nationalist sentiment will be exacerbated. Internal political discourse will be filled with renewed arguments and denunciations of coups and intervention. Unasur’s foreign ministers will reject the measure and consider it an attack on their efforts to generate agreements through dialogue. But beyond them, the majority of Latin American countries, including those who are not natural allies of chavismo, will see the US Congress’s actions as a new mode of post-Ukraine intervention that threatens them too. This will unify Latin American governments against the decision and strengthen the international position of Maduro in this affair.

I’m not analyzing whether those being punished are guilty or innocent. I’m only saying that the decision to sanction them from the United States is untimely and inconvenient. It’s impact will be the inverse of what is intended and negative for those who are struggling to resolve these problems in situ. This looks like a decision that is more politically useful for its strongest promoters in the US than to resolve problems here.

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Carter Center Issues Final Report on 2013 Presidential Election

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

The Carter Center released its final report on the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election. The report describes the conditions surrounding the election and provides several recommendations for improvement.

The report states that Venezuelans have a high degree of trust in the integrity of results generated by the automated voting machines. It also shows that the full audit of the paper receipts vs. machine tallies demonstrates that the automated electoral system worked according to expectations.

The Carter Center states that there is no consensus on the “quality of the conditions” under which actual voting took place and devotes attention to incumbent advantage (ventajismo), as previously described in its preliminary July 2013 report.

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