Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

Independent, Reality-Based Analysis

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Keeping Track of Venezuela’s Dead

David Smilde

El Universal has a list of 25 people who have died in the protests during the last month. Here are some quick tabulations.

(These numbers are slightly different from what I posted on Twitter a couple of hours ago since El Universal has updated its list. I have also recalculated and recounted leading to some corrections. I have omitted one person from the list since El Universal says no information on the death is available; thus my calculations are based on 24 deaths. Many of these reports are not fully confirmed. So the numbers could change as more investigations produce more information.)

*Among the dead are: 10 opposition activists, 4 government supporters, 7 citizens not participating in the protests, 3 National Guardsman.

*4 deaths are directly attributable to security forces, 12 from shots fired by unidentified gunmen. 6 have died in accidents caused by barricades, 2 in accidents occurring during the course of protests.

*Of the 12 shot by unidentified gunmen, 5 are opposition activists, 3 are government supporters, 3 are National Guardsmen and 1 is a nonparticipant.

I should say that I find categorizing deaths unpleasant and unfortunate. All of these deaths are equally tragic and it is important not to forget that behind the numbers are individuals and their grieving loved ones.

However, the numbers are easily distorted by people with partisan motivations. Thus being rigorous can improve accountability. If you think I got it wrong, let me know at: @dsmilde.

See also Jake Johnston’s frequent updates on CEPR’s blog.

Filed under Venezuela protests

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La Desconfianza: The View from Western Caracas II

Rebecca Hanson

“It makes no sense! You go into a Chavista’s house and Chávez and Maduro’s faces are everywhere but you open their fridge and it is empty!  Empty!” This was the passionate reaction I received from an acquaintance I was chatting with yesterday when I commented that protests in Caracas have not seemed to receive support from popular sectors in the city.

His frustration came from seemingly inexplicable support for a government under whose watch food has become both more expensive and more difficult to find.

In the past year the large majority of Venezuelans have been hit hard by the food shortages this man was referencing. Indeed, it is specifically for this reason that some hoped protests would unite the country around common concerns and cross class lines.

Nevertheless, the protests have remained largely identified with the middle and upper classes, failing to gain traction in the popular sectors. Rather than uniting Venezuela it seems more likely that protests have deepened divisions and polarization.  

Why have common concerns not produced cross-class concerted action here? Just last year we saw exactly this happen with Brazil’s “Spring of Unrest.”


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Q & A on the Venezuela Protests and What the US Can Do

David Smilde

The ongoing unrest in Venezuela has been portrayed abroad as a conflict between Venezuelan citizens and an increasingly desperate government that has resorted to massive human rights abuses to maintain its hold on power. That depiction both oversimplifies and distorts the issues at play.

Since early February, Venezuela has been affected by a cycle of protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The government and groups sympathetic to the government have responded to the protests with force. At least 20 people have died in the ensuing conflict—mainly because of violence by government agents and pro-government groups but also from the actions of the protesters—and hundreds have been arrested. While it looked like the protests would diminish last week, at this time it is not clear they will.

The Maduro government has begun a series of “peace conferences” to address some of the issues protesters have raised. However, the opposition has maintained its distance from these overtures.

In the following, I will address some common questions we have been receiving at WOLA.

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Filed under Venezuela protests

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Capriles Seeks to Thread the Needle

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Since the end of February, Capriles has been pushing for ten points that, he argues, should set the opposition’s agenda for negotiations with the government.

The points include the release of all the detainees for “political causes,” including figures such as Leopoldo López and Iván Simonivis; the dismantlement of the “paramilitary” groups (meaning the pro-government colectivos); a stop to the criminalization of peaceful protests and human rights violations, torture, and repression; the selection of a mediator (the Catholic Church is proposed as possible candidate); and the removal of “politics and the Cuban government from the armed forces.”

This mixture of general and concrete points is an attempt to provide the protests with clear objectives without asking for la salida (the exit or the solution) that more radical leaders are pushing for. Capriles has recently stated that the main, and presumably a priori, pointsfor negotiations would be the release of those arrested “for political causes” and the disarming of the colectivos. The government has been freeing students arrested during the protests, but the release of López and Simonovis, and the disarmament of the colectivos, seem unlikely in the short term.

Capriles has also proposed the organization of a new grassroots movement around what he calls Comandos de Defensa del Pueblo. On paper, these groups would transcend party lines and divisions and instead focus on the solution of community problems such as “citizen’s security, goods shortages, roads, public services, among others.” This is also a departure from the confrontational opposition strategy of recent protests. Instead Capriles, and other leaders from his party Primero Justicia such as Carlos Ocariz and Julio Borges, have insisted that the opposition should focus on grassroots work and mobilization in order to build a wider electoral base. 

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Filed under Henrique Capriles Radonski

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Student Leaders release “Mérida Manifesto” Focusing on Individual Liberty

David Smilde

On Sunday student leaders released a document constituting the Junta Patriotica Estudiantil y Popular (JPEP) and focusing on issues of individual liberty. The goal of the JPEP is “to return liberty and sovereignty to Venezuela.” The document says “dialogue is not possible with a populist and totalitarian regime.” The possibility of dialogue depends on “a root change in the political system.”

The statement underlines the middle class character of the student protest movement. There are no mentions of issues such as equality or poverty reduction that could grow the movement beyond its traditional base. Indeed there is no mention of the larger issues said to be animating these protest: inflation, scarcities and crime.

I have a lot of sympathy with the students’ emphasis on individual liberties. However in political terms the statement reveals how little progress the opposition base has made in understanding what it will take to grow their coalition. The last fifteen years have shown that if Venezuelans have to chose between liberty and equality the latter will usually win out. Thus the art of politics in a context characterized by large scale poverty is in proposing solutions to inequality that at the same time preserve liberty.

Filed under Student protests

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The violent protests that have rocked Venezuela this month provide the central theme this week on Latin Pulse. The program analyzes the politics of both the opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro. In reflection, the program also looks at the legacy of the late President Hugo Chavez who died almost a year ago. The news segment of the program covers the latest in the Drug War in Mexico with the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. The program also includes a commentary about telenovelas and machismo.

The program includes in-depth interviews with:

David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the University of Georgia; and
Julia Buxton of Central European University.

Filed under SoundCloud LatinPulse News Latin America Venezuela Mexico

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Video Exposes Police Abuse in Venezuela (Or is it Mexico? Or Colombia?)

One video’s journey across Latin American protest movements underscores the challenge of monitoring activism online.

Guest blog by Madeleine Bair and Vienna Maglio

Last Friday, the end of a week in which mass protests in Venezuela resulted in hundreds of arrests and five deaths, a new YouTube video circulated among Venezuelan social media networks showing police officers spraying a water cannon at a young man tied to a tree.  The title described in Spanish the GNB—part of Venezuela’s armed forces—torturing a student in Táchira, a state along the Colombian border where clashes have been especially violent.

The problem was, the Human Rights Channel had seen this video before. The same footage circulated among Colombian activists early this year.

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Filed under Witness verified video SOSVenezuela Police Abuse in Venezuela