Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

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“New Game:” The Opposition’s Opportunities and Constraints

Michael McCarthy

Leopoldo López’s #lasalida campaign has changed the game in Venezuelan politics by opening a window for sectors strongly opposed to the Maduro government to take their politics to the street. What implications does this street-based strategy hold for the “opposition” as an organized group of parties and social groups that once stood united behind Henrique Capriles?

Chilean analyst Fernando Mires argues that the Venezuelan opposition is now composed of three political groupings: one behind López, one behind Capriles, and the student movement, which has one prominent leader, Juan Requesens, but multiple currents running through it. Mires’ article does more splitting than lumping but, in fact, it may not do justice to the severity of the opposition’s new unity problems.

With absurd disputes breaking out between the head of the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) and the director of human rights NGO, El Foro Penal, the portrait of a tripartite opposition may not capture how frayed ties are between groups self-identified as parts of the opposition. The spat reflects animosity toward MUD Secretary General Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, who has received strident criticism for participating in dialogue with the government.

It may seem counter-intuitive that the opposition would be so divided while dialogue takes place, but a closer look reveals why.


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Who is Policing the Protests? A Perspective from Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Police

Rebecca Hanson

“It is better to think of the police as providing support to the National Guard in the protests [as opposed to the other way around].  The National Guard has more experience and more training…and they aren’t restricted [in their use of force] like us…We can’t even defend ourselves.”

—National Police officer-in-training

 [A previous version of this article was first published on  See original article here]

Since protests exploded in Venezuela in February the National Bolivarian Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana, PNB) here have been intensely critiqued for using excessive force against protestors. And the excessive use of coercion employed in some sectors has been largely attributed to the government’s sanctioning and encouragement of that coercion.

However, the notion that the Chavista governments have encouraged the police to use force (or extreme amounts of it) would actually make little sense to National Police officers. This is because there is a widespread perception—among both police officers and the lower-class citizens where I work—that the force National Bolivarian Police officers can use is heavily, if not overly, regulated by the state.

Indeed, officers identify the sweeping police reform that was implemented by the Chávez government in 2008 as the catalyst of the “extreme regulations” on their use of force. [1] This reform both denounced heavy-handed police tactics and implemented mechanisms to limit officers’ use of coercion. But according to officers, in its zeal to limit police coercion, the reform has overly restricted their actions, making them weak and impotent in the face of violence.

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Who Will Lead the Opposition?

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

On March 19, Carlos Ocariz, mayor of Caracas’ Sucre Municipality, launched an association of 76 opposition mayors called “Association of Mayors for Venezuela.” The group includes other prominent national and regional opposition figures such as Gerardo Blyde, Mayor of Baruta; Alfredo Barrios, Mayor of Irribaren; David Smolansky, Mayor of El Hatillo; and Antonio Ledezma, Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas.

According to the coalition of opposition parties Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) press release, the new association seems to have specific aims related to the current political juncture: “citizen security, violations of human rights, and criminalization of protests.” However, the fact that the announcement was made by Carlos Ocariz could be significant for future leadership struggles within the opposition. Ocariz belongs to Primero Justicia, the political party headed Henrique Capriles, the 2012 and 2013 opposition presidential candidate. Through grassroots community work in the poor barrios of Sucre, Ocariz has successfully countered the image of middle class lawyers so often attached to his party. Ocariz has remained a popular local leader and has not yet made the jump to national politics. Becoming the spokesperson of this new mayors’ association could provide him with a platform for national leadership.

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UNASUR Delegation Convenes in Venezuela to Advance Dialogue

Timothy Gill

On Thursday afternoon, a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) delegation, comprised of foreign ministers from the eleven member-states of UNASUR, published a statement on their two-day visit to Venezuela. The delegation stated that they recognized “a willingness to dialogue from all sectors, who manifested a need to moderate their language, generating a peaceful environment that favors conversations between the government and the country’s various political, economic, and social actors.”  The delegation recognized a “firm rejection of the lamentable acts of recent violence by all sectors, condemning any rupture to the democratic order, and manifesting their commitment to respect all human rights.”

On the part of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the delegation stated that he displayed “an openness and willingness to accept the recommendations made, and he especially welcomes the participation of a witness of good faith to facilitate the dialogue between all parties.” The report concludes by stating that the UNASUR delegation will provide more information in the comingdays on its previous visit and additional recommendations for dialogue. Although we will not know for some time whether or not the government and opposition will come together with “a witness of good faith” or who that witness will be, UNASUR’s trip appears to have increased the prospects for dialogue between the two parties and illustrated a shared desire to end the violence.


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At least 3 people were killed over the weekend in Venezuela as protests continue. On Saturday, supporters and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro staged rival rallies in Caracas. Maduro claims that “fascist groups” caused the violence. He’s accused them of planning a coup against the government. He’s also accused the United States of orchestrating ongoing street demonstrations since February. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and moderator of the blog “Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights”, joins us from Caracas to discuss the ongoing social unrest.

PHOTO: (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) - Anti-government demonstrator stands with a tri-colored ribbon covering her mouth that reads “Venezuela” during a protest in front of an office of the Organization of American States, OAS, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 21, 2014.

Filed under SoundCloud WBEZ's Worldview Nicolas Maduro Venezuela civil unrest Caracas

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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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Venezuela and the US Signal Openness, but Mutual Criticism Continues

Timothy Gill

Over the past few weeks, US and Venezuelan government officials have voiced openness to normalizing relations. However, the US State Department’s reaction to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) final declaration at their recent summit has resulted in a critical response from the Venezuelan government, illustrating how complicated restoring their relationship will be. 

Since September 2008, Venezuela and the US have not had official diplomatic relations.  Attempts to repair relations in June broke down when Samantha Power characterized Venezuela as a “repressive regime” during her Senate confirmation hearings to become US ambassador the United Nations (UN). 

The CELAC held a two-day summit in Havana, Cuba, on January 28-29 that included government leaders from 33 Latin American and Caribbeans nations included in the CELAC as well as observers from several international organizations, including José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN. The summit ended with Cuban President Raúl Castro reading a 16-page declaration that described the region as a “zone of peace” and covered issues ranging from the eradication of poverty and hunger to criticism of the US economic embargo against Cuba and its inclusion of Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In response to the declaration, a US State Department spokesman speaking under anonymity referred to the organization’s final declaration as “particularly inexplicable” and stated that the US is “disappointed that the CELAC, in its final declaration, betrayed the region’s outspoken commitment to democratic principles, as it endorsed the single-party system in Cuba.”

On Cuban television, President Nicolás Maduro responded to the US, stating that the ”bitterness in the declaration of the State Department, who insolently tells a continent that we are” traitors,” they should swallow their statement, because Latin America will continue its course in peace, with tranquility, and in diversity and a unified way.”

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Venezuelan NGOs Submit Bill for Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

Timothy Gill

On Friday January 31, representatives from over 40 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) submitted a bill for the Law of Equal Civil Marriage in Venezuela to the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN). The bill aims to legalize marriage between two individuals regardless of their sex and/or gender identity, allowing them to receive the rights that heterosexual marriages receive. The bill has received over 20,000 signatures and has been endorsed by several AN deputies, including Tania Díaz, Eduardo Piñate, Carlos Sierra, and Eduardo Lima, and several governors, including Adán Chávez, the governor of Barinas and former President Hugo Chávez’s brother.

Currently, Article 44 in the Venezuelan Civil Code establishes that the state recognizes marriages only between one man and one woman. Due to pressure from within the hierarchy of Venezuela’s Catholic Church, the Venezuelan Constitution also does not specifically mention the rights of citizens on the basis of sexual orientation, but states that all “types of discrimination because of political reasons, age, race, creed, sex or any other characteristic is prohibited.”

In defense of the bill, activists, however, have referenced several international and national documents. Giovanni Permettei, the president of Equal Venezuela, an umbrella group representing more than 40 NGOs that also designed the bill, has underscored how Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”

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Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Venezuelans will go to the polls this Sunday to elect 337 mayors and 2389 representatives to municipal councils. The last municipal elections were held in November 2008, an election that also included state-level offices. In  2008, pro-government candidates won 265 of 326 municipalities, and they received roughly a million votes more than the opposition. However, that was with Chávez as president and this time the opposition hopes to gain ground. In the presidential elections held in April, Nicolas Maduro (50.61%) was elected by a small margin (223,599 votes) over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles (49.12%).

Based on the numbers from the presidential elections, political scientist Francisco Pérez Gómez argues that if the government increases its votes by 5%, it will win roughly 254 or 76% of the municipalities. If the opposition were to increase its votes by 5%, it could win 116 or 35% of the municipalities. In the unlikely event of a 10% increase in pro-government vote, it would win 266 or 79% of the municipalities, and, in the equally unlikely event of the opposition gaining 10% more votes, it would win 131 or 39% of the municipalities.

Since government support is stronger in less densely populated rural areas where most municipalities are located, and the opposition is stronger in the urban areas, no matter what the result is in the national tally, the government will most certainly claim victory in the total number of municipalities. Given this, the opposition has argued that the most indicative numbers to look at will be those of the major cities and the national totals. The opposition is hoping for a slight increase in its share of votes from April in order to claim it has a national majority over pro-government supporters.

A survey from polling firm Datanalisis from August showed that 31% of voters intend to vote for the Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) compared with 34% for the pro-government Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP) with 35% undecided or not responding. A Datanálisis poll from the beginning of October showed the MUD and GPP tied at 37% with 25% still undecided or not responding. In October pro-government numbers continued to slide. However, in November Maduro initiated his "war against speculation" which likely turned this slide around.

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