The coverage on Venezuela is making it seem as if only anti-government protesters are out on the street. This is not the case. The Maduro government, like Chavez’s before it, for its many faults, does have popular support, as the video [seen above] shows. Likewise, the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay represent the regional perspective when they released this joint statement: “firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and, in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.”
Mark Weisbrot of the Guardian adds: “We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That’s not because they didn’t love President Dilma Rousseff; it’s because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil’s democratically-elected government.” To get a sense of how warped the Venezuelan opposition is becoming, consider that like their Tea Party cousins in the United States, the Venzuelan opposition has engaged in birtherism against the dark-skinned president Maduro.
Not every ski-mask wearing protester that throws a molotov at police is a hero. Considering that supporters of the government are being attacked by the same people who tried to launch a coup in 2002, we should view their media campaign with some skepticism.
Update from a reader:
I have to respond to your most reader about what’s going on in Venezuela. It is true, the protestors in Venezuela are unique in that they are trying to topple the government. But an important part of context that Weisbrot and the other reader miss is that Venezuela is a democracy in little more than name. There were presidential elections in April, and they were very close and very controversial with the Maduro – acting as president at the time despite clear constitutional instructions to the contrary – spending hours on air through mandatory broadcasts called cadenas while his challenger could spend no more than three minutes per channel per day advertizing.
Moreover, the government has systematically sought to close down every avenue of media opposition, closing radio stations and television stations and replacing them with state-run media in a bid to create what they call “media hegemony.” Similarly, the government is denying newspapers access to dollars so they can’t import paper, leaving many with literally just days worth of paper left.
Finally, it is true that the government still garners significant support, but those marches are less indicative than their numbers would indicate. It is well-known that public employees are often bussed to marches and required to attend in order to keep their jobs. That doesn’t mean that many who attended aren’t dyed-in-the-wool chavistas but it is indicative that 1) the government is less able to mobilize supporters than it would like people to believe and 2) that supporting the government is a requisite for working in the government in a country where the private sector is being systematically dismembered.
The opposition has spent the last five years trying to build a coalition that could challenge Chávez and now Maduro working within the increasingly undemocratic, centralized and corrupt system and were systematically prevented from doing so, even when they won local elections. That some are trying to paint them as the undemocratic ones in this fight is disingenuous as best and complicit at worst.
I find it very amusing that a joint statement from Mercosur was used by Mark Weisbrot as evidence that Venezuela’s neighbors reject the opposition’s protest against the Maduro regime. As you may know, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay were the original members of Mercosur, which was supposed to be a trade-free zone. As a free-trade bloc, Mercosur is an utter disaster; for example, Argentina not only charges tariffs to imports from Brazil, they levy taxes on their own exports to keep food prices down in the midst of horrible inflation. So rather than a free trade area, Mercosur has become a soapbox for the left-leaning leaders of South America.
Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil wanted to add Venezuela to the group, but faced opposition from Paraguay’s legislature, which would block their addition. In June 2012, Paraguay’s then-President Fernando Lugo was removed from office in a very rapid – but entirely Constitutional – impeachment process. Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay wasted no time in claiming that Lugo’s removal from office undermined democracy and just as quickly suspended Paraguay from the group, thus paving the way for Venezuela’s inclusion in Mercosur within a month of Paraguay’s suspension. In fact, Venezuela currently holds the presidency of the bloc. To think we should listen to Mercosur, with their record, as an upholder of democratic values in this case, especially considering the ample evidence of vote-rigging for both Chávez and Maduro, is nothing short of laughable.