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Opinion

Venezuela: The end of petro-populism?

Criminalising acts of protest becomes the government's only response to students' outcry for dialogue.

Last updated: 21 Feb 2014 07:37
Rolando Tomasini

Dr Rolando Tomasini, consultant specialised on supply chain and purchasing strategy working with leading multinational corporations from different sectors.
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Students have led the protests incited by discontent with the government's inability to control the deteriorating economic situation, writes Tomasini [AFP]

The death of at least four students and the violence committed by police and government-supported paramilitary groups will not deter Venezuelan protesters from continuing to march peacefully all over the country against President Maduro's policies.

There is clearly a strong and sustained pattern of military and government-led troops presence, as documented by images and videos posted on several social media platforms, whose mission is to obstruct, intimidate, and attack protesters. Widely communicated videoes showed the official oppressive response leading to torture, illegal invasion of private property, raiding headquarters of political parties as well as inflicting brutal physical violence against students, women, and youngsters by uniformed members of the government.Such climate of terror was heightened by another phenomenon of the Chavist revolution: The urban guerrillas, or "colectivos chavistas" such as the Revolutionary Movement of Tupamaros. These are paramilitary groups, heavily armed with modern military artillery, presumably provided by the government, who are very active in the country instilling fear and terror.

While the government-led military presence is strong, the climate of terror is heightened by another phenomenon of the Chavist revolution: The urban guerrillas, or 'colectivos chavistas'.

At the beginning of this week's protest, Tupamaros leaders openly expressed their willingness to use their weapons and hoods to protect the government against the opposition. They are doing most of the government's dirty work as documented in the videos circulated during every election (i.e. breaking out and shootings at electoral stations), and protest (i.e. strategically located and armed to attack the crowds).

Threat to government

Student protests have been viewed as a threat to this government. Historically, student movements were catalysts and accelerators of social transformation as well as reflecting a strong sign of the severe lack of - and need for - socio-political dialogue. This has been experienced over and over in history, and most recently in the Arab Spring revolutions.

Venezuela is no exception. Students have unanimously led the protests initially triggered by a strong sense of discontent with the government's inability to control the deteriorating economic situation, the scarcity of basic products, the staggering levels of violence, and their frustration with the populist revolutionary speeches that are only fuelling more polarisation, and restraining civil freedoms.

Maduro's response to these protests was also typical of totalitarian regimes. He pointed fingers at opposition leaders like Leopoldo Lopez. The government blamed Lopez for the death of the three students and all the damages created during the protest. Ironically, days earlier President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello challenged Lopez, on national television, to come forward, threatening him about the consequences he will face upon being arrested.

Lopez surrendered himself to the armed forced in the middle of a monumental march in the capital city. He explained, in a video, that he would come forward, not to accept the government accusation, but rather to present to the government  - on behalf of the opposition -  a set of concrete demands including: Disarmament of paramilitary groups, a halt to the violent oppression against civilians, and the freedom of detained students and political prisioners. He also invited citizens to join him in a march dressed in white, as happened on February 18, where he was taken out by car and then helicopter under custody.

Promoting confusion

Instead of assuming political responsbility, Maduro, in a  speech  further confusing the public, stated that Lopez was driven to a prison outside the capital by Cabello to protect him from Miami-based extreme right groups that have been targeting him. Yet, he contradicted himself when he insisted that Lopez should be held responsible for the deaths and violence which  - in reality - had been  the work of government troops who only acted upon orders from both Maduro and Cabello.

Lopez or not , the fact of the matter is that government-led violence continues to escalate with more people being aggressed upon, tortured, and shot in the streets. Official figures remain uncertain about how many people have disappeared. A hospital in the city of Valencia reported receiving at least eight wounded shortly following  Lopez's arrest due to insurgents who sabotaged the march on their motorcycles shooting civilians in the head.

This week's events show that Maduro was not only leading the government in an undemocratic fashion, but it also confirmed,  through the violent and aggressive anti-constitutional responses, the lack of any intention to initiate a process of  serious and constructive dialogue for the future. Rather than opening channels for communication, Maduro continues to obstruct public opinion by censoring media, internet, creating barricades, and disregarding the international request to build a sustainable democratic space. He is also reinforcing the social resentment instilled by his predecessor with speeches that rather than uniting the population, trigger unrest and highlight polarised opinions.

Some experts argue that these events are the product of Venezuela's dying petro-populism, others point out that it may be the tipping point for the end of Chavism. Regardless of the root causes, it is uncertain at this point how the next pages of Venezuelan history will be written as  both government supporters and opponents stand strong and determined on opposite ends of the shooting range.

Citizens have made it clear they are fed up and are willing to march and protest for their future. The government has failed to accept its responsibility and the decline in popular support. But most importantly is that opposition leaders insist on a democratic solution as the only exit strategy.

Dr Rolando Tomasini, consultant specialised on supply chain and purchasing strategy working with leading multinational corporations from different sectors.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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