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Monday, February 24, 2014
MEDIA COLLEAGUES IN VENEZUELA PLEA FOR THEIR COUNTRY
San Cristobal, Venezuela, Tuesday Night
FROM THE CARACAS
The Game Changed in
Venezuela Last Night – and the International Media Is Asleep At the Switch
GUEST BLOG--By Francisco
Toro, founder of Caracas Chronicles
Dear International Editor:
Listen and understand. The game changed in
Venezuela last night. What had been a slow-motion unravelling that had
stretched out over many years went kinetic all of a sudden.
What we have this morning is no longer the
Venezuela story you thought you understood.
Throughout last night, panicked people told their
stories of state-sponsored paramilitaries on motorcycles roaming middle class
neighborhoods, shooting at people andstorming into apartment buildings, shooting at anyone who seemed like he
might be protesting.
People continue to be arrested merely for
protesting, and a long established local Human Rights NGO makes an urgent plea
for an investigation into widespread reports of torture of detainees. There are
now dozens of serious human right abuses: National Guardsmen shooting tear gas
canisters directly into residential buildings. We have videos of soldiers
shooting civilians on the street.
And that’s just what came out in real time, over
Twitter and YouTube, before any real investigation is carried out. Online media
is next, a city of 645,000 inhabitants has been taken off the internet amid
mounting repression, and this blog itself has been the object of a Facebook
What we saw were not “street clashes”, what we saw
is a state-hatched offensive to suppress and terrorize its opponents.
Here at Caracas Chronicles we’re doing what it can
to document the crisis, but there’s only so much one tiny, zero-budget blog can
After the major crackdown on the streets of large
(and small) Venezuelan cities last night, I expected some kind of response in
the major international news outlets this morning. I understand that with an
even bigger and more photogenic freakout ongoing in an even more strategically
important country, we weren’t going to be front-page-above-the-fold, but I’m
staggered this morning to wake up, scan the press and find…
As of 11 a.m. this morning, the New York Times
World Section has…nothing.....
NOTE: This from the Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/21/3952201/venezuelan-violence-has-roots.html
MORE FROM CARACAS
GUEST BLOG, By Rodrigo Linares, posted today on
Venezuela-based independent blog CaracasChronicles.com
Venezuela is in full-blown
crisis mode. The violence has been in the making for years. It’s not a social
or economic crisis – the economy is in shambles, but it’s not yet at its worst.
Crime is stratospheric, but then, it has been high for years. The crisis, it
seems, goes beyond this.
What makes the current
conflict so sad is that it could have easily have been avoided if minimal
spaces for dialogue between opponents had been safeguarded. The crisis, it
seems, is institutional.
The recent violence has
taken place against a backdrop absolute institutional decay. The
rock-bottom-basic institutions a modern country needs – the high school civics
triad of the Executive, the Legislature, and the courts – have just plain
stopped operating in anything like a recognizable form.
The key shortcoming of a
presidential systems is the overload of legitimacy on a single human being and
his or her agenda. Take this example: a president that gets elected by a narrow
margin, say by 1.49 points. In this example 20% of the voters abstain. That
50.61% (out of the 80% that voted) who elected the president did so because
they favor something like 75% of his agenda, while the others that didn’t vote
for him, supported only a fraction of that. And yet, the president feels he can
legitimately push 100% of his agenda.
Sound familiar? That is
Nicolás Maduro for you.
The problem of excessive
power in the hands of the President is not a Venezuelan issue. This is a
problem with the system we have chosen for ourselves. We chose it because the
forefathers of Venezuelan democracy thought a strong Executive was needed to
govern in Venezuela. This was a choice made in 1961, but its roots go back to
Yet, in theory, there’s
supposed to be a National Assembly and an independent Supreme Court in place
able to keep an overzealous President in check. That is where Venezuelan
institutions, and its politicians, have failed the country. First, in 2004, the
Supreme Court was packed with a gaggle of unconditional yes-men (and women),
ending any hope for judicial redress. Then our parliament went into a
protracted death spiral.
A simplified mission of
the Parliament is, of course, to pass legislation, but it is a lot more than
that. It is place for different political forces to meet and talk (parler in
french). In this space, political forces look for common ground to reach
solutions that satisfy all representatives, and through the representatives,
the constituents. The Parliament is an outlet for discontent, a space for
negotiation where progress is slow but effective.
We talk and argue in
Parliament so that we don’t have to do it out in the streets. But we broke
Parliament, and turned it into a boxing ring, and we allowed our courts to be
packed, breaking the one final check to authoritarian control.
This degradation was years
in the making. First, the opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary
elections, which ended with a meager 25% voter turnout. This broke not only the
checks and balances, but the opposition walked out of a space of dialogue. A
culture of imposition was created inside the halls of the National Assembly,
one we really haven’t shaken off yet. For five years the opposition was not to
be represented in the central government, and no alternative outlet for
discontent was provided.
The 2010 reforms, just
weeks prior to a new legislature taking office, left the Parliament an
institutional husk. This was exacerbated with every Enabling Law that gave the
President the power to legislate by decree, of which we have had two since
2010. Add to that aggressive nationwide gerrymandering in 2009, which ensured
the government ended up with 49% of the votes and 59% of the seats, and the
Parliament’s emasculation was complete.
When you thought it
couldn’t get worse, chavismo made it illegal for representatives to vote
against party line – whoever does so loses his or her seat, so long as the
majority approves it. In other words, voting the party line is now
mandatory…but only for regime supporters. There are no penalties for opposition
members who switch sides to support the government. (It bears noting that
Venezuela’s constitution explicitly forbids this rule, not that that’s made a
Since then, the opposition
in Parliament (and their constituents) have been harassed, insulted, physically
beaten on the floor of the Assembly, with all ability to legislate or hold a
dialogue or issue a vote of no confidence effectively gutted. With no
institutional space for dialogue, there is no democracy.
So history repeats itself.
It has happened all over the world – when one large chunk of the population
doesn’t feel represented, riots eventually follow. Democracy is all about
muddling through to minimal mutual accommodation. Elections are just one
mechanism to help bring that about, but you can’t expect the losing side to go
dormant between elections while it is being insulted and humiliated, and while
their legitimate interests are attacked.
When dialogue stops, we
descend to anarchy. In other words, we see what we are seeing.
About the Blog:
been the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan
political scene since 2002. Run by Juan Cristobal Nagel – a Venezuelan
political junkie now living in Chile – the blog’s goal is to breathe life,
insight and wit into a discussion too often dominated by fringe loonies of all
Since 2012, journalist
Gustavo Hernández Acevedo (A.K.A. Geha) has joined the team, reporting from
Barquísimeto on Venezuela beyond the capital. In early 2013, opposition
activist Emiliana Duarte also joined the team.
The blog’s founder,
Francisco Toro, stepped aside to pursue a different project in February, 2014.