We are a group of nine people who just spent ten days in Venezuela on a delegation sponsored by the Task Force on the Americas and the School of the Americas Watch. We visited eight states and three capital cities as well as a number of smaller communities. We met with human rights groups, government officials including the government Ombudsman and top security officers, the secretary general of ALBA, members of the opposition, the US embassy, cooperatives, schools and agricultural initiatives.
We want to share what we experienced here which in many cases contradicts current reports of Venezuela in the mainstream and social media. We also want to call on readers to take action to support Venezuela’s sovereignty.
In spite of what the US media prepared us to expect, we were completely unimpeded by any expressions of violence or disruption of transit. We experienced a country where schools, businesses, transportation and services seem to be functioning at a normal pace. In fact, of 337 municipalities, only 18 have experienced incidents of violent protest. We are, however, aware that in the border states with Colombia and in some wealthy neighborhood incidents of violence continue to persist.
People on both sides of the political divide in Venezuela have been killed in the past month. While the media has focused almost exclusively on the tragic deaths of several at the hands of government security forces (who have been detained by the Venezuelan justice system), there has been almost no attention to the deaths of several government security forces at the hands of anti-government protesters. In addition, at least seven people have been killed by protesters for simply trying to pass by or remove road blocks in their communities, and a motorcyclist was decapitated by razor wire strung by protesters. Other deaths have been linked to the inability to get to hospitals due to anti-government road blocks. In one case a motorcycle taxi driver tried to remove a road block and was killed by a sniper from a nearby building. When the National Guard arrived, one of their members was killed by snipers from the same building. As the National Guard entered the building to detain the sniper, residents there tweeted photos and messages picked up by media to support accusations of government repression.
According to a survey this week, at least 75% of Venezuelans, including many sectors of the opposition, do not approve of the violent tactics of anti-government protesters. What began as an outcry against high inflation and crime has degenerated into small but very violent focal points where millions of dollars of public property has been destroyed. The great majority of protests have taken place in wealthy areas where many neighbors who originally supported the first wave of protests have become increasingly frustrated with the havoc created in their own communities.
Although the mainstream media has portrayed the situation in Venezuela as a spontaneous uprising of students, in fact, some of the most prominent leaders who have motivated these protests are adults over the age of 40 who were involved in the 2002 coup against President Chavez. On January 23, Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado held a press conference calling for street action to lead to national rage in an effort to force the ousting of President Maduro. On the podium of their press conference was the logo: “the exit”.
The government of President Maduro has initiated a peace process at national, state and community levels that has been embraced by religious leaders, including the Papal Nuncio; and business leaders, such as the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the president of Venezuela’s largest business, POLAR; and key opposition leaders, such as several governors, mayors and the director of Henrique Capriles’ presidential campaign. Over 600 business leaders attended a government-convened economic conference. The government immediately agreed to implement 56 of the 59 proposals. This is what corporate media calls “a failure.”
We experienced strong support for the government by popular sectors of the population, and support for the anti-government protest appeared to be limited to upper middle class sectors. This is not surprising due to the fact that only three months ago government –supported mayoral candidates won 59% of the vote. We were overwhelmed by the massive turnout and the powerful display of love for the legacy of President Chavez at events commemorating the first anniversary of his death.
The history of U.S. intervention in Venezuela in recent years is very raw here, given the US government support for the 2002 coup and the more than 90 million U.S. government dollars that have funded the opposition. We are therefore deeply concerned about actions that our government might take based on inaccurate media portrayals of the situation here, as was the case in 2002. In recent weeks some members of Congress have called for action by the U.S. government against Venezuela, including the possibility of sanctions. Within the OAS the U.S. pushed for a commission to begin investigation into internal situations here, and was overwhelming rejected by all members with the exception of Canada and Panama. In striking contrast, on March 12, the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, issued a statement of support for the peace process that has already been initiated, and designated a commission to help in this effort. They also expressed grave concerns for threats to Venezuela’s sovereignty. We therefore ask that you contact your member of congress demanding that the State Department respect Venezuela’s sovereignty.