Alvaro Sanchez Cordero, Charge D’Affaires from the Embassy of Venezuela to the Netherlands
Since early April of this year, Venezuelans have been suffering the consequences of violent street protests, resulting in more than 60 deaths and hundreds more injured. We are deeply sorry for the death of so many people, both civilians and law enforcement agents. Media reporting on this situation, however, has been strongly biased, with news outlets falsely depicting Venezuela as a country at war, where peaceful protesters are violently knocked down by a dictatorial government. The real story is different.
In 1999, when a progressive revolution came to power in Venezuela and President Chavez was elected, a whole new vision for the country was put in place. The vast majority of Venezuelans, who had hitherto been ostracized, depoliticized, disenfranchised, exploited, socially excluded and discriminated against, were finally included and empowered into a new democratic model that was both representative and participatory. The net result was a new sovereign nation in full control of its natural resources, with a new Constitution, and a leadership able to equally distribute oil revenues in a more fair and efficient manner that ultimately produced highly positive social and human results, such as: four million people lifted out of poverty, free and universal access to medical health and education, the eradication of illiteracy, access to potable water, three million pensioners and almost two million social houses, among other achievements.
Of course, such progress came with a price tag. The US Government, intensely hostile to Venezuela’s socialist government controlling its own oil (Venezuela has the largest oil reserve in the world), has been very active destabilizing with the ultimate aim to topple our Government for the past 18 years. Though the list is practically endless, the US has tried every dirty trick in the book. They have given full financial backing and open political support to the Venezuelan right-wing opposition’s violent and unconstitutional efforts to oust the democratically elected government such as, a coup d’état, an oil and business lock-out, street barricades and hiring mercenaries and paramilitaries to perpetrate widespread terror, among others.
A new situation
This is the context of the opposition-led violence that we see in Venezuela right now but with some important additions. Firstly, Chavez is no longer with us. This has energized the US into believing they now have better chances to succeed. Secondly, the current wave of destabilizing violence has been more effective because it is combined with a vicious economic war – reminiscent of what was to Allende in Chile in the 1970s – which includes blocking international credit, disrupting distribution of food supplies and other essential items and speculating with a fictitious, black-market, exchange rate that has brought major economic difficulties and that, as intended, has hit the poorest sections of society generating discontent. Thus, on the back of these deliberately created economic difficulties, in December 2015 the opposition won majority in Parliament. Nonetheless, instead of building politically upon such victory, they decided to take a short cut by promising to bring down President Maduro, one way or another. In six months, the opposition-led Parliament, used its majority to foment violence, even to the point that current Parliament President, Julio Borges, openly called the military to rise up against the constitutional government.
Yet, throughout 2016, the opposition failed to oust the government of President Maduro, as they had promised, despite the fact that they escalated the US-supported economic war.
This failure in the domestic terrain led them to try it from the outside, but whose crucial domestic component was the current wave of violence to justify US-led external intervention.
Protestors marching against the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro are very often far from peaceful and come equipped with home-made weapons, Molotov cocktails, bazookas, ammunitions, explosives, stones as well as firearms, which they use against the forces of law and order. Opposition demonstrators have set government buildings on fire, vandalized public and private property, looted stores and have even perpetrated attacks on two maternity hospitals during which they tried to set them on fire. There was a severe risk that 54 babies may die as a consequence; mothers in labour, nurses, doctors and patients needed to be evacuated. There was no reporting on these events in the mainstream media as it clearly contradicts their narrative. A few weeks ago some of the most violent opposition demonstrators started to throw human and animal excrements at the forces of law and order. There is no need to mention the danger of all kinds of diseases erupting in a tropical climate with streets full of excrements and in a delicate health situation due to the increased appearance of the Zika virus. Only a few weeks ago Venezuelan opposition supporters attacked Venezuela’s Diplomatic Mission in Spain, asking publicly on social media for Venezuelan ambassadors to end up like the former Russian Ambassador in Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in Ankara last year. In fact, also a few weeks ago, our Consulate in Bonaire was attacked by sympathizers of the Venezuelan opposition who unlawfully entered the premises of the diplomatic mission and vandalized equipment and materials, in clear violation of international law. Unfortunately, similar incidents have also taken place in many other Venezuelan diplomatic missions worldwide.
People have been arrested because they have committed criminal acts, causing violence in the streets leading to the death of dozens of people and putting many lives at risk, not because of their political position. The same would hold true in any European country. Think about the Dutch Constitution, and the resulting Public Assemblies Act. Both state that the right to assembly and demonstration in the Netherlands may be restricted in order “to protect health, in the interest of traffic and to combat or prevent disorder”. Dutch legislation is very clear: there can be no demonstrations, unless demonstrators march peacefully and follow the rule of law. It is no different in Venezuela. Of the 68 persons who have lost their lives so far, only seven deaths have been attributed to government authorities, and those responsible have been charged and currently face prosecution. Fourteen persons have died during lootings of stores, shops and restaurants. Eight persons have died trying to pass street barricades erected by opposition protestors. Three persons have been shot dead by criminal gangs, one person has been lynched and three policemen have been killed by protestors. Thirteen persons have died accidentally and the remaining 19 deaths are still unaccounted for. The Venezuelan authorities do everything in their power to investigate those deaths and charge the perpetrators, regardless of their political allegiance. In this context it is important to point out one more time that Leopoldo Lopez is not a political prisoner. He was indicted and has been charged for publicly instigating violence, asking protestors to use non-peaceful means in order to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro, and about which there is irrefutable public evidence. Henrique Capriles was charged and banned from public office because of illicit administrative practices during his tenure as a governor of the Miranda state, not because of his role as an opposition leader.
Food shortages are not due to the fact that Venezuela has run out of financial means. Consider that just about a month ago Venezuela repaid US$2.7 billion on its debt. Food and medical shortages are created artificially by the blocking of opposition-controlled production and distribution channels. Evidence for the existence of a so called “Economic Warfare” has been collected by numerous academics. Their research is available at http://www.15yultimo.com/. On top of this, last month Julio Borges, head of the Venezuelan parliament, sent more than a dozen letters to major banks asking them not to carry out transactions with the Venezuelan government. The financial blockade is a central component on the ongoing economic war against our country. The strategy to artificially create a situation where basic foodstuffs and medicines are in short supply is not new. The same happened to Chile in the early seventies, where economic warfare was one of the many dirty methods used to oust the democratically elected government of the socialist President Salvador Allende. In spite of the intensity of the ongoing economic warfare against Venezuela, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has declared Venezuela a country where the percentage of undernourished persons, relative to the whole population, was less than 5 % during the years 2014-2016. The same percentage as Western Europe.
Postponements of regional elections
Postponement of the regional elections has been falsely portrayed as a government “strategy” to suppress elections altogether. In reality, the main reason for the postponement was to give smaller parties the chance to comply with all legal requirements necessary (first and foremost the 0,5 % signature threshold) in order to participate in elections, as indicated in the “Law on Political Parties, Public Assemblies and Demonstrations” (Title I, Chapter III, Article 26). Nonetheless, on 23 May, the National Electoral Council set 10 December 2017 as the date for regional elections in Venezuela. It is important to stress here that the 19 elections held throughout the last 17 years have all been declared as completely transparent, free and fair by the Carter Centre, the Organization of American States, the European Union and other international election observers.
Why has there not been a recall referendum? The answer is simple: according to the Venezuelan Constitution, a recall referendum needs to be carried out before half-term of the leader who may be recalled from office (Arts 72 and 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution). Opposition parties had not presented the signatures necessary for the referendum before half-term (July 2016). Carrying out a recall referendum after that deadline would be unconstitutional, just like calling general elections outside the period established in our Constitution would be unlawful. Venezuela is the only country in the world that can recall elected representatives at every level.
Separation of powers
Separation of powers in Venezuela exists within the framework of the principles stipulated in the 1999 Constitution, as it is the case in most countries. The best example of this has been the recent debate about the Supreme Court (TSJ) on the National Assembly, after stating that Parliament remained in contempt of Supreme Court previous rulings. The opposition-led National Assembly repeatedly refused to process ordinary, uncontroversial but above all constitutional initiatives from the government, such as investment decisions, financing of infrastructure projects, and so forth. The Supreme Court made a ruling to itself approve such Executive initiatives from there on. Venezuela’s Attorney General disagreed on the grounds that it might contravene some principles of the Constitution. Faced with a divergence that emerged among two key state bodies – normal in any nation, which conclusively confirms the independence of all state bodies – the matter was resolved through a discussion in the appropriate body, the Defence Council of the State.
The General Secretary of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has violated the fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states, acting against a number of articles of the OAS Charter. Article 1 of the OAS Charter, stating that “The Organization of American States has no powers other than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.” Despite repeated attempts by the OAS Secretary General to apply the Democratic Charter against Venezuela and suspend it from the OAS, this has failed. It is important to stress here that the OAS has never taken the decision to apply the Democratic Charter to Venezuela as Almagro and many media keep falsely asserting. Furthermore, none of Luis Almagro’s pronouncements against the government of Venezuela have ever got the endorsement of the OAS, any of its bodies or the OAS Permanent Council (though there are some governments in the region that do share Almagro’s views on Venezuela, notably Brazil’s Temer government). Nevertheless, working hand in hand with the Venezuelan opposition and the US government, Secretary Almagro has abused his role in order to help create an impression of Venezuela as a failed state and put pressure on other countries to do so as well, with the apparent intention to bring about external intervention. Such development has no precedent in the history of OAS. His actions have prompted calls for resignation by Chilean legislators, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry and progressive social movements in the region, such as the Salvadorian Network in Solidarity with Venezuela.
OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, violating nearly every norm both OAS itself and his strictly administrative function, has dedicated his tenure to illegally interfere in Venezuelan affairs by unsuccessfully seeking to activate the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela, thus enabling the external intervention. The US Government, the real behind-the-scenes mastermind of OAS strategy, has openly threatened many Latin American and Caribbean countries for siding with Venezuela in the OAS.
The failure of the US-inspired Almagro’s OAS strategy against Venezuela has led to an extremely dangerous vicious circle: images of wanton violence in Venezuela feed Almagro’s and US’s threats against Venezuela, which in turn, feed more wanton and irrational violence in Venezuela.
Role of USA
The US government is illegal financing opposition political parties in Venezuela with the aim of destabilizing the country and forcing ‘regime change’. As part of her research, Eva Golinger, an American solicitor, has revealed that between 2002 and at least 2014, the US Government has channeled around 120 million US dollars to finance Venezuelan opposition parties and organizations. This flow of money represents a violation of the Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination Act of 2010 which bans foreign funding of political groups in the country. The US Government has sent this funding to Venezuelan opposition groups mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and USAID, all of which have worked closely with the CIA to bring about “regime change” in Venezuela. The spirit of this huge influx of resources was confirmed by President Obama’s Executive Order of 9 March 2015, and renewed a year later, which falsely declares Venezuela to be “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, but it unfortunately sits between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, and the world’s largest cocaine consumer, the United States. This is why it always had and still has to fight illicit trafficking as well as international narco-mafias within its borders. Venezuela has developed a comprehensive strategy to fight illicit drugs through international cooperation, the implementation of measures to reduce domestic consumption, the interception of illegal drug shipments, the destruction of clandestine airstrips, border monitoring measures and the detention and extradition of drug traffickers. Between 2008 and 2012 alone, 102 drug lords were captured and arrested. Twenty-one of them were promptly deported to the US and 36 to Colombia, at the requests made by the authorities of these countries and in compliance with international agreements on the fight against organized crime. The firm determination to face international drug trafficking mafias led President Nicolas Maduro to enact a law in 2012 enabling the interdiction of any drug-trafficking aircraft violating Venezuelan airspace. Thanks to this legal instrument, Venezuela has destroyed, disabled or brought down over 100 aircraft belonging to the drug transporting structure of Colombia and neighbouring countries illegally flying over our territory. In fact, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDC) recognises these efforts in their World Drug Report of 2015 stating that
“In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, cocaine seizures decreased to 20.5 tons in 2013 (from 27.6 tons in 2012). According to authorities in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the country remains a transit point for cocaine, particularly cocaine trafficked by air in private aircraft, but newly introduced legislative changes related to air traffic control have decreased the entry and exit of uncontrolled aircraft, which has led to a decrease in drug trafficking by air (54).”
It is not in the interest of Maduro to have terror and violence in the streets. On the contrary, it is very much in the interest of the opposition to maintain it and even escalate it. Thus, the intoxicating one-sided international media reporting that quite deliberately endorse Almagro and US pronouncements, only fuels more violence. This is repugnant, especially since they know who is the source of the violence. Unfortunately, the international media omits reporting that polls consistently show that well over 80% strongly reject the current violence and they also overwhelmingly oppose “regime change”.
There are indeed honest and decent government opponents who peacefully protest. However, there are also hooligans, mercenaries and paramilitaries, whose task is to confront the police and create chaos. Second, the law enforcement agents in the streets have orders to respect human rights. Those who have disobeyed that order are being prosecuted. Given this dangerous scenario, and the fact that the opposition refuses to engage in dialogue with the government (even though UNASUR, the Vatican and three former presidents continue to appeal to them to do so), President Maduro, invoking Arts 347, 348 and 349 of Venezuela’s Constitution, has called for a Constituent Assembly as a democratic political mechanism to bring about peace. Society’s response from all sections, even from the private sector, has been highly supportive and the Constituent process promises to produce exciting new developments that are likely to deepen the social dimensions of the Bolivarian Constitution, broadening and strengthening the 1999 Constitution.
Venezuela has the right to live in peace and not to be the target of US-led, US-financed and US-inspired permanent aggression. Venezuela demands respect for its sovereignty and self-determination, rejects external interference in its internal affairs, will not tolerate unconstitutional and violent acts to oust the legitimate and democratically elected government, and will insist on dialogue as the only way to address the problems the nation confronts. Unfortunately, the US and Venezuela’s extreme right insist on violent means to effect “regime change”. We in Venezuela have no choice but to defend our sovereignty.
Ever since President Chavez passed away in 2013 and, even more openly, since the opposition won a parliamentary majority in 2015, the Venezuela’s opposition has tried to oust the democratically elected government of Venezuela, explicitly stating that their aim was to “get rid” of President Maduro within six months, no matter how. As it was clear by the end of 2016 they had failed to do so whether by legal or violent means, so they have adopted an international strategy. Their plan is to create the impression that chaos reigns in the country so as to justify and bring about external intervention. With the overwhelming majority of the media in opposition hands, and with the enthusiastic support of the world corporate media, a campaign of intoxicating proportions has been waged daily against the Venezuelan government. This strategy has been tried in the past, with the help of the US government, as evidenced in declassified papers.
In spite of all these years of economic warfare, financial blockades, media and psychological warfare against the government of Nicolas Maduro, we have managed to build 1.7 million heavily subsidised houses in the last three years. More than 1 million people have been lifted from illiteracy and the number of people receiving pensions and students has increased fourfold.
So as to respond to the food shortages resulting from the ongoing “economic war” waged against our government, in March 2016, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAPs) were established. CLAPs distribute food packs filled with the most important Venezuelan staples such as pasta, rice, flour or salt at a fair price. According to the research institute Hinterlaces, 60 % of all Venezuelans believe that CLAP is the right way to deal with the economic crisis in Venezuela. So far, the 30.000 CLAPs in Venezuela are distributing food packs to 6 million households. Even the opposition admits that the CLAPs are working effectively and that they have helped ease social tensions. According to Datanalisis, 50 % of the Venezuelan population receives products through the CLAPs. In addition to this, the government created three new ministries in 2016 commissioned to address the current food shortages in Venezuela: The Ministry for Agricultural Production and Lands, the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture as well as the Ministry for Urban Agriculture. The latter in particular is expected to satisfy the needs of more than 3 million people through urban gardens, urban parcels, productive courtyards, organoponic vegetable gardens and urban glass-houses by 2020.
The way forward
We Venezuelans need to find a solution to our problems ourselves. Opposition protests are taking place in less than 1% of the Venezuelan territory. The majority of the Venezuelan people wants to live in peace and has grown tired of the ongoing protests, which make their life even more difficult. Polls persistently show that well over 80% reject the ongoing wanton violence. The Venezuelan government has insisted all along on dialogue and has reached out to include Pope Francis as well as the former Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in the discussions. Recently, President Maduro, invoking Arts 347, 348 and 349 of the Constitution, has announced a Constituent Assembly to modify the 1999 Constitution so as to unlock the current political impasse and bring about peace. Although fully in line with our laws, this act has falsely been called a “coup d’etat” by opposition leaders, who since 2013 have continually campaigned for a Constituent Assembly even collecting signatures for it. It is puzzling they quietly dropped the proposal when Art 348 states that it can also be called by “15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry”. The Venezuelan government will continue to act in full line with the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 and asks you to respect and support its efforts for peace and dialogue. Furthermore, their alleged central reason for the current wave of violence was the “cancellation” of the regional elections. The National Electoral Council has just announced they will be held on 10th December 2017 but, true to their undemocratic and seditious nature, all opposition leaders have rejected and have said publicly they oppose these elections in the same way they called for a Constituent Assembly which they now violently oppose.
Notes from the editor.
For our Spanish readers we have to references that are important:
For a discussion in English, consult Dr. Curcio’s latest book “The visible hand of the market. Economic Warfare in Venezuela”, to be downloaded at: http://www.15yultimo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/THE-VISIBLE-HAND-OF-THE-MARKET.-ECONOMIC-WARFARE-IN-VENEZUELA.-PASQUALINA-CURCIO-C.pdf