[Pictured: Oscar Pérez, a disgruntled Venezuelan police intelligence officer, reads an anti-government manifesto in a video he posted on Instagram. Pérez and his compatriots hijacked a police helicopter and lobbed grenades at the Venezuelan supreme court.]
Oppositional Performance Art, Democratic Farce
Last weekend, on Saturday the 29th of July, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela officially opened elections for its Constituent Assembly, a body of elected delegates which will eventually convene to develop a new constitution for the country to be presented and approved by plebescite by the Venezuelan people. This will be the second time in recent history that Venezuela has undertaken such a process, the first being on the initiative of late President Hugo Chavez Frias. Just as during the Chavez years, there is a right-wing opposition movement, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), which opposes the Constituent Assembly process as somehow fraudulent and a power grab by a greedy executive strongman.
This opposition movement, led by former oligarchs and US-trained “leaders” like MUD chief Leopold Lopez, are the darlings of the media. Canadians have been saturated with beaming coverage of the Venezuelan opposition from the supposedly independent and investigative CBC, which has not presented a single Chavista or pro-government commentator on its programming, while in the US the usual suspects – CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and the New York Times – have all peddled the mythos of the opposition, which the US has supported with millions of dollars in covert funding since 2007, and which wikileaks has revealed consistently supported since 2004 in preparation for overthrowing the left-wing Socialist Unity Party-Communist Party (PSUV-CPV) coalition government then led by Chavez and currently led by President Nicolas Maduro (Beeton, et al. 2011) [see especially cable 06CARACAS2104_a and cable 09CARACAS1132_a].
It is quite strange to use so much taxpayer money, logistical resources, and manpower allotted towards “democracy promotion” on an opposition whose electoral activity has consistently proven to be precisely undemocratic, opposing the “socialism” of the government while 75% of Venezuelans support socialism, holding rigged, sham referenda, and tampering with actual parliamentary elections. There are also reports that armed opposition gangs have attacked voting centers intended for the Constituent Assembly. This is acceptable to their sponsors in Washington because the term “democracy” in US foreign policy circles does not actually mean rule by the polis, but conformity to the liberal world order and willingness to submit to neo-colonial status under US imperialism.
Not only is this “opposition” wholly undemocratic, but it promotes its agenda through terrorist activity and racist violence. Gangs of Gurimbas, composed mostly of wealthy students and paid protesters, and military and police dissident have been especially belligerent in their efforts to bludgeon the government’s mostly working-class, African, and indigenous popular support base into submission.
Terrorism Anywhere Else
The helicopter attack on the Venezuelan supreme court by a pro-opposition military general grabbed international, and especially US, media attention and refocused coverage on the supposedly rising discontent among the Venezuelan population which the Chavismo government. Disgruntled police intelligence officer Oscar Pérez hijacked a police helicopter, which he and his compatriots used to throw four grenades into the supreme court building in Caracas and fire fifteen shots into the interior ministry during a conference.
The attack was hailed, especially in the Washington Post, as a heroic and selfless act against a tyrannical government. The bourgeois media, ever intent on advancing its agenda of regime change in Venezuela, thus neglected some key information about Perez and the nature of the attack itself. President Maduro identified the attack as “terrorism”, and under the internationally recognized legal definition, he is correct. International law makes a distinction between terrorism and armed struggle, and Perez’s attack on civilian infrastructure clearly falls in the category of the former, however much the US media in collaboration with the State Department mind try to portray it as the latter.
Perez, in his Instagram “manifesto” wears a purple ribbon tied around his left arm, which he says shows his allegiance to “the truth and to Christ”, a gesture that signals something of an affiliation to the Christian right, which has a long history of fascism in Latin America. Perez’s Instagram also features images comparing himself and his police team to one of God’s angels and images of Jesus Christ cleansing the world in a crusade. Hardly the secular democrat darling the Washington Post would have you believe he is. Instagram has been flooded with fake Perez profiles since the incident and his original account has disappeared, but these images are recurring throughout the replica accounts.
A Taste for Strange Fruit
When Abel Meeropol wrote the lyrics to “Strange Fruit”, which were hauntingly brought to life in song by Billie Holiday, he had the racist lynchings in the United States targeted against Blacks by ex-Confederates and the KKK in mind, but he could have easily been writing about the actions of the Venezuelan opposition against Black and Brown Chavistas. American poster-boy Leopold Lopez was intimately involved in coup attempts to oust the late Chavez, and during that time called for Black pro-Chavez mayors to be lynched (Beeton et al. 2011, Grandin, 2015), and as head of the MUD continues to ignore, and thus remains complicit, in the racist actions of MUD-affiliated Gurimba groups.
Like most of the sordid realities of the MUD and Gurimbas, incidents of attacks against Blacks by the opposition, like the one on Orlando Figuera (burned alive), or Danny José Subero (beaten to death with clubs), including attacks on young children, have gone without condemnation or even comment by western media or by either the Canadian or American governments, who prefer their “concern” to be focused exclusively on the government. Reminiscent of the events leading up to the Libyan “humanitarian intervention”, which also featured an anti-Black opposition, there is bipartisan support in the United States and tripartite support in Canada, including from the supposedly “left wing” NDP, for opposition organizations that I can only image make the KKK salivate given the extent of Gurimba anti-Black terror and the impunity which the media affords them. Any government brutality in Venezuela is small potatoes compared to the viciousness of Gurimba violence.
Conclusion: The Spectre of Recolonization
Given their US and Canadian sponsorship, and their emphasis on anti-working class and anti-black sectarian attacks, it is safe to compare the MUD and the Gurimbas to the US-backed contras of yesteryear and the overall US-MUD project in Venezuela to the more recent attempt at recolonization under the guise of humanitarianism, with disastrous consequences, Libya. It is more than likely, given the consistent support for the opposition, the escalation of a diplomatic and economic sanctions regime, that the US’s next maneuver will be an attempted intervention, which will work to restore Venezuela to its historically patronized status as part of “America’s backyard”. This would be a complete unraveling of the achievements of Hugo Chavez, who ended this submissive colonial status with surprising decisiveness, like Castro and Gaddafi had done for their countries before him.
While the Anglo-North American Left tends to have much more sympathy for progressive Latin American states than it does Arab or African ones, I remain skeptical that there is yet sufficient anti-war and anti-imperialist clout among mainstream “left” organizations, particularly the social democrats and other center-left tendencies, to head a strong anti-intervention movement. However, understanding the racist and violent nature of the forces which seek to replace the current Venezuelan government demands a substantial response, and there are organizations working towards this end. Readers are especially encouraged to contact the Hands Off Venezuela coalition.
It should be clear that the MUD opposition possesses no democratic legitimacy whatsoever, and that its activities represent an obstruction and violation of the basic foundations of democracy, of self determination, and of collective rights. Regardless of the errors of the current government, attempts to replace it, in the current context, only represent a reactionary, pro-imperial process which would undermine any sense of majority rule and popular sovereignty in Venezuela.
BEETON, D., J. Johnston, & A. Main (2011). “Venezuela”. Wikileaks: The World According to US Empire. New York: Verso. pp. 515-545.
BIGWOOD, J. (n.d.). “Buying Venezuela’s Press With U.S. Tax Dollars.” North American Congress on Latin America.
GILBERT, C. (2017). “Strange Fruit: Venezuela has an Opposition that Nobody Should Support.” venezuelanalysis.com
GRANDIN, G. (2015). “Leopold Lopez is not Venezuela’s Savior.” The Nation.
KOERNER, L. (2017). “Three Dead in Venezuela as Violent Protests enter 9th Week.” venezuelanalysis.com
LOPEZ, V. (2017). “Venezuela: Police helicopter attacks supreme court with grenades.” The Guardian.
STAFF (2017). “Monitor País: 86% «de acuerdo» con que Gobierno promueva inversión privada“. Hinterlaces
STAFF (2017). “Opositores violentos asediaron 200 centros de votación en todo el país y asesinaron un GNB en Táchira.” ALBA Ciudad.