VIO News Blog

January 22, 2009

Venezuelan Students March on Caracas in Support of Chavez

Pro-Chavez students marched in Caracas yesterday, turning out by the hundreds (see image at right). Reports by Bloomberg and the AP focus mainly on the anti-government protests occurring in previous days. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez ordered authorities to “dissolve any disturbance,” while the AP makes the more accurate statement that the Venezuelan leader said security forces should dissolve crowds “if they turn violent.”

Government officials have publicly condemned the acts of violence and vandalism occurring at protests this week and last week. Higher Education Minister Luis Acuna said: “We can’t use the amendment to block streets. This amendment doesn’t need Molotov cocktails. What the amendment needs is a pluralist debate.”

An alarmist Washington Post op-ed today claims that the governments of Venezuela and Russia are authoritarian and eschew human rights. In Venezuela, things could not be more the opposite. Elections are free and fair, and their results do not always favor the Chavez government. Crime is indeed high and has persisted in part because Venezuela is not ruled by an “iron fist” as the op-ed claims. Where past leaders cracked down and killed civilians, Chavez has opted for slower reforms with citizen involvement. Demonstrations are not repressed; protesters have often been allowed to bring their demands before the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. They also get an enormous amount of attention in the media and abroad. Indeed, the Post op-ed is based on a visit to the U.S. Congress by opposition students. Meanwhile, many elected officials in the Venezuelan government are denied U.S. visas, as Time reported yesterday.

Another perspective is offered in an interview with political scientist Daniel Hellinger published by the Venezuela Information Office. Of the upcoming national referendum on term limits for public officials, he says: “I believe the president will win the referendum to make possible indefinite re-election. I anticipate that this will bring a predictable wave of condemnation from the media in the United States. But if the expressed will of the Venezuelan people is to allow re-election, we need to respect their decision. ”

In other news, the AP reports that Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said he hopes Obama rectifies his recent assertion that Venezuela is “a destructive force in the region.” Maduro said: “President Chavez has won 12 of the 14 elections in the past 10 years. He is the legitimate president and his leadership has gone beyond the region and helped create solidarity among the peoples of the world.”

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