The Canadian government has become the latest imperialist power to jump to the defence of the far-right protests in Venezuela. Parliament has just passed a unanimous motion that places the responsibility for the current violence in the country on the shoulders of the Venezuelan government rather than the opposition gangs that initiated the unrest. We have become accustomed to both the Conservatives and Liberals attacking the Venezuelan revolution, but what is concerning this time around is the fact that the NDP has sided with the two right-wing parties in condemning the Bolivarian government. As Canada’s labour party, we think that the NDP should be standing against the right-wing at home and in Venezuela, while championing the successes of the revolution as an inspiration for our own struggles against capitalist austerity.
Since 1998, when Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, the Venezuelan revolution has become a beacon of inspiration for the poor and the working class around the world. Whereas almost every other government has cut and attacked workers’ rights and standards of living, the Bolivarian government has stood up to the bosses’ agenda. Before Chávez’s election, Venezuela was known as one of the poorest and most unequal societies in Latin America. This has radically changed since the beginning of the revolution. Moreover, through the social programs initiated by the revolutionary government, illiteracy has been eradicated and services such as health care, dental care, child care, and post-secondary education have been made free and universal — some of these achievements have not even been accomplished in a country like Canada.
The government has become the mortal enemy of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which was accustomed to pillaging the wealth of the country. The government also earned the enmity of the major imperialist powers, who are no longer able to exploit Venezuela’s wealth and resources without limit. Moreover, the social achievements accomplished in Venezuela serve as a valuable example to the workers and oppressed of the world who are told that, “There is no alternative,” to capitalist austerity.
Since the revolution began over 15 years ago, the Venezuelan opposition has waged a relentless struggle to overthrow the gains of the revolution. Unfortunately for them, they have never been able to win over the majority of the Venezuelan masses and have repeatedly failed at the ballot box — since 1998, the revolutionary forces have won 18 of 19 elections. Because of this, the opposition has resorted to illegal and terrorist means to accomplish their aims. The most extreme measure they undertook was the military coup d’état in April 2002, which briefly overthrew the government, killed nearly 100 people, and captured Hugo Chávez. However, the spontaneous uprising of millions of ordinary Venezuelans forced the safe return of President Chávez. However, this is not the only attempt the opposition has taken to destroy the revolution. Throughout the years, they have sabotaged the economy and even used links to Colombian paramilitaries to attack and intimidate workers’ leaders and activists.
The recent round of protests in Venezuela is simply the latest attempt by the oligarchy in Venezuela to undermine the revolutionary government. There is nothing peaceful or democratic about the protests currently being waged by the Venezuelan opposition. Contrary to the myth that is being portrayed by the international bourgeois press, or the Venezuelan opposition on social media, the protests have nothing to do with democratic rights, the shortages in basic goods, or the conditions of students in Venezuela. In fact, the protests were sparked by calls made by two of the ultra-right-wing politicians in Venezuela, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado — both of whom were intimately involved in the 2002 coup attempt and who are pursuing La Salida (“The Exit”) of current president, Nicolás Maduro. López and Machado are hoping to use middle and upper-class students as pawns in their own game against the Bolivarian Revolution.
Although wealthier students have been involved in the protests, particularly at the demonstrations on Feb. 12 that appear to have marked the start of the violence, they are only a tiny minority and hardly represent the general student population of Venezuela. The most generous estimates of the Feb. 12 protests put the number of participating at thirty or forty-thousand; this is a fraction of the estimated 2.6-million students currently enrolled in post-secondary education in Venezuela. Moreover, the largest of the student protests pales in comparison to the majority of the counter-demonstrations organized by the revolution’s supporters; a solidarity rally organized by the oil workers at PDVSA (the state oil company) drew nearly 100,000 versus the 5,000 on the side of the opposition.
Around the world, the media has focused on the deaths that have come as a result of the wave of protests, especially focusing on the deaths occurring on the opposition’s side. As of Mar. 13, there have been 30 deaths connected to the protests. The international media has assigned blame for the majority of the deaths on the supposedly harsh measures taken by the Venezuelan government, but the vast majority have occurred at the hands of other people. According to the website Venezuelanalysis.com:
- 17 people died in barricade-related deaths, which include people shot while trying to clear a barricade, “accidents” caused by barricades and street traps, and patients dying after being prevented from reaching hospital by a barricade. This number also includes a pro-opposition student who was run over while trying to block a road.
- 5 of the deaths appear to be due to the actions of state security forces. All these cases are under investigation, and arrests have already been made in several.
- The other 8 cases are deaths in which either there exist contradictory accounts, it is very unclear who the perpetrator was, the killer was a third party, or where the death was an accident related to the violence.
Based on information from press reports, 12 of those who died were civilians without an open political affiliation, 9 were identified as pro-opposition, 5 as pro-government, 3 were National Guard officers, and 1 was a government lawyer.
At least one of those five killed at the hands of the security forces was a Bolivarian militant from the 23 de Enero barrio in Caracas, assassinated by a member of the Venezuelan secret police. In all five cases the perpetrators have been charged with murder — which contrasts sharply with the opposition’s assertion that the government is cracking down with impunity.
As the opposition’s protests have intensified, it increasingly appears that the right-wing students are being used as a cover for more nefarious forces who are attempting a “slow-motion” coup. In cities such as San Cristóbal and Mérida, pictures on social media appear to link some of the “student leaders” as members of Colombian neo-Nazi organizations. Many of the so-called “students” are armed with sniper rifles, automatic machine guns, grenades, and body armour — certainly not traditional student garb! The protesters have set up burning barricades and fired incendiary bombs at government institutions recognized as symbols of the revolution, such as the Attorney-General’s office and the public buses and metro in Caracas.
These fascistic elements appear to even be targeting other opposition supporters in an effort to further discredit the government. One of the most prominent opposition deaths so far was the killing of Génesis Carmona, a 22-year-old former beauty queen. However, ballistic evidence and eyewitness accounts seem to suggest that she was actually shot from within the opposition’s ranks during a demonstration. This would not be the first time that the opposition killed its own supporters in order to justify the overthrow of the Bolivarian government; in 2002, opposition snipers were largely responsible for the scores of deaths that were used to justify the military coup, as vividly shown in the famous Irish documentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
The opposition has also stepped up its attacks on revolutionary workers and students. At a pro-revolution demonstration in the state of Bolívar, nine trade unionists were shot by a sniper. Just last week, Gisella Rubilar Figueroa, a Chilean mother of four who was pursuing graduate studies in Mérida, was shot dead when trying to clear up one of the opposition’s barricades in the city. However, the international press was completely silent about the killing. The media has not commented, either, on the wire booby traps being set up by oppositionists that have decapitated two innocent motorcyclists, nor the deaths of three members of the National Guard and the death of a public employee. These are not “peaceful” protesters by any definition!
The international press has even used outright lies and manipulation to create a distorted account of the violence in Venezuela. In one of the most egregious examples, CBC News presented an online gallery of pictures that had been tweeted out by the Venezuelan opposition that supposedly showed the brutal “repression” being committed by the Venezuelan government. The CBC did not mention, however, that many of the pictures in their gallery were not even from Venezuela! Two of the pictures, for example, were of police crackdowns against student protesters in Chile last year. One picture, which showed a young woman who had been savagely beaten, was actually taken in Egypt at the height of the Arab Spring three years ago!
Why the distortion?
These are not simply mistakes or examples of incompetence by the international media (including journalists in Canada); the lies and manipulation of the events in Venezuela are part of a general campaign to discredit the Venezuelan government and the gains of the revolution in the eyes of people around the world. As every government on the planet continues to place the burden of the capitalist crisis on the backs of working-class people, the Venezuelan revolution stands against capitalist austerity. The fact that the Venezuelan government has placed the interests of the masses ahead of the profit margins of foreign multinationals is something that cannot be tolerated by imperialism.
Canada has taken a lead role in assisting the opposition to the revolution in Venezuela. The Canadian embassy in Caracas has funnelled tens of thousands of dollars to Venezuelan opposition groups. In February 2010, the former Secretary of State for the Americas, Peter Kent, travelled to Venezuela to accuse the government of the “narrowing” of democratic space in the country; Kent forgot to mention that at the same time, his Conservative government had shut down Parliament during the prorogation scandal. As this article goes to print, Air Canada has decided to indefinitely suspend all flights to Venezuela, claiming, “Due to ongoing civil unrest in Venezuela, Air Canada can no longer ensure the safety of its operation… Air Canada will continue to monitor the situation and will evaluate the reintroduction of flights with the objective of resuming operations on the route once Air Canada is satisfied that the situation in Venezuela has stabilized.” This is despite the fact that Air Canada sees no jeopardy to its operations by flying into well-known safe havens such as Iraq or Sierra Leone.
Venezuelan oppositionists living in Canada have been encouraged to mobilize and push their agenda here. In January 2013, dozens of right-wing Venezuelans across Canada met virtually with coup-apologist Maria Corina Machado. In these meetings, Machado exhorted the Venezuelan opposition in Canada to paint Venezuela as a “neo-dictatorship… a regime deeply totalitarian with a democratic façade.” Not surprisingly, they have found an eager audience amongst the Conservative and Liberal parties. Members of the opposition met with Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis who has, on several occasions, attempted to pass resolutions in the House of Commons denouncing the Venezuelan government and its supposed crackdown on democratic rights. And elements of the Venezuelan opposition have even brought their terrorist tactics to Canada; as this article is being written, oppositionists are believed to be behind a series of death threats aimed at a left-wing Catholic priest, Father Hernán Astudillo, and the left-wing Toronto Latino radio station his church sponsors.
The most recent motion that ended up being supported by the House of Commons was supposed to be a “softening” of Karygiannis’ latest attempt to defame the Bolivarian government and place responsibility for the violence at the hands of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. After back-room dealings between the three main parties (the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP), a compromise motion was put forward by the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, which gained support from all MPs in the House:
“That the House express its deep concern at the escalation of violence in Venezuela; convey its condolences to the families of those killed or injured during the ongoing public protests; ask the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law; encourage the Government of Canada to play a leading role in supporting a political dialogue in Venezuela that respects legitimate grievances and differences of opinion; and call for an end to divisive rhetoric and actions that only delay and jeopardize the inclusive political solution that the Venezuelan people deserve.” (My emphasis)
The NDP’s parliamentary caucus may believe that in putting forward this “compromise” resolution, they are doing their best to remain “neutral” in the current provocations in Venezuela. However, the resolution appears to place the onus on the Venezuelan government to ending violence when it has been the opposition that has been waging the campaign all along! The Venezuelan government has the duty to defend and protect the majority of its citizens from lethal booby traps, blockades, and armed individuals.
The hypocrisy of the Conservatives and the Liberals is particularly galling to those who have fallen victim to the state violence and clamping down on democratic rights that is occurring in Canada today. The resolution calls for the Venezuelan government to cease all interference with “peaceful protesters”, but where was the federal government’s outrage at the historic mass arrests and crackdown at the G20 summit in Toronto or during the Quebec student strike in 2012? When Mi’kmaq protesters where trying to protest the danger posed to their community by fracking, the government’s response was to send in RCMP snipers. Although Parliament may call for civil dialogue in Venezuela, the Conservative government is in the process of changing Canada’s election laws so that poor and working-class Canadians are denied the right to vote! Where is the Liberal and Conservative grandstanding when these government attacks occur in Canada?
For these reasons, the NDP is greatly mistaken to have supported the Conservatives and Liberals’ resolution. There is no middle ground in the provocations occurring in Venezuela at the present time, and the NDP’s statement on the issue is essentially supporting the line of the Venezuelan opposition — the same opposition that is using fascist tactics in order to attack and murder honest workers and revolutionaries in Venezuela. The NDP has a tradition of international solidarity with those fighting oppression around the world. In fact, it was only a few years ago when NDP MP Peggy Nash was the featured speaker at a Toronto meeting of the Latin American Peace Initiative, a discussion organized to combat the threat of imperialist intervention in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. In 2010, NDP MP Wayne Marston commented on his concerns about potential coups and foreign intervention in Venezuela at a parliamentary committee investigating human rights in Venezuela.
The motives of the NDP’s parliamentary caucus are still unclear. The best-case scenario is that the NDP MPs are not aware of the genuine situation currently taking place in Venezuela and that their position in the House of Commons was based on misinformation. On the other hand, as the NDP gets closer to power, there may be a desire amongst elements of the NDP leadership to cozy up to the Canadian ruling class and demonstrate that they will be “responsible managers” of Canadian capitalism and imperialism. If this is the case, then it must fall upon the NDP rank-and-file to ensure that the party stays true to its working-class roots and stop representing the interests of the bosses both at home and abroad. Instead of tail-ending Canadian imperialism, the NDP should be supporting the revolutionary movements of Latin America and bringing those successes home in our own struggles against capitalist austerity.
Instead of whitewashing the violence of the opposition, the NDP should instead be calling for an investigation of the role being played by the US, Canadian, and other governments which are funding and backing this slow-motion coup. Unlike the cuts and attacks being implemented by the Harper Conservatives, the Venezuelan government has been able to expand social programs that have radically improved the standard of living of the Venezuelan masses. In contrast to the shutting down of factories that has devastated many parts of Canada and put tens of thousands of workers out of a job, the Venezuelan government has encouraged the nationalization of shut-down factories under the democratic control of their workers. Instead of supporting the Conservative demonization of the revolution, the NDP should be working to informing its members and the rest of the labour movement of the revolution’s successes, and using it a source of inspiration for our own struggles here at home.
No support for the fascist reaction!
Support the Venezuelan Revolution!
Hands off Venezuela!