The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) views with great alarm the violence perpetrated against the democratically elected government and civilians in Venezuela that has resulted, as of February 12, 2014, in three confirmed deaths, 61 persons wounded and 69 detained. The COHA staff reports:
The carnage and destruction in Caracas on Wednesday comes on the heels of generally peaceful marches held on the 200th anniversary of the battle of La Victoria, a battle in which students played a critical role in a victory against royalist forces during Venezuela’s war of independence. While some groups of students marched in celebration of the Day of the Student, anti-government demonstrators used the occasion to protest episodic shortages of some basic goods, persistent crime, and to demand the release of students who had been arrested in earlier demonstrations.
The vicious street attack near the national headquarters of the prosecutor’s office in Caracas came after several days of often violent anti-government protests in the streets of Aragua, Lara, Mérida and Táchira. [. . .]
In Venezuela, the media war and the contest over how to portray the demonstrations and violence is already at full throttle. Thabata Molina, reporting for the opposition newspaper El Universal (February 13), claimed that Montoya and one other victim were shot in the head by pro-government “collectivists” who, Molina reports, without offering evidence, were shooting at student marchers.  The term “colectivos” is being used in this context to evoke a pejorative image of Chavistas who are associates of collectives. Molina’s version of events has been challenged by reports by a number of eye witnesses as well as reporters who suggest right wing extremists were taking advantage of the day of demonstrations to wreak violence and death.  Also, the generally anti-government flavor of the attacks indicates that the main culprits are more likely extreme elements of the opposition. It stretches the bounds of credibility to argue that the government would seek to destabilize itself when it has come out the winner in two important elections (presidential and municipal), has made reducing violence and crime a top priority, has recently met with opposition mayors to find ground on which to cooperate, and seeks a peaceful implementation of the government’s six year plan (Plan de la Patria).
RENOUNCING VIOLENCE: Venezuelans who are now mobilizing in the barrios of Caracas have seen a similar set of events unfold during the prelude to the coup of 2002 against the democratically elected former President Hugo Chavez, so they are not likely to be taken in by the opposition’s skewed version of events. On the contrary, the killings have ignited calls from the Chavista base for strong government intervention to bring a halt to the violence and punish both the intellectual authors and the direct perpetrators of these crimes.  A number of student leaders, both pro and anti-government, have spoken out against the violence, and the more ostensibly moderate elements of the opposition that have called for peaceful marches have also condemned the violence. Former right wing MUD candidate for President and current governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, who participated in a pro-opposition student march, has distanced himself from the ultra-right, declaring on twitter “”We condemn the violence. Violence will never be our path. We are sure that the large majority reject and condemn this!”  While it is uncertain whether Capriles’s statement signals a growing breach within the opposition leadership over strategy and tactics, his statement correctly reads the aversion to violence of the large majority of Venezuelans. There is well founded skepticism about whether Capriles is committed to democratic procedures and peace. The proof is in the practice.
[. . .] MADURO CALLS FOR RESTRAINT AND RESOLVE: Government officials have been urging against retaliation and are seeking to avoid any escalation of violence in the streets. Maduro charged that “these are trained groups who… are prepared to overthrow the government in a violent way, and I’m not going to allow this, so I call on Venezuela to be peaceful.”