CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands donned white and took to the streets in cities across the country Saturday in the biggest show of frustration with Venezuela's socialist administration since a wave of bloody anti-government protests a year ago.
The day of marches was called less than a week ago by imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. In a video leaked from his prison cell, Lopez urged demonstrations to demand a firm date for this year's legislative elections and freedom for jailed opposition politicians like himself who human rights groups consider political prisoners.
A Harvard-educated former mayor, Lopez has been jailed for 15 months in connection with his leadership of the spring of 2014 protests that resulted in dozens of deaths on both sides of Venezuela's yawning political divide.
The opposition coalition did not endorse Saturday's rallies, underscoring longstanding fissures among critics of the country's 16-year socialist government. Before his imprisonment last year, Lopez clashed with other high-profile politicians, including moderate opposition leader Henrique Capriles, about the wisdom of organizing nationwide protests.
Capriles, who came close to beating President Nicolas Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, led a march through the inland town that is home to a prison where former opposition mayor Daniel Ceballos was transferred from a military jail last week.
In Caracas, a sea of sweltering protesters shut down a main thoroughfare in wealthy eastern Caracas for hours, slurping up sweetened crushed ice, shading themselves with umbrellas and waving flags among the mango trees and half-finished buildings.
Ceballos' wife, Patricia, who won a landslide election victory to replace her husband as mayor of the restive western city of San Cristobal was a crowd favorite.
"They'll never divide us. Don't ask, don't beg; demand freedom," she shouted, prompting the blocks of protesters to chant back "liberty!"
Other opposition leaders stood under a banner reading "Venezuela United for Change" and shaved their heads in solidarity Ceballos, whose hair was reportedly cut off when he was transferred.
Maria Fernanda Zerpa, a student wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and peace sign necklace, had shaved her head, too. She came out to support Lopez, who opinion polls peg as Venezuela's most popular politician, but she doesn't trust the rest of the opposition coalition and has little interest in the coming elections.
"The elections are like whatever, because we know the people who run them have been bought by the government. And Capriles is a scaredy-cat who didn't fight Maduro for the presidency," she said.
Protesters were most eager to talk about the country's pervasive problems of shortages, inflation and violent crime, the same issues that fueled last year's demonstrations and have worsened in the months since.
Lopez has hardly been seen since his arrest, and the short video calling the day of protest electrified his supporters in a way other calls to take to the streets in the past months have not.
Venezuela blocked two conservative former Latin American presidents from visiting Lopez or Ceballos this week. State ombudsman Tarek Saab said the former Bolivian and Colombian presidents were wrongly attempting to give Venezuela condescending "human rights classes."
On Friday, Maduro warned that top Caracas police officials would be imprisoned if they allowed violence to break out during Saturday's march.
"There are two Venezuelas: the bloodthirsty, coup-mongering ultra-right wing minority, and the majority that loves their country," he said.
For Franz Yustiz, who brought his grandchildren to the Caracas protest, a coup sounded like just the thing.
"They need to send in the in marines quick, come what will," said Yustiz, who works as a bodyguard, a profession that has exploded as violent crime soars here. "I'm so fed up. I want my grandchildren to know true democracy."
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Friday, May 29, 2015
When in September of last year Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro dropped the idea during a party meeting, it was clear it was more like a directive to Chavistas across the country. In the parliamentary election of the following year, Maduro said, no less than half of the candidates ought to be 30 or younger.
"Let’s go the National Assembly to develop the political leadership of the 21st century,” he told the youth sector of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) gathered in Caracas.
A few months later, the so-called Bolivar Chavez Battle Units (UBCH), grassroots cells of the ruling PSUV party, received the express order that at least half of the nominees for the June 28 primary be in their 20s or early 30s.
It was a well thought-out strategy. According to the 2011 census, close to a quarter of the Venezuelan population (29 million total) are citizens between 18 and 29 years old.
During the last year, Maduro has been actively promoting initiatives linked to the youth. Back in October he enacted the Law of Youth Employment which addresses issues such as internships and training, as well as financial help for young entrepreneurs.
He also relaunched the Mission Youth of the Homeland, a program seeking to train and hire 30,000 young activists to command productive community projects. This initiative aims to create 200,000 jobs specifically for men and women between the ages of 18 and 30.
Then, earlier this month President Maduro established the Presidential Council for Youth and Students and announced a special housing program for young couples (ages 21-30). Two days later, he announced that the Bicentenary Bank, a state-owned entity, was launching a new credit plan focused on helping young entrepreneurs, who could get as much as 10 million bolivars at a fixed interest rate of 10 percent for 60 months — a real bargain in a country where the annual inflation rate is currently above 100 percent.
In classrooms all over the country, the Chavismo has been planting its ideological seeds through the Bicentenary Collection, some 70 text books that cover from natural and social sciences to math and language. These books, distributed in all public schools since 2011, have been accused of serving as mere government propaganda.
Young activists such as 25-year-old Rander Peña are the voice behind the task of perpetuating the Bolivarian revolution.
“We have increased the number of university students up to the point that currently Venezuela is the second country in Latin America with most people going to college,” Peña, a nominee to the PSUV primaries, told Fox News Latino.
“The main motive for the young to support the revolution is because we choose life. That’s what socialism has to offer. Other political projects, based on consumerism, offer death. We are in a crusade to save the humanity and make them happy,” he said.
Luis Salamanca, former director of the Institute of Political Studies at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, said it is clear Chavismo is actively pursuing to engage with the young.
“They represent almost half of the total number of registered voters. That’s why you see these campaigns trying to mobilize their support,” said Salamanca, who authored the book “Why Do People Vote?” (¿Por qué vota la gente?)
The political weight of these electors is definitive, he said, and their votes crucial for both the government and the opposition.
The expert highlighted, however, that Venezuelan under 30 grew up in a culture that shows disregard for the political parties. And on the opposition side this means that even when they highly value the democracy as a system, they tend to not engage through a political platform.
This new generation, he said, started to become more involved in 2007 but not through party affiliation but as part of the student movement.
“It’s been their main way of acting in politics, though some of them have chosen to become members of political parties, where they have helped the renewal of leadership.”
Given the current economic crisis, with shortages of the most basic products and a skyrocketing inflation, the opposition might appear to be facing an easy ride. They don’t. Francisco Castro, director of Súmate, an NGO devoted to electoral transparency, warns that the government is using a strategy to favor registering new voters in places where they have more support.
“The National Electoral Council is under the control of Chavismo. They’ve been opening centers to register new voters in a very selective way. In the areas where the opposition is stronger it is very hard to find a center, while they are opening new centers where the governing party has the upper hand,” he told FNL.
As a consequence, he said, the number of registered voters is increasing in an uneven and disproportional way, with a clear tendency to grow much more in the areas where the government has more support.
Gaby Arellano is one the young leaders who started a career in politics as a member of the student movement in San Cristobal, a city west of Venezuela. Last weekend she won her nomination as candidate of the Democratic Unity Platform (MUD), an alliance of opposition parties, to run for a National Assembly seat.
“We tell the youth not to surrender. We can’t give up and accept that the only option for the future is to emigrate. This generation was born to change Venezuela’s reality and to make history,” she said to Fox News Latino.
“Chavismo has been killing the future, the progress and the opportunities for everybody. Now we are in the frontline, ready to fight in order to free Venezuela from this Castro-communist model that has failed and that only has brought poverty and misery,” she added.
Venezuela’s bolivar is collapsing. And as night follows day, Venezuela’s annual implied inflation rate is soaring. Last week, the annual inflation rate broke through the 500% level. It now stands at 510%.
When inflation rates are elevated, standard economic theory and reliable empirical techniques allow us to produce accurate inflation estimates. With free market exchange-rate data (usually black-market data), the inflation rate can be calculated. The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP), which links changes in exchange rates and changes in prices, allows for a reliable inflation estimate.
To calculate the inflation rate in Venezuela, all that is required is a rather straightforward application of a standard, time-tested economic theory (read: PPP). Using black-market exchange rate data that The Johns Hopkins-Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project has collected over the past year, I estimate Venezuela’s current annual implied inflation rate to be 510%. This is the highest rate in the world. It’s well above the second-highest rate: Syria’s, which stands at 84%.
Venezuela has not always experienced punishing inflation rates. From 1950 through 1979, Venezuela’s average annual inflation rate remained in the single digits. It was not until the 1980s that Venezuela witnessed a double-digit average. And it was not until the 1990s that Venezuela’s average inflation rate exceeded that of the Latin American region. Today, Venezuela’s inflation rate is over the top (see the accompanying table).
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Cuba’s political police have arrested 163 people for protesting to demand the release of jailed Cuban dissidents, as well as Venezuelan political prisoners Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. A crackdown on Sunday saw 70 people detained in Havana, with the remaining 93 rounded up in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
The majority of those arrested are members of dissident groupings the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), Ladies in White, and Citizens for Democracy.
Of those arrested in Santiago de Cuba, at least eight were beaten by police officers. One of the activists, Yriade Hernández Aguilera, was left unconscious after police hit her on the head repeatedly.
Unpacu leader José Daniel Ferrer told the PanAm Post that police forced 30 members of Ladies in White, a group originally formed by the spouses of political prisoners, to remain for “in very uncomfortable positions” for a long period of time.
Such arrests form part of the usual Sunday routine for many of these women, Ferrer explained. The women and men that attend the mass at the church of Santa Rita in Havana, a rallying point for the Ladies in White, have been intimidated by police and arrested for multiple weeks running.
However, Sunday, May 24, proved different from the norm, as the political police attempted to prevent the Ladies in White from attending the mass itself. The women were arrested for carrying images of the faces of political prisoners at key points throughout the Cuban capital.
Meanwhile, in Santiago de Cuba, agents of the communist regime detained people seeking to attend the mass at the city’s emblematic Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity, with the intention of praying and manifesting their concern for Cuban and Venezuelan political prisoners.
The Art of War in Cuba
Ferrer emphasized that arrests in Santiago are becoming increasingly violent.
“This is like a game of chess: on seeing they were blocking us from arriving at the sanctuary, we left in different groups and spoke out in parks, streets, and at bus stops, fixing images of the political prisoners to the walls, and this unnerved the political police,” he related.
He activist added that, at least within Unpacu, dissidents are putting into practice the teaching of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “When they’re waiting for you in one place, act in another. They don’t know where the activity, the discussion, the speech to the people is going to take place,” Ferrer said.
Those detained in Santiago de Cuba were the first to be freed, staying in the cells a little over three hours. “The remainder were released between 8 and 9 a.m.,” the Unpacu leader reported, with the final seven prisoners let out around 10 a.m. local time.
Artists Fair Game for Regime Police
Among those arrested over the weekend were Gorki Águila, leader of punk-rock band Porno para Ricardo, who was kept in a cell for 24 hours; and performance artist Tania Bruguera, detained for between one and two hours.
State security agents detained Águila on Saturday for carrying a poster with a photo of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado and the word “freedom.”
Maldonado was arrested on December 25 for setting loose a pair of pigs daubed with the names Fidel and Raúl, in reference to the former and current presidents of Cuba.
Águila was freed on Sunday after spending 23 hours in jail.
“I stuck up the poster right in front of the Bellas Artes Museum, and they fell upon me right away,” said the leader of the anti-Castro music group.
The agents who arrested him were “dressed like civilians, and the car they shoved me in was a Geely make and dark green in color,” he added, claiming that the undercover police “almost strangled me” during the “violent” arrest.
Bruguera was meanwhile arrested for “releasing some doves into the air as an expression of resistance against totalitarianism."
According to the latest report released by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, at least 552 arrests of peaceful protesters were carried out by the Cuban government in April, of which 337 were of women.
“It’s striking and worrying that while the Cuban government tries to construct a positive image at the international level, it doesn’t cease its intolerant and repressive behaviour towards the rights and freedoms of those who try to exercise them outside of official dictates,” the report stated.
Monday, May 25, 2015
Incarcerated Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López leaked a self-made video from a high-security military prison last night to announce a hunger strike and call on all Venezuelans to hold a “massive and peaceful” protest against the government next Saturday.
“Today the immense majority of Venezuelans want change, but similar to us, the common citizen and Venezuela’s democracy are incarcerated by a corrupt elite who are only interested in remaining in power,” Lopez said into the stationary camera, offering Venezuelans their first glimpse of the jailed opposition leader since he was put behind bars 15 months ago.
Wearing a white t-shirt, a five-day beard and a cross around his neck, López appealed to the Venezuelan people to not lose hope or faith in democratic change. The video was somehow smuggled out of the Ramo Verde military jail and posted last night on López’s social media accounts, which are now controlled by his wife, Lilian Tintori.
López noted that it has been one year and three months since his public arrest, which served to quiet the street protests of early 2014. Since then, he said, more than 70 Venezuelans have been jailed for “denouncing the Venezuelan state as corrupt, inefficient, repressive and anti-democratic. “
The Harvard-educated opposition leader denounced the government for its continued repression, violence, corruption and impunity.
“The situation is worse than it was last year. Longer lines, more inflation, more shortages, more insecurity, more corruption, including the denouncement of drug-trafficking in the highest levels of government,” López said in his 3:40 video.
Given the worsening situation, López announced he is starting a hunger strike with three basic demands:
Freedom for all political prisoners.
An end to government persecution, repression and censorship.
A set date for parliamentary elections with international observation from the OAS and EU.
In addition, López called for a “massive and peaceful” nationwide march next Saturday. He invited all Venezuelans to “come out, hand-in-hand with your brothers and sisters, without ideological distinction, to show that we are on the side of change in Venezuela. Come out in peace and democracy.”
“Kept the faith so that in Venezuela together very soon we can open the doors for a new Venezuela,” López concluded.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has not yet responded publicly to López’s leaked jail video.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
On Sunday, May 17, the Venezuelan opposition carried out its primary elections ahead of a national parliamentary vote due to take place in late 2015.
Justice First (PJ), led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles — who lost to Hugo Chávez in 2012 and current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in 2013 — came in first, followed by the Popular Will (VP) party headed by political prisoner Leopoldo López. Turnout almost doubled that of 2010.
Despite the fact that Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) still hasn’t announced when the legislative elections will be held, 543,000 people voted to choose the opposition candidates who will square off against Chavista candidates for the 167 seats of the unicameral National Assembly.
Opposition forces picked 42 candidates in 33 of Venezuela’s 87 electoral districts. The remaining 127 candidates were chosen by consensus within the center-left Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition leadership, which brings together PJ, VP, and other opposition groupings.
José Luis Cartaya, MUD’s electoral commission president, announced the first results.
Key highlights were the victory of former mayor and current political prisoner Daniel Ceballos in Táchira’s fifth district, and that of Enzo Scarano — a former mayor who also shared cells with Ceballos and López in Ramo Verde prison — in Carabobo’s third district.
The opposition parties that garnered the most popular support were PJ and VP, with 11 and eight candidates respectively. Democratic Action (AD) won six, A New Era (UNT) five, and Cuentas Claras three candidates. Copei, Radical Cause, Advanced Progressive, and other parties achieved one candidate each.
MUD’s Executive Secretary Jesús Torrealba said on Sunday they would officially nominate both the 42 elected and the 125 consensus candidates within 72 hours.
Leading opposition figures such as María Corina Machado, Julio Borges, and Henry Ramos Allup are now set to run in the upcoming elections. Torrealba had previously announced in March that Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma — the imprisoned mayor of Caracas — would be considered for the consensus candidates list.
When announcing the first results on Sunday, Cartaya said “it seemed impossible to carry out primaries in this difficult situation, but we succeeded in organizing a peaceful, democratic, and transparent election day without incident.”
Torrealba meanwhile reported that the Maduro administration had “maliciously” intervened in the elections, orchestrating a “media blackout among the official and domestic press.” He called the coverage of the event “scarce.”
“Media outlets that belong to all Venezuelans were kidnapped today by the regime to hide our primaries. They’d better get used to it.”
Despite surpassing the 2010 primaries turnout of 316,000 voters by a wide margin, organizers acknowledged that participation was not as huge as they had hoped. Venezuelan daily El Nacional reported that polling station members in several districts blamed poor promotion of the vote.
Many Venezuelans had no idea an election was taking place. In downtown Caracas, hundreds lined up outside state food distributor PDVAL, just across the road from the polling station.
The opposition not only had to contend with limited press coverage but also counter a campaign waged by the government to discredit the elections.
Venezuelan TV stations barely covered the opposition's primaries
Chavista leaders told several media outlets that the polls were a “scam” because they had not been extended nationwide to all districts. Government supporters also criticized the decision not to put all candidates to a vote.
During the voting, a two-hour mandatory TV and radio show covering events from the ruling PSUV party overshadowed coverage of the elections. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Assemblyman Pedro Carreño insulted and mocked opposition leaders on air.
An Unexpected Visit
On Sunday, an international team of monitors from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) “unexpectedly” arrived to follow the elections. Torrealba labeled the UNASUR team “a provocation from the National Electoral Council (CNE) … not only because the visit is untimely, but also because UNASUR doesn’t have the technical capability to monitor elections, before, during, and after.”
The MUD’s international affairs representative Ramón Guillermo Aveledo asked the UNASUR delegates to demonstrate their “impartiality,” and said that no one from the CNE had informed them of the international organization’s presence at the primaries.
El Nacional reported that the monitors only visited five polling stations in the Venezuelan capital. “They looked at the voting stations and left. They said nothing to the press”.
UNASUR’s team was led by Carlos Von Adamek and Marcio Antonio Boscaro, both officials from Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Monday, May 18, 2015
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela denied Thursday that it has violated the rights of deported Colombian immigrants, as police continued detaining undocumented workers in an intensifying crackdown.
Dozens of deported Colombians have complained in recent weeks of abusive treatment by the Venezuelan authorities, who have shipped nearly 2,000 people back to Colombia this year -- twice the number for the same period last year, according to the government in Bogota.
Deportees say they are deported without any legal process, subjected to humiliating treatment and sometimes separated from their families.
The Venezuelan foreign ministry said it "emphatically expresses its complete rejection of the manipulations by certain enemies of peace and good relations between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela who openly manipulate public opinion with falsehoods concerning the human rights of migrants."
There are some 5.5 million Colombians living in Venezuela, about 500,000 of them estimated to have arrived illegally since 2012.
Venezuela said Colombia, which remains in the grips of a five-decade guerrilla conflict despite ongoing peace talks, is facing "a humanitarian crisis that has generated an exodus unprecedented in our countries' history."
Venezuela, which is itself facing a deep recession, high inflation and severe shortages, meanwhile continued wide-ranging sweeps for illegal immigrants, checking IDs in working-class neighborhoods and detaining those without documents -- mostly women on their way to jobs as maids or street vendors.
On Wednesday the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, a figure close to Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, said deported Colombians who have complained about their treatment are all "conspirators."
"Every deportation is linked to one or more crimes like smuggling contraband and conspiring to aggravate the economic war in this country," he told Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin during a TV appearance.
The Venezuelan government blames an "economic war" by wealthy elites backed by Colombia and the United States for the recession and shortages troubling the country.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Saturday, May 9, 2015
The Machurucuto Incident was a battle between Venezuelan Army and National Guard troops and Cuban trained guerrillas. Some Venezuelans remember the event as the Invasion of Machurucuto. On 10 May 1967 a dozen guerrillas landed in Venezuela at the beach of Machurucuto. The Army of Venezuela and the National Guard engaged them on the night of 10 May and the battle lasted until 11 May. Two men were captured and the rest were killed in battle. The guerrillas had completed paramilitary training in Cuba to train Venezuelan guerrillas in the Venezuelan Andes.
Saturday, May 2, 2015
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has promised to nationalize food distribution in the South American nation beset with record shortages of basic goods, runaway inflation and an escalating economic crisis.
During a rally Friday, on International Workers' Day, the socialist leader allowed a union activist to ask for the nationalization of food and essential-item distribution.
Citing new decree-making powers recently granted by the National Assembly, Maduro said he would carry out such a measure "in the coming days and weeks."
Maduro had pledged earlier in the week to announce economic reforms.
Various estimates suggest the government already controls about half of the country's food distribution, but that hasn't stopped record shortages in shops and markets.
Venezuela is struggling with a recession, 68.5-percent annual inflation and severe shortages of the basic goods that it relies on oil money to import.
On any given day, people in Venezuela can wait hours to get some subsidized milk, cooking oil, milk or flour -- if they can be found at all.
Maduro's government is strapped for cash in the face of a global supply glut that caused oil prices to collapse by more than 50 percent between June and January.
Nonetheless, Maduro also announced a 30-percent increase in public wages on Friday.
Maduro was elected by a razor-thin margin in April 2013, succeeding his late mentor Hugo Chavez, who died a month earlier after 14 years in power.