Anti-government protests and counter-protests in Venezuela – which have resulted in the arrest of the country’s most prominent opposition leader, for “formenting unrest” - resulted in the deaths of three protesters last week. Not surprisingly, each side blamed the other for inciting the violence:
Amid swirling rumors of an impending crackdown on dissent, Venezuela’s two political camps traded blame for violent clashes Wednesday that began when a group of pro-Maduro vigilantes roared up on motorcycles and fired guns at a small crowd of demonstrators who had been sparring with police.
Lopez’s allies blamed the blamed the violence on the government. They charged that security forces acting on the president’s orders stood by while pro-government militia members attacked the small group of student protesters, who lingered downtown after thousands of other Maduro opponents went home after a demonstration.
The pro-government demonstrator killed has been identified as Juan “Juancho” Montoyo – not to be confused with Juan Montoya – who led a Chavista mob that “patrols” the streets of the January 23 neighborhood in Caracas. In turns out he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera (that notoriously radical right-wing, pro-American TV network) last year, and he had some interesting things to say about peaceful resolution of political disputes:
As insecurity continues to plague Venezuela, collectives such as Juancho’s Tupamaros are set to play an increasingly important role in defending the “Bolivarian Revolution” inspired by former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
“Violence is a tool,” Juancho, a leading figure in the Marxist group, told Al Jazeera in an April interview following a Tupamaro meeting in Caracas. “It’s going to be seen as something good or bad depending on your interests.”
With fierce, yet strangely kind eyes, Juancho discusses acts of harsh political violence with a calm, almost soothing matter-of-fact demeanour.
“If the opposition had won the last election by a small margin, we wouldn’t accept that,” he said of the campaign led by Henrique Capriles against now-President Nicolas Maduro. “If the opposition wanted to set up an office here in January 23, that would be impossible,” he said, as members of his group would use force to stop them.
The goal of the Tupamaros is no longer a full blown insurgency in the short-term, Juancho said, but a strategic alliance with the government. They represent Maduro’s left flank, as the government looks to keep its core support base, while trying to find new allies - even reaching out to its sworn enemy, Uncle Sam, during a recent Organisation of American States summit.
Increasingly tight elections show that crime, corruption and inflation are alienating the government’s initial middle class supporters and even some of the poor.
To continue winning elections, most observers believe Venezuela’s government needs new foreign investment and tighter monetary policy to combat inflation.
Those policy goals clash with the Tupamaros’ ideological agenda, but in the near term the government is likely to continue relying on them, former security officials said, as it needs the grassroots political muscle.
As men with pistols bulging from beneath their jeans watch Juancho talk, he gives a clear message about deepening the Bolivarian revolution with further and faster nationalisations of private property.
He saves particular scorn for the “red bureaucrats” - officials close to the Socialist Party - who have become wealthy from high oil prices and government largesse during the Chavez years.
“I hope they are enjoying drinking their Scotch now,” he said with a wry smile. “As we get closer to a true revolution, their time will come.”
Stephen Harper can’t blow his nose without being accused of turning Canada into a fascist dictatorship. And yet, the same people who scream the most about the Canadian government are downright enthusiastic about what’s happening in Venezuela.