The CIA is responsible for all of the “violent actions” occurring over the past week in Venezuela, says Aristobulo Isturiz, a longtime close associate of President Hugo Chavez. In an interview with daily newspaper Ultimas Noticias*, a shamelessly pro-Chavez tabloid owned by Miguel Angel Capriles Jr. and read mainly by the “pueblo” (the poor), Isturiz claims it’s all a CIA plot to derail the presidential re-election referendum and destabilize Chavez’s rule.
The thousands of students protesting in Caracas and other cities recently “are from private universities” and are pursuing a “political action” which is not a legitimate demand of all university students, says Isturiz. All of the property damages and physical aggressions which have occurred during the student protests are staged by the protesting students, he adds.
Isturiz also says the president’s Single Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, or more aptly, PUS) “will restore order against those who wish to create disorder and take the nation to an anarchic situation.”
And Isturiz denies that La Piedrita, the armed bikers from 23 de enero who say their mission in this life is to die defending Chavez and the revolution, is responsible for the recent tear gas grenade attacks against individuals, students, opposition government offices, a TV station, and the Catholic Church. “Who said it was La Piedrita? It’s easy to stage self-attacks, those are known CIA plans, elaborating roles to blame someone else,” says Isturiz.
Aristobulo’s rise to a prominent position in the Bolivarian revolution deserves a brief review. He started literally from a low rung in life, a ethnically and socially a Venezuelan-African barrio boy who studied education because he wanted to be a teacher. But his greatest passion always was politics from a communist perspective. Aristobulo first surfaced in the public eye (newspaper coverage in the late 1970s as a senior member of Causa R, which billed itself as a revolutionary socialist workers party.
Causa R was created by Alfredo Maneiro, a former Communist Party (PCV) member and armed militant. Maneiro believed the country’s dominant Marxist parties – PCV and MAS (Teodoro Petkoff, Pompeyo Marquez, Jose Vicente Rangel, etc.) were too elitist, ignoring the core revolutionary imperative of organizing the workers. Andres Velasquez, a Pemon Indian who worked at state-owned Sidor, also was a senior Causa R member. Other prominent Causa R leaders included Pablo Medina and Ali Rodriguez Araque, also a former communist guerrilla during the 1960s. Causa R focused on organizing workers, starting at Sidor, where the party quickly became the dominant union in the state-owned steelmaker. Causa R also worked to recruit and organize the poor of Catia in Caracas.
Velasquez took over Causa R after Maneiro died of cardiac arrest in 1982. Other senior officials including Isturiz, Medina and Rodriguez Araque also sought the top leadership job, but Velasquez prevailed because he had the largest internal base – Sidor’s unionized workers. Causa R’s prominence grew steadily during the 1980s; its core support bases were in Bolivar state and Catia in western Caracas. In 1989 Velasquez was elected governor of Bolivar. In December 1992, after Venezuela had been rocked by two failed coup attempts in February and November that year, Isturiz was elected mayor of Libertador Municipality in Caracas.
Causa R participated in Chavez’s failed coup in 1992
While Causa R was competing and winning in democratic elections, it also was actively involved in both of the failed coup attempts in 1992. Rodriguez Araque, Medina and Isturiz were among approximately 300 civilians who congregated soon after midnight on February 4 at the Tazon toll booth entering Caracas from Maracay and Valencia. The group was supposed to meet Colonel Hugo Chavez as he arrived from Maracay with a column of armored vehicles and paratroopers en route to overthrow President Perez. [Velasquez also knew a coup attempt was imminent, but did not participate actively because he was Bolivar’s governor and viewed himself as a future democratic president of Venezuela.]
Chavez was supposed to distribute weapons to the group, and then the combined forces would roll into Caracas and join other troops assaulting the presidential palace and other government installations. But Chavez never showed. Instead, he took an alternate route, stopped his force short of its assigned target in Caracas and immediately reached out to surrender without firing a shot. Chavez knew the coup attempt had been exposed, and he was not prepared to risk his life in an adventure destined for failure, like Fidel Castro’s assault on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953 also had failed.
By early 1993 Perez was gone – impeached on corruption charges first made by Jose Vicente Rangel, and embraced eagerly by AD and Copei congressional leaders to force Perez out of the presidency. After two failed coups in a year, the traditional political and business establishments believed they had to get rid of Perez quickly to prevent the entire country from dissolving into chaos. The establishment was terrified at the thought that millions of poor Venezuelans might pour out of the “barrios” and set Caracas and the rest of the country ablaze, which already had occurred for a week in February 1989.
Causa R Split in 1997
Velasquez wanted to replicate Spain’s socialist party and win elections on a moderate socialist platform. But Rodriguez Araque, Medina and Isturiz wanted to pursue a more radical course. They created Patria Para Todos (PPT), one of the first parties to align with Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution. PPT always has been on the left of the Bolivarian alliance, so much that it has an armed faction called the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL).
The FBL is believed to number between 2,000 and 3,000 men and women. It is a rural-based group, but is also thought to have urban cells in Caracas and other cities. It’s rural units are known to operate in the states of Apure, Barinas, Guarico, Lara, Merida, Portuguesa, Trujillo and Tachira. Some news stories compare the FBL with Colombia’s FARC, but we think this is misleading.
The Chavez government leaves the FBL alone. Venezuela’s armed forces since 1999 also have been under permanent orders to not engage any FARC, ELN or other “revolutionary” irregular forces they might stumble upon while patrolling the states that border Colombia. The FBL is PPT’s armed wing; it may initiate offensive actions to support Chavez, but it responds to the PPT’s needs first.
Since Chavez created PUS some fissures have opened in the PPT’s alliance with the president due to internal struggles for gubernatorial and municipal nominations for last year’s regional elections. But PPT leaders like Rodriguez Araque and Isturiz still have high-level positions in the revolution. Rodriguez Araque currently is the finance minister, but under Chavez also has been energy minister, foreign minister, Opec secretary general, ambassador to Cuba and president of Pdvsa.
Isturiz was Chavez’s hand-picked candidate to replace Juan Barreto as mayor of Greater Caracas, but Antonio Ledezma defeated him easily last November. However, Isturiz also has a senior post in the president’s PUS party and is working with Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez on the presidential re-election referéndum
Isturiz was not directly involved in Chavez’s plans during late 2001-early 2002 to stage a self-coup against himself to create an excuse to declare martial law and crush his opponents. For that operation, Chavez relied on the military and insurgency & counterinsurgency expertise of individuals like Diosdado Cabello, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, etc. But while Aristobulo was Education Minister, many of the regime’s armed civilian thugs on motorcycles were paid through the ministry, and weapons were hidden in the ministry by chavistas in the weeks before April 11, 2002.
Now Aristobulo, a senior PSUV official, is threatening that the PSUV will “restore order” (ie.deploy armed thugs to assault university students and other opponents of Chavez). He also has assumed the public role of serving as an apologist for La Piedrita’s crazy communist gunslingers. The armed thugs are “defenders” of the revolution, and Aristobulo is a public defender of the armed thugs.
Aristobulo was humiliated in last November’s gubernatorial elections. Aristobulo believed he was a shoo-in for the job because of his past experience as Libertador’s mayor from 1992-96, because he had the personal support of Chavez and the PUS, and because over two-thirds of greater Caracas is mostly poor. But he was defeated by Antonio Ledezma, who held the Greater Caracas mayor’s post in the early 1990s and overall did a very good job back then. Chavistas have held the post since Chavez assumed power in 1999.
Chavez was rocked by the loss. The office of Greater Mayor of Caracas is strategically vital to Chavez. For example, under Juan Barreto, hundreds of civilian gunmen on motorcycles drew monthly stipends from the Greater Mayor’s office. The president believed Aristobulo had a good shot at winning, but was wrong, and not for the first time. Back in 2000 Chavez backed Aristobulo in national union elections imposed on the CTV by Chavez. Aristobulo also lost those elections, helping to consolidate Carlos Ortega’s control of the CTV.
Aristobulo is beating war drums this week because he has to prove his worth to Chavez. He may be concerned that two major electoral failures have reduced his value to the president, and rightly so. Aristobulo is a hardcore chavista, but he’s not as dangerous as individuals like Freddy Bernal, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, Jesse Chacon, etc. Chavez didn’t trust Aristobulo enough in 2001 to include him in planning the operation that climaxed with the violence of April 11-14, 2002. Instead, Aristobulo was relegated to the chorus of ministers who parroted almost to the world the president’s bullshit claims (see my earlier post on bullshit vs lies) that he had been the victim of a military coup attempt sponsored by the political opposition and the government of former President George W. Bush.
[History footnote: Ultimas Noticias always has been a “popular” tabloid daily targeted at lower-income and poor Venezuelans, but the Capriles family was part of the country’s traditional elites. “El Viejo” Capriles built a fortune with a publishing empire, but never bothered to draft a will and testament. When he died in the 1990s a fierce feud erupted in the extended Capriles family, which included Miguel Angel Capriles Jr, four sisters and a widowed wife/mother with a civil marriage license and a church wedding, plus a second Miguel Angel Capriles Jr. whose mother was “El Viejo’s” longtime mistress. The battle went to the Supreme Court, which ruled for the widow, sisters and the legitimate Jr. because a marriage license trumps a concubine’s claim to the estate. However, early in Chavez’s rule the legit Jr. was warned the Supreme Court would reopen the case, reverse itself and award the family’s fortune to the concubine and the illegit Jr. The warning has heeded, Ultimas Noticias overnight adopted a strong pro-Chavez editorial policy, and the Supreme Court never reopened the Capriles family’s estate dispute.]