They say that life
life is a game of give ‘n’ take
I’m tellin’ you one thing
right now little baby,
I won’t be the one to pay for your mistakes
Dirty Pool – Stevie Ray Vaughan
The conflict between Venezuela’s university students and wannabe-President-for-Life Hugo Chavez is acutely asymmetrical.
The students are exercising their constitutional right to protest against Chavez’s unconstitutional and illegal scheme to perpetuate himself in power for the rest of his days. The students reject the president’s pretensions, as do many voters who consider themselves chavistas.
Different polls show that over 50% to 60% of the populace opposes the idea of amending the constitution that would allow Chavez and other elected officials to seek re-election indefinitely. Polls commissioned by the president’s campaign command show about a third of voters who identify themselves as chavistas also reject the idea of letting Chavez seek re-election indefinitely.
The students are unarmed. They are trying to protest peacefully, and make their voices heard democratically. Thousands of students have taken the streets of Caracas, Merida and other cities to protest because the National Electoral Council (CNE) has deprived them of their right to vote by refusing to reopen the Electoral Registry. Of course, if the CNE were to reopen the Electoral Registry, practically every student who would register would vote against the president’s bid for indefinite re-election.
In Caracas the Chavez government has deployed National Guard and Metropolitan Police units armed with tear gas launchers, riot shotguns that fire plastic pellets and truncheons to repress the student protesters. The students are getting hammered, but they won’t back down.
Students protesting in Caracas, Merida and other cities also have been attacked by armed civilian chavista thugs which are paid by the government and have names like “La Piedrita,” “Los Tupamaros,” “Comando Alexis Vive,” etc. They call themselves socialists and defenders of the revolution, but they are simply criminal thugs paid by the Chavez government to attack anyone who criticizes the president.
Senior government officials like Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, Communications Minister Jesse Chacon and Aristobulo Isturiz are defending the president’s armed civilian thugs (let’s call them Bolivarian Tonton Macoutes), and threatening more violence against the protesting students. Chacon warns that the government won’t allow the situation to become “anarchistic.” Isturiz says the PSUV – Chavez’s political party – will take the streets and restore order. Rodriguez claims the protesting students are “fascists” and part of a CIA plot to foster violence and anarchy in Venezuela.
The government also attempted this week to set up the student protesters by allegedly arresting a truck hired by student leaders, in which Metropolitan Police cops “found” dozens of Molotov cocktails. The government announced the truck’s driver and four students had been arrested. However, it soon emerged that the arrested students had been busted because they were caught using a cellular telephone to film the Director of the Metropolitan Police, Carlos Meza, as he personally manufactured one of the Molotov cocktails “discovered” in the truck by PM cops.
On 22 January, Central University student leader Ricardo Sánchez delivered to the Attorney General’s Office an original copy of the video that showed Meza making a Molotov cocktail. Predictably, Meza complained that the video was “doctored” and that he was being set up by the students. But the video is damning evidence of government and senior PM complicity in fabricating a crime, which itself is a crime in Venezuela punishable by several years in prison.
The video also tends to confirm 1) that the PM is commanded by corrupt officials who ignore the law and enforce the president’s repressive political agenda; 2) at very senior levels the PM is an accomplice in an apparent conspiracy by the Chavez government to criminalize the student movement by inventing alleged crimes and forging the “evidence” on which the Attorney General bases bogus charges.
Meanwhile, President Chavez is urging his followers to be even more violent against the student protesters. “Gas them hard and jail them,” Chavez ordered the PM and National Guard during a televised speech only a week ago. All Venezuelan “patriots” who support the Bolivarian revolution and the president’s goal of creating a 21st Century socialist state must take the streets immediately to defend the revolution against the students, Chavez said only 24 hours ago.
Sanchez also announced outside the AG’s office today that the student movement “will continue to mobilize struggling for Venezuela.” More marches were scheduled for 23 January, he added, including one from Plaza Brion in Chacaito to the CNE’s headquarters in downtown Caracas. The students have a permit to protest from the office of Greater Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, but it’s almost certain that PM anti-riot squads will tear gas the students in Chacaito to break up the march to the CNE. It’s possible that the Chavez regime’s armed civilian thugs also will attack the students during their march downtown.
The risk of clashes in which students are killed or seriously harmed is rising by the day. The students won’t back down. They are imbued with democratic ideals; they are fighting for their future, and their country’s future, many years from now; and subconsciously they are certain of their own individual immortality, as do all young human beings in their teens and twenties.
But chavista thugs like Aristobulo Isturiz, who dismisses the protesting students as “elites from private universities,” is way off the mark. Student opposition to Chavez is strong and growing in all of Venezuela’s public universities.
The exception is the Bolivarian universities created by Chavez. However, serious young socialists who support the revolution, but also want a good education and a professional career, tend to avoid the Bolivarian universities. Many students at the traditional public universities who share socialist beliefs are also in the streets protesting alongside the students who reject the Chavez revolution.
Ideological differences are irrelevant; chavista and opposition students alike understand that allowing the president and all elected officials to seek re-election indefinitely kills any possibility of their engaging in democratic political competition in coming decades. Indefinite re-election controlled by an autocratic government with the demonstrated capacity to rig electoral outcomes is not a future most Venezuelans are prepared to accept.
At this rate, it’s possible that some students may be killed before the presidential re-election referendum is held on 15 February.