With all the recent focus on events in Ukraine, other conflicts around the world have been somewhat overshadowed. This includes the recent protests in Venezuela, where across the country there have been street demonstrations, attacks on government buildings, and attacks on protestors by the police.
Where the western media has covered this story at all, it has usually attempted to portray it as a heroic uprising against a corrupt and repressive regime, fitting it neatly into the same narrative as the Ukraine Euromaidan protests. This is unsurprising, of course, as this has been the western media’s approach to Venezuela ever since the late Hugo Chavez came to power, and the current government is led by his successor Nicolas Maduro.
In truth, and as always tends to be the case in Venezuela these days, the protests are actually being coordinated by the various right-wing opposition parties that appeal to the rich elites that used to rule the country before Chavez. They have not managed to win an election since Chavez came to power – and despite their inevitable claims of vote-rigging, no less of a capitalist figurehead than former US President Jimmy Carter has stated that those elections were free and fair. Quite simply, while Chavez was alive, the poor majority in Venezuela were happy to vote for him and support his attempts at wealth redistribution, meaning the opposition never had a chance of winning.
To make up for this lack of electoral popularity, the opposition did not try to come up with new policies that would actually appeal to the poor supporters of Chavez – instead, they decided to try and overthrow Chavez by force. With assistance from the USA, they succeeded for a few days in the early 2000s, but the people of Caracas hit the streets in a genuine popular demonstration and reinstalled their president. They also attempted to bring down the Venezuelan economy by encouraging strikes in the nationalized oil company, but this failed too. At that point, the opposition was out of ideas, besides complaining about how unfair it was that they were no longer in charge of the country, as they had been for hundreds of years.
With Chavez gone, and the less charismatic Maduro replacing him, the opposition parties finally had a chance to make some progress, and came much closer to winning the most recent election. However, rather than continuing to build on their gains and wait until their next chance to democratically win the presidency, they have once again decided that street protests and attempted coups are more their style. Hence, the protests have been focused in rich areas of the country – the poorer side of Caracas, where the people support the government, has barely seen a peep of action; while the richer half of the city, particularly around expensive private schools and universities, has seen large demos.
Ultimately, despite some setbacks, the Chavista project has helped the poor of Venezuela to gain back some of the wealth and power that the elites have gathered for themselves over the centuries. It has redistributed wealth, and, with the help of doctors from Cuba, given medical access to the population. The fact that Chavez and those that follow in his footsteps are having some success can be shown by the response of those elites – rather than engage in electoral battle, they consistently choose to try to sabotage and overthrow the government instead. Without the drive and ambition of Chavez, the Maduro government faces a difficult battle ahead, but it is a battle to create a new and more equal Venezuela for the future, and they should not be thrown off course by these elitist protests.