The future of Ukraine dominates the headlines, although President Obama’s thorny relationships with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are vitally important and also deserving of attention.
But while those very significant dramas are playing out, neither the American people nor their political leaders can afford to take their eyes off the unrest that continues to afflict closer-to-home Venezuela. On Thursday, for example, marauding motorcyclists mauled demonstrators in a Caracas slum and two deaths were reported. Earlier, the government reported there had been multiple deaths since the demonstrations began weeks ago.
“People have stopped believing in some of the opposition leaders because they have been co-opted by the government,” one protester said as he prepared to march earlier this week through San Cristóbal, one of the few Venezuelan cities where the political opposition is in the majority.
Dialogue with the government led by President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez when Chavez died almost exactly a year ago, only “legitimizes its policies,” this protester stated.
Maduro is hugely unpopular with many Venezuelans, and he clearly lacks the charisma of his predecessor. He is similar to Chavez, however, in that he has a penchant for finding scapegoats to blame for his government’s many problems, and the United States is chief among them.
The first marches in San Cristóbal, which is on Venezuela’s western border far from the capital, Caracas, focused on crime, corruption and the inflation that now, astonishingly, exceeds 56 percent.
But some of the demonstrators feared that if violence were to erupt, it might simply — and foolishly — play into the government’s hands.
“We are no longer calling ourselves the opposition,” a student leader manning a barricade said. “Now we are the resistance.”
In Caracas, political analyst Carlos Romero told The Christian Science Monitor that the split among the government’s critics is “one of the negative consequences of this crisis” and that presumably plays into Maduro’s hands.
“The main division within the opposition today is whether or not there are conditions to bring on a regime change,” Romero explained. “The ultra radicals think they can bring down the government with continued protests, while the moderates are looking for dialogue with the government.”
But the radicals are the ones on the streets, making the most noise. Maria Corina Machado, a radical lawmaker, arrived in San Cristóbal this week to lead a protest march.
“The most important thing we have achieved in these days (of protest) is that we have met citizens on all the streets of Venezuela ... who want a political change,” she said.
However, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, her participation in the march contradicted calls from an opposition alliance led by two-time presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles, who objected to marching on the anniversary of Chavez’s death.
That kind of moderate thinking has cost Capriles support among the radicals, however. In fact, one protester in San Cristóbal accused Capriles of selling out.
“He doesn’t represent what we want anymore,” he said.
But another protester argued that the more radical opposition leaders are misguided if they think “a few barricades” will topple Maduro.
“We have to be patient,” he added. “This fight is not a short one.”
Leopoldo Lopez, who lost to Maduro in last year’s presidential voting, was arrested in mid-February on charges of instigating violence after he encouraged the burgeoning protests. He is considered a moderate and has proposed a recall referendum that could be implemented in 2016.
That would seem to be the most reasonable proposal put forward so far.
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