On 5/22/2017 3:38 AM, jat wrote: part of the story as usual to "direct
and mislead" people
Venezuela's irreconcilable visions for the future
By Vanessa Buschschlüter BBC News, Caracas
22 May 2017
From the section Latin America & Caribbean
"Venezuela is now a dictatorship," says Luis Ugalde, a Spanish-born
Jesuit priest who during his 60 years living in Venezuela has become one
of the South American nation's most well-known political scientists.
A former rector of the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, Mr
Ugalde does not mince his words.
He compares Venezuela to an ailing patient who is on the brink of being
killed off by well-meaning but incompetent doctors.
Venezuela's problems are not new, he says. At their heart is the
mistaken belief that it is a rich country.
He argues that while it may have the world's largest proven oil
reserves, Venezuela should be considered overwhelmingly poor because it
hardly produces anything except oil.
The curse of oil
A lack of investment in anything but the booming oil industry in the
20th Century meant that its human talent was never really fostered and
its economy never diversified, resulting in an absolute reliance on imports.
Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chávez, further compounded the illusion of
Venezuela's wealth to the detriment of the country, Mr Ugalde argues.
"He told the Venezuelan people that there were three things standing
between them and prosperity: the US empire, the rich and the entrenched
political elite, and that he would deal with all three so that the
people could enjoy Venezuela's wealth."
Investing Venezuela's oil revenue in generous social programmes,
building homes and health care centres, expanding educational
opportunities and providing the poorest with benefits they did not
previously have, gave the government of President Chavez a wide support
But with falling global oil prices, government coffers soon emptied and
investment in social programmes dwindled.
The death from cancer of President Chávez in 2013 further hit the
governing socialist PSUV party hard.
His successor in office, Nicolas Maduro, lacked not only the charisma of
President Chávez but also his unifying presence at the top of the party
and the country.
Mr Ugalde does not doubt that President Maduro came to power
democratically in 2013.
But he argues that what he has done since - such as undermining
Venezuela's separation of powers - has turned him into a dictator.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition won a landslide in
the December 2015 election and yet it has seen almost all of its
decisions overturned by the Supreme Court, a body which opposition
politicians say is stacked with government loyalists.
An attempt by opposition politicians to organise a recall referendum to
oust President Maduro from power was thwarted at every step by
Venezuela's electoral council, another body opposition politicians say
is dominated by supporters of Mr Maduro.
But for many the final straw came on 29 March 2017, when Supreme Court
judges issued a ruling stripping the National Assembly of its powers and
transferring those powers to the court.
While the Supreme Court suspended the most controversial paragraphs just
three days later, the ruling managed to unite the hitherto divided
opposition and spur them into action.
There have been almost daily protests and more than 45 people have been
killed in protest-related violence.
While many of those protesting against the government share Mr Ugalde's
view, the government is adamant it is defending democracy in Venezuela.
It argues that the National Assembly was in contempt when it swore in
three lawmakers suspected of having been elected fraudulently and that
all of the decisions made by the legislative body since then are
New constitution call
The government has responded to the most recent wave of protests by
calling for a constituent assembly.
Drawing up a new constitution will bring together the people of
Venezuela and create peace where there is now unrest, President Maduro
He also says he wants to enshrine some of the social programmes created
by the socialist government in the new constitution.
At a pro-government rally, a sergeant in the National Bolivarian
Militia, a body created by the late President Hugo Chavez, says he
whole-heartedly backs the idea.
"We're against terrorism, those people protesting violently who're
burning buses, we support the constituent assembly," Gerardo Barahonde says.
Marta Elena Flores, 60, says the opposition is "out to wreck everything"
achieved under the socialist government.
"We need to protect all the benefits the government has given to the
people," she says.
"We need to enshrine them in the constitution so that the opposition
doesn't even have the chance to rob us of them."
"I personally have been able to have two operations thanks to the
government's medical programmes. The opposition begrudges us those
Opposition politicians have been dismissive of the president's call for
a constituent assembly, saying it is a ruse to delay overdue regional
elections and further strengthen the power of President Maduro.
Representatives of the major opposition parties declined a government
invitation to discuss the creation of the assembly and, three weeks
after the idea was first mooted by President Maduro, little progress has
Image caption Government critics say the constituent assembly is "a fraud"
Previous attempts at dialogue backed by former international leaders and
even the Vatican have failed.
Anti-government marches meanwhile have been spreading throughout the
country and clashes between protesters and the security forces have
become more frequent and the number of dead has been on the rise.
Those opposed to the government say they are determined to keep the
protests going until fresh general elections are called and the
government is ousted.
Some analysts have said that what it will take for the government to
fall is for the protests to spread to the "barrios", the poor
neighbourhoods which have been the support base of the governing
Miguel Pizarro, an opposition lawmaker who represents the barrio of
Petare, one of the poorest in Caracas, dismisses that argument.
"The only contact people who make that argument have with the barrio is
through their cleaning lady," he says.
"There has been resistance to the government in the barrios for a long
time, that is how I got elected!"
Others think that it will take the military to switch sides for the
government to be ousted.
But with Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino taking to Twitter on 20 May
to accuse protesters of fomenting anarchy and international
organisations of being "immoral accomplices who don't denounce the
violence" there is little sign of that happening any time soon, at least
within the highest ranks.
In the short term at least, there seems little chance of the current
deadlock in Venezuela being broken and every likelihood that the crisis