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  March 4, 2014

Venezuela Anti-Government Protests Lack Support from the Barrios

Lisa Sullivan & Ryan Mallett-Outtrim report from Venezuela that the country's anti government protests are continuing with no end in sight but continue to lack appeal in low income neighborhoods
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Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is an Australian journalist living in Merida, Venezuela. He is a staff writer for alternative news website, and a regular contributor to Australia's Green Left Weekly. In recent years he has covered the democracy movement from Morocco, the ongoing struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara and progressive politics in Latin America.

Lisa Sullivan is the Latin America Coordinator for School of the Americas Watch, a nonviolent grassroots movement that works to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America, to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy that the SOA represents. Lisa has led SOA Watch delegations to 19 countries in Latin America, meeting with social movements and government leaders on issues of militarization, human rights and sovereignty, leading to the withdrawal of six countries from the SOA. Lisa has lived in Venezuela since 1982, and for 21 years was a Maryknoll Lay missioner, working as a community organizer in the western barrios of Barquisimeto where she raised her three children. She is co-founder of the Centro Cultural San Juan, an initiative that teaches Afro-Venezuelan music to youth in rural and urban areas of the state of Lara.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

A fresh round of antigovernment protests have swept Venezuela. At least 17 people have been killed in what's being described, at least in the Western media, as the largest antigovernment protest in a decade.

Now joining us to give us an update from Venezuela are two guests. Joining us from Mérida, Venezuela, is Ryan Mallett-Outtrim. He's a journalist with the alternative news site Venezuelanalysis.

Also joining us from Venezuela, from Barquisimeto, is Lisa Sullivan. She's the Latin America coordinator for the School of Americas Watch, an organization that works to challenge U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Thank you both for joining us. And let's start with Ryan.

So, Ryan, you're in Mérida, which is a relatively opposition-leaning area. Can you give us an update to what's happening, what's happening on the ground there?

RYAN MALLETT-OUTTRIM, JOURNALIST, VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM: Well, right now here in Mérida, it's relatively calm, given that this is an opposition stronghold.

Yesterday we saw some pretty serious vandalism, particularly to the trolleybus system. Basically, one of the trolleybus stations was turned into a barricade.

There are still also no interstate buses in or out of Mérida state, and the main bus terminal is closed because there are basically violent groups controlling much of the area around the terminal.

But, yeah, this morning it doesn't seem too bad.

NOOR: And, Lisa, you're in a city that is more government--they're more pro-government. Talk about the situation on the ground there.

LISA SULLIVAN, LATIN AMERICA COORDINATOR, SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS WATCH: Well, actually, the city of Barquisimeto, a very large city of about a million and a half, is pretty much split 50-50. As a matter of fact, both the mayor of the city and the state are opposition.

However, I think Barquisimeto's perhaps more reflective of the rest of the country. Here things are absolutely normal in almost all communities--in downtown areas, in the populous areas where most of the people live that we call barrios.

There may be perhaps a few very small barricades in some of the wealthier areas in a tradition that is evolving, really, in kind of what they call a self-kidnapping. People are putting barricades in front of their own communities, which really only affect the people who live in these wealthier areas.

But throughout the very populous western and northern barrios here in Barquisimeto, in downtown, there's absolutely nothing out of the norm. It's Carnaval. It's a big holiday. And so, many people are at pools or at the beaches. They're visiting. It's a totally normal flavor to what's happening these days.

NOOR: And reports have indicated there's tens of thousands of people marching in Caracas, the capital, Monday morning. Ryan, what have you heard about the situation in the rest of the country? And many reports in the Western media have indicated that these protests are growing or broadening. What's your response?

MALLETT-OUTTRIM: Well, whether or not they're growing or not at this point I think is kind of questionable. But certainly it doesn't look like these protests are going to stop any time soon.

I'd also point out, here in Mérida, for example, the city basically hasn't operated normally for over two weeks or so. So this isn't going to stop any time soon, unfortunately.

NOOR: And, Lisa, I wanted to get your response to that.

And, also, there was a New York Times article. It kind of breaks the mold of other reports in the Western media. It acknowledged that in--it was talking about Caracas specifically--that the protests have not spread to the barrios, the areas where the poor of Venezuela live. But the article ended with a quote that kind of indicated that they will also join the protests eventually.

What's your response to that news and the fact that in general the Western media has kind of highlighted how this protest, these protests are growing and broadening? And they seem to be siding with the side of the protesters.

SULLIVAN: Yes. You know, that really speaks to my situation. I've lived in Venezuela for almost 30 years, but I was actually away. I was in Guatemala when the protests began on February 12. I've only been back for a week. So I was not here for, really, the beginning and perhaps the strongest outpour of these--what we call the guarimbas, these really--these blockades.

However, you know, from the outside, I thought Venezuela was a country that was totally falling apart with its civil war, reminiscent of what I had lived in 1989, what we called the Caracazo, or the phase leading up to the coup in 2002.

But, again, my experience, having arrived in Caracas about eight days ago, traveling around Caracas, downtown areas and here in Barquisimeto for the past week, you would be hard to know that it's the same country that's being portrayed in the international media.

However, as Ryan said, there are certainly cities and communities where protests are much stronger. So it's very much a divided country. I applaud, finally, some major media, such as The New York Times, acknowledging that it is not all of Venezuela that is experiencing these protests, that perhaps the largest, most populous areas really are as normal as they could be right now. I think originally there was a little bit more of unrest, but right now the great majority of where most Venezuelans live, in most cities and towns, is quite normal.

But there does continue to be, again, in the wealthier areas and in some of the states, especially the western states closer to Colombia, where there's been traditionally much more strength of the opposition, a very different reality.

NOOR: And, Lisa, let's stick with you for a second. Respond to Ryan's comment that there's no end in sight to these protests. They could go on for the foreseeable future.

SULLIVAN: Well, you know, I feel like things have turned the corner, actually. Again, in Venezuela, it's impossible to guess. I've lived here long enough to know that things shift and change.

However, I think what was originally intended, a lot of, you know, that bubble was burst when the reaction of the government was, you know, rather than more repression, to say, yes, let's sit down together, we need to dialog, we need to really talk honestly, and both Friday and Saturday were quite extraordinary gatherings of some high-profile opposition politicians, leaders of the Catholic, Jewish, Islamic faiths, the president, the head of the largest company in Venezuela, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, together with the president and leader, members of his government, and so televised lengthy conversations, real dialog, which the hardcore opposition boycotted. But there were significant people in these talks who have been part of the opposition. And so I think this decision by the government to--a real decision to sit down to make an effort at dialog--and they've introduced some new changes in the past couple of days--I think it burst the bubble a little bit. I think perhaps those more hardcore elements are probably shuffling and trying to figure out now what might be the next approach.

But I think people are tired of the violence, of the roadblocks, of the trash. There is a desire for change, but I think that the majority of people are not seeing that as the way to bring that change.

NOOR: Almost out of time, but why has the opposition been unsuccessful in getting the lower classes, the barrios, to join the protests? And what's their plan to achieve this?

MALLETT-OUTTRIM: Well, first of all, I'd point out that just where I'm living right now is almost split down the middle. It's a barrio, but it's half opposition and half pro-government. I think, actually, a lot of people have joined the opposition, or at least there's a lot of disenfranchised chavistas out there. But I think [incompr.] I'd suggest that most Venezuelans aren't interested in the kind of tactics that we've seen over the last fortnight, you know, blocking roads, setting fire to things, attacking people in the streets. People aren't interested in that kind of radical extremism. And if anything, I'd suggest this is going to turn off a lot of people, especially towards this hardcore brand of the opposition.

NOOR: Lisa, any final response?

SULLIVAN: I think what's important to portray: that again the U.S. media refuses to look at this situation. Why has this political project won consistently over 14 years in elections which people such as Jimmy Carter called the best electoral system in the world?

I mean, the lives of the poor have changed radically in Venezuela. People eat 3,000 calories a day instead of 2,000 calories a day. They have free education, free health care, in many cases free housing. And so these changes have dignified the lives of so many Venezuelans. And so they see in many of the opposition leaders a call to the past, to the elitist past, in which they were excluded from being full citizens.

And so while there are real problems with inflation, of crime, that everybody wants to see solved more quickly by the government and in collaboration with all citizens, they're not ready to throw out this entire experiment, which has had profoundly positive impact on the majority of the lives of Venezuelans.

NOOR: Ryan, you wanted to chime in. Go ahead.

MALLETT-OUTTRIM: Yeah, yeah. I just--I'd agree with that totally.

One of the big problems I think the opposition has is that it really hasn't put forward an alternative vision at all cohesively. The government can show what it's done and what it's done well and perhaps what it hasn't done so well, but the opposition, the only region that we've really seen over the last fortnight the barricades, attacking people in the streets, and damaging public property that's not the sort of vision that I think the majority of Venezuelans, even the majority of the opposition, can really subscribe to. It's really something that is only appealing to a very small minority of the opposition movement.

NOOR: Thank you both for joining us.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

MALLETT-OUTTRIM: Thanks a lot.

NOOR: You can catch all of our coverage on Venezuela at You can follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thank you so much for joining us.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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