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  September 2, 2016

Massive Pro and Anti Government Demonstrations in Venezuela

Massive opposition protests cannot change the fact that the National Electoral Council is under constitutional obligations that will prevent it from moving the recall referendum to this year, says journalist Jeanette Charles
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Jeanette Charles is originally from Los Angeles, California and works with English language alternative media outlet Venezuela Analysis and is currently a student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela in Caracas. She also works with US based Latin American solidarity organization, Witness for Peace.


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Venezuela’s opposition and government supporters both took to the streets in Caracas on Thursday in a day of competing demonstrations. As of this recording both marches prove to be massive and largely peaceful. The opposition called for the protests to put pressure on the country’s National Electoral Council to organize a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro before the end of the year so that new presidential elections might be held. However, all indications from the electoral council are that the referendum will not take place until early next year. Probably in February. If that happens and President Maduro is recalled, then Vice President takes over for the remainder of the term until new presidential elections can take place in 2018.

Joining us now to discuss today’s protests in Venezuela is Janette Charles. Janette works with the Venezuela Analysis and is currently a student at the Bolivarian University in Venezuela and Caracas]. I thank you so much for joining us today Janette.

JANETTE CHARLES: Thank you so much for having me it’s a pleasure.

PERIES: Alright Janette, so let’s begin with how the protests went today. In the lead up to the protest there was a lot of speculation that opposition would try to provoke violence and several individuals were actually arrested that had weapons and explosives according to the government but in the end nothing major seemed to have happened. Is that correct?

CHARLES: Yea I mean thankfully according to reports I’ve been following pretty closely that [Vevey] which is a Venezuelan state news outlet as well as Globo Vision which is a more conservative private news network and according to both of those channels and on the ground sources today’s marches have been largely peaceful. Very few incidents have been reported. I’ve heard one in the state of Aragua of confrontations. But other than that even along the border the Governor of Táchira has explicitly said that everything was carried out peacefully and with much calm.

PERIES: So tell us why then some opposition members were actually arrested prior to these demonstrations?

CHARLES: So Yon Goiceochea, who is a student activist, has been significantly funded by US grants was arrested with weapons.

PERIES: How do we know they’ve been funded by US grants?

CHARLES: He received a prize from the US government for peace and democracy. And I forget the exact amount but I think it’s several hundred thousand dollars if I’m not mistaken. And he was arrested this week with allegedly having explosives and weapons meant to destabilize the protests this week. Also the former mayor of San Cristóbal en Táchira Daniel Ceballos who was under house arrest for the 2014 [inaud.] protests and for aiding and abetting some of the barricades in Táchira was removed from house arrest and put into a prison this week as well. The authorities said that they heard reports of him trying to escape or would attempt to escape this week to try and accompany and conspire with some of the more violent sectors of the opposition.

PERIES: In terms of the student who has been granted an award you said and a direct grant from the US government or through a foundation?

CHARLES: I might be mistaken and it might be through a foundation. I know earlier this week one of our other reporters Rachael Boothroyd Rojas did a special report. But definitely was able to make the connections between the US government, the foundation, and this young man.

PERIES: And as I mentioned in the introduction, the opposition’s main demand was that the recall referendum take place as soon as possible before the end of the year so that if they are successful in removing President Maduro there might be new presidential elections. Is there any chance that this massive demonstration on the part of the opposition will have any bearing on the decision of the electoral council?

CHARLES: I think one of the really important things to know for viewers and other folks that are interested in what’s happening in Venezuela is the National Electoral Council is actually a branch of the government. So it’s part of the government. It’s integrated and it also has constitutional regulations that it needs to follow.

While the opposition may [pour in mass] or in thousands onto the streets like they did today, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to change the timeline of the recall referendum. Unfortunately, the opposition did not turn in their paperwork and their materials within a certain timeline. Therefore, it’s not possible constitutionally for the referendum to happen this year.

PERIES: Now it is a part of the government but at the same time it’s arm’s length from the government in terms of how it’s governing. It’s independent of the party in power in government. At least it’s constitutionally set up in that way. And are there opposition members also sitting on the National Electoral Council? Is it multi party body?

CHARLES: The National Electoral Council is actually elected by the national assembly so it’s representative percentage is based on the demographics of the national assembly. Actually by the end of this year, the majority if not all of the members who are sitting on the National Electoral Council will have to transition out and the current national assembly is charged with assigning the new leadership however one of the challenges with this current national assembly is at 3 of the congress people have actually been charged with having bought different votes in December of last year during the elections. So one of the challenges is that for many, the national assembly still isn’t a fully functioning or legitimate legislative body and so it’s kind of stalled in some way.

PEREIS: And now you are at the moment in Los Angeles but normally you’re a student at the Bolivarian University in Caracas. What’s the mood on the streets day to day?

CHARLES: Yea I mean generally in Venezuela there’s definitely tension given the difficulties with the economic crisis. I think that’s something that many people will recognize and assume. However, I think that there’s definitely a lot of energy around trying to figure out solutions right now to move away from what has historically been a capitalist oil dependent model to an economically diverse and socialist model.

So right now we’re in a stage I think in Venezuela where I think it’s a critical juncture right now for not just the government but also the people of Venezuela to make sure it’s not just economically but politically and socially. So you can kind of feel all of that, I think all the time. It’s very palpable. I think even in the years where one can say Venezuela lived a much more prosperous rising middle class era you could still feel the energy around trying to renovate and move forward with the [inaud.] process.

And I think right now the difficulty is how to build 21st century socialism while also coming up against a very desperate and insistent opposition that there’s not necessarily organized around an economic or political viable alternative. But more so around making psychological threats or violent threats that can lead to like a layer of psychological terror. I think many times it does feel like there is this kind of looming sense like the opposition would support resources or allies from the right wing in Latin America and the Caribbean but also in the US to a certain extent. And there’s always the possibility for some intervention.

So I think that you feel that on the street very often. Whether it be because of the conversations happening at the Organizations of American States or the Common Market of the South, Mercosur. You feel that on the streets of Venezuela and people are very aware I think. Venezuela is one of the few countries in the world and in this hemisphere in particular where people are very aware on a day to day of what’s happening not just in their local communities but on regional, national, and international levels. So you can feel it and to many extents you can see it in different ways.

PERIES: Alright. Now from the images we see of the protests today it looks like both sides managed to mobilize very large numbers of people. What is your sense of what’s to come because the opposition has certainly promised to continue demonstrating against the government and the decision of the National Electoral Council?

CHARLES: I think it’s really difficult to hypothesis many times what can happen on the ground in Venezuela. But I do think that the opposition is trying to at least put forth this idea that they will continue with some sort of mobilization or some sort of visible strategy whether it be through the media or whether it be through different political regional institutions like the OAS.

PERIES: Speaking of the OAS, now the OAS has always played a very important and critical role in supporting the opposition in Venezuela as we saw prior to the last coup de ’tat against President Chavez and even in this last year there’s been with the appointment with the new secretary general there, there’s been some very harsh statements issued about Venezuela to the surprise of some of the members of OAS who has actually denounce the secretary general for his going off on a whim and not adhering to collective decisions of the OAS. What do you make of that?

CHARLES: Well I mean, historically the OAS has definitely been a site where I think the US government and interventionist policies have been able to fester and penetrate the region in different ways. I think now what is more of a strategy is that a lot of the Latin American conservative and right wing is able to position itself and speak against Venezuela in a way that might confuse a lot of people from the outside. Particularly because last 17 years much of Venezuela’s policy and outreach has been about integration regionally.

I think one of the confusing factors for a lot of people is that Luis Almagro who’s the secretary general for Uruguay and history Uruguay in the last decade has been a very close ally of Venezuela. And even from President Pepe Mujica, Jose Pep Mujica came out to denounce Luis Almagro for his declarations against Venezuela. Having had support Almagro in his transition into that position and then publicly expressing his disappointment in Luis Almagro’s continuous targeting of Venezuela.

Even just this week he came out with a statement that we covered for Venezuela Analysis, denouncing what--sounded more of like a laundry list of the opposition’s grievances, less than an actual focus on what’s happening on the ground in Venezuela and real concern for human rights or real concern for constitutional legality in Venezuela. I think when we think about what’s going on in Brazil we can see a very--when you juxtaposed those two examples you see what’s happening in Venezuela and what’s happening in Brazil.

In Brazil there was a parliamentary coup and you know Luis Almagro has yet to release a statement that I’m aware of about what’s happening in Brazil. But meanwhile the attacks are happening over and over again to Venezuela. And Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez has actually advocated in many ways against the hypocrisy and the contradictions in that regional body.

PERIES: Alright Janette I thank you so much for joining us today and giving us a sense of what’s happening there and we look forward to future reports from you. Good luck at school.

CHARLES: Thank you so much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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