The Calm After the Storm in Venezuela: Opposition and Government Measure Support in Streets
Friday, May 3, 2019
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Following a tumultuous few days in Venezuela, things seem to have returned to a semblance of calm. First, in the morning of April 30th, opposition leader and self-declared Interim President Juan Guaido, announced what seemed to be an intended military coup. But it quickly fizzled when only a few soldiers turned up to support Guaido. Then on May 1st, the International Day of the Worker, both opposition and pro-government protesters took to the streets. Meanwhile, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who belongs to the same political party as Guaido, the Popular Will Party, took refuge in the Embassy of Spain because there is an arrest warrant issued for his arrest. Joining me now from Caracas, Venezuela via phone is Mike Fox. Welcome back, Mike.
MIKE FOX Thanks, Greg.
GREG WILPERT So, as I said, April 30th and May 1st we’re quite active. Now, how are things in Caracas at the moment? Are things getting back to normal more or less, and what does normal mean nowadays anyway?
MIKE FOX [laugh] That’s a great question. Things are getting back to normal. They have definitely calmed since the middle of the week. At the same time, your question of what does normal mean, is exactly it. You have to keep in mind that this is the fourth major crisis that’s happened this year, or attempted coup or push for a coup, that’s happened in the last four months. You had Guaido claiming himself, proclaiming himself president, and then you had the humanitarian aid standoff at the border. Then you had the rolling blackouts and there is still a situation outside of Caracas with energy down and rolling blackouts around the rest of the country. Obviously, this week was very big, but now things are kind of getting back to normal.
GREG WILPERT So you were at the May 1st protest, both the opposition and the pro-government one. What did you see at each one of these and how did they go? How was the turnout at each?
MIKE FOX Well, I started at the opposition one over in Altamira Plaza. And obviously, thousands of people came out. It was a bit subdued. The people were excited, were energetic, but it felt subdued from the day before. As you mentioned, the day before, Guaido had called for this uprising. It did not work. He had led a march and that was quickly stopped. And there were thousands of people, but what it wasn’t that massive. It didn’t fill up all, or even all of Atamira Plaza. And then, it went down a couple of side streets, but it wasn’t that big really. Guaido did, he spoke to people, and of course, they were very excited about that, those who were in attendance. Now they did say, the people that I spoke with, they said that this is just another step in the long road for their freedom. This is Guaido’s Operation Freedom, is what he said he launched on Tuesday. And so, they said they’re in it for the long haul, but it was definitely not the march to end all marches, which is what Guaido was essentially calling for, the largest march in Venezuelan history. That’s what he was calling for weeks before. Now on the Maduro side, it was massive. So around the time that Guaido started speaking, and then I jumped on a mototaxi and ran to the other side of town, I had expected for people already to have been arriving to Miraflores, which is where kind of the end point of the march was, but the march was so large and the march ran from so far away. We’re talking people, they started to concentrate here on the pro-Maduro side at roughly 10:00 a.m. in the morning. Many of these people after walking for kilometers, didn’t make it to Miraflores until, they were only just arriving immediately at 5:00 p.m. that afternoon. And still, people were kind of, some people peeled off along the way. Many of the people I spoke with in the Chavista, the pro-Maduro march, said it was one of the largest of Maduro’s government and definitely one of the most exciting. And they said, it really reminded them of marches during the Chavez era, which is to say a lot. I spoke with one person literally that night who made the connection and said, and a lot of people in the March also said that this excitement was probably based on the fact that there had been this attempted uprising the day before, and it was clearly a fail and it kind of united people around Maduro, around the Bolivarian project. People had come down and they were outside of Miraflores on Tuesday as well to defend the government. So in a lot of ways, Guaido and the US government, their push to try to overthrow Maduro, is actually having an opposite effect. At least for Maduro’s supporters, it’s really consolidating his base and uniting people. People that have been on the left and in support of the Maduro government, it’s really uniting them behind Maduro’s presidency.
GREG WILPERT Interesting. Now, as I mentioned, Leopoldo Lopez sought refuge in the Embassy of Spain. What about Juan Guaido? He hasn’t been arrested it seems, right? And even though the Supreme Court removed his parliamentary immunity a few days ago, what is he doing or planning at the moment?
MIKE FOX Well, that’s a good question. We know that he’s called for, it was during his opposition march on Wednesday, on May Day, that he’s called for rolling strikes around the country leading up to a large national strike. Now it’s hard to say exactly how that may be implemented, understanding that his base is really in the middle and upper classes, and not necessarily in the working-class around Caracas or in Venezuela. So that’s one issue that we don’t really know how that’s going to impact his call for these strikes. It’s important to remember also that the last major opposition strikes in Venezuela was during the 2002-2003 oil lockout, which basically shut down the oil industry and shut down the country for two months when PDVSA representatives just decided to shut down the industry. And then, it took over 60 days for people loyal to the Chavez presidency to get things running again and get the [inaudible]. But that was the last major push for the opposition in terms of strikes and the use of strikes. So we’re going to see exactly how that plays out. Obviously, Guaido is still free and I think that’s a very clear strategy from the Maduro government, not to lock him up and put him into jail, and then have that be a pretext for the opposition to hit the streets and for the US government to say that they’re locking up Guaido as this opposition leader and self-imposed president.
MIKE FOX Now here in the US, there was a widely publicized meeting at the Pentagon on Thursday of Trump’s national security staff, including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser, the White House Chief of staff, and military officials. Now, and the purpose was to discuss the situation in Venezuela and shortly before that meeting, Pompeo had reiterated the Trump administration’s willingness to intervene in Venezuela.
MIKE POMPEO The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.
GREG WILPERT Have you talked to people about the possibility of US military intervention more generally? And if so, what’s been their reaction to that threat, especially among people in the opposition?
MIKE FOX Well, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews over the last week and this is a question I have been asking most people. Of course, those people, Maduro supporters are staunchly, staunchly against any type of intervention force. On the opposition side, there have been some people that have mentioned that they bring it on. You know, anything that is going to get Maduro out of office, but not everybody. There’s been several people that I’ve spoken that either don’t want to respond or they have very mixed feelings about it. Intervention, they understand, whether you’re in support of Maduro or not, that that is going to be a major issue. You’re talking about violence, you’re talking about deaths, and you’re talking about something that could spark literally a civil war, and that will include a rising death count. And so, I think people are reluctant even in the middle to even think about what that might look like. There have been some prominent opposition leaders that have also spoken out about the potential for an invasion and said that that is the last thing that they want. And I think the one detail here that is interesting as well is, I’ve been speaking with a lot of people involved in the militia or many people in kind of the grassroots in the support of Maduro, are themselves involved in the grassroots militias. Of course, they don’t want to pick up arms, but they’re ready to defend Venezuela in the case of a US invasion. And you’re talking about several million people, including the armed forces and the militias. So this is not a couple thousand people that the US would have to, that would be facing if they were to invade. You’re talking about millions of Venezuelans that are willing to put their lives on the line to defend the Bolivarian process.
GREG WILPERT Okay. Well we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m sure we’re going to come back to you soon. I was speaking to Mike Fox, our correspondent in Caracas, Venezuela. Thanks again, Mike.
MIKE FOX Thanks, Greg.
GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.