from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Two stories from Venezuela this month exemplify the pressures faced by President Hugo Chavez: on one hand, an increased push from Washington and the bourgeois opposition to capitulate in his populist programs or face destabilization; on the other, a powerful campesino movement demanding an extension and faster pace of populist reforms, especially land redistribution. Reports of local military commanders taking a hard line with campesino protesters point to continuing divisions within Venezuela’s armed forces.—WW4 REPORT


On July 20 the US House of Representatives approved appropriations of $9 million in 2006 and $9 million in 2007 for groups opposing the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, according to information minister Andres Izarra, who complained that the beneficiaries of the aid are promoting abstention in the country’s Aug. 7 municipal council elections and encouraging civil disobedience. The same day, the House passed an amendment authorizing the broadcasting of radio and television signals into Venezuela to provide “precise, objective and complete” information to Venezuelans and counter “the anti-Americanism” of a new regional television network, Televisora del Sur (Telesur). “Chavez is an enemy of freedom and of those who support it and promote it,” said Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), who introduced the amendment.

Chavez responded on July 21 by warning that his government will block any US attempts to interfere with the Telesur broadcasts, which were set to begin on July 24. Chavez noted that if the Cuban government had been able to successfully neutralize the signal of the rightwing Radio Marti broadcasts since the 1980s, “here too we will neutralize any signal.” Chavez warned that the US government “will regret [this] because the response would be more powerful than the action, and will generate more conscience in Latin America.”

The Venezuelan embassy in Washington also issued a communique rejecting Mack’s amendment. The communique notes that Venezuela has private and public television stations, and suggested that it would be cheaper for US taxpayers if Mack were to try to convince private Venezuelan media to carry the US government’s Voice of America broadcasts, since none currently do.

Telesur is controlled 51% by the Venezuelan government, 20% by Argentina, 19% by Cuba and 10% by Uruguay. The station is set to broadcast four hours a day during a two-month trial period, with plans to expand in September. Headquartered in Caracas and with offices in Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Montevideo, La Paz, Bogota, Havana, Mexico City and Washington, Telesur hopes to offer an alternative to CNN and European networks. (La Jornada, Mexico, July 21, 22)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 24


On July 11, as many as 5,000 Venezuelan campesinos (2,000 according to Agence France Presse) marched in Caracas to protest the violent deaths of some 130 campesinos around the country and to demand that the government take steps to halt the killings and abuses against campesinos and to speed up the process of agrarian reform. The protest, dubbed “Zamora Takes Caracas,” was organized by the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ) and backed by the Ezequiel Zamora National Agrarian Coordinating Committee (CANEZ), numerous agricultural cooperatives and the Jirahara and Prudencio Vasquez movements, among others. (Ezequiel Zamora was a populist military leader who led battles for campesino rights in Venezuela in the mid-1800s.)

The campesinos marched from the capital’s Fort Tiuna to the Attorney General’s Office, where they handed in a document detailing their demands, then to the National Assembly, where they submitted a proposal for an “agrarian constituent assembly” to strengthen the rights of the campesino movement and step up the process of agrarian reform. An estimated 75% of Venezuela’s land is in the hands of 5% of the population and remains mostly unused, while the country imports 70% to 80% of its food.

Agriculture and Lands Minister Antonio Albarran, who also serves as acting president of the National Land Institute (INTI), announced that a high-level commission will be set up to study the demands of the campesino movements and address specific complaints on a case-by-case basis. FNCEZ leader Braulio Alvarez, a deputy of the legislative council of Yaracuy state and member of the INTI board, said the new commission would work to get the courts to begin legal proceedings against 30 people believed to have ordered the murders of campesinos. Alvarez himself survived an attack on his life on June 23. (Radio Nacional de Venezuela, July 12; Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, July 13; Centro Nacional de Tecnologias de la Informacion (CNTI), July 11; Resumen Latinoamericano, July 12; Report by Adriana Rivas posted July 14 on Colombia Indymedia)

On May 14, nearly 4,000 campesinos organized by the FNCEZ marched through the streets of Guasdualito, Apure state, in western Venezuela near the Colombian border. They were protesting, among other issues, the abuses committed by Gen. Oswaldo Bracho, commander of the Theater of Operations #1, which covers the states of Barinas, Tachira and Apure. The FNCEZ says campesinos in the zone have suffered an increase in human rights accuses since Bracho took over the command last November. In one incident, Bracho led 40 soldiers in a raid on the community of Canadon-Bella Vista, in the south of Barinas state, and seized five members of a campesino cooperative whom he accuses of providing shelter to leftist rebels. The five campesinos remain jailed in Santa Ana, Tachira state, even though there is no proof to back up the accusations against them, and local leaders point out that campesinos often have no choice but to provide shelter to armed groups. The FNCEZ said Bracho also tried to block campesinos from reaching the May 14 demonstration, holding them up on the highways for as long as five hours. (Endavant, July 13) In the July 11 mobilization in Caracas, the campesinos informed Congress about Bracho’s abuses. (RNV, July 12)

The US media seemed to ignore the July 11-13 mobilization by thousands of Venezuelan campesinos, but did cover a July 15 anti-government march in Caracas by fewer than 400 doctors and nurses who work in public hospitals. The health care workers were demanding wage increases and protesting the presence of some 14,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela. The Cubans provide health care to the country’s most underserved neighborhoods and rural areas under a special program sponsored by the government of left-populist president Hugo Chavez Frias. (AP, July 15)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 17

Weekly News Update on the Americas

NOTE: The leftist rebels active in western Venezuela are the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation (FBL). They took up arms shortly before Chavez came to power in 1998. According to the report on Colombia’s Agencia Prensa Rural: “Their objective is in no case to attack the actual government, but to guarantee that the Bolivarian revolution will continue advancing towards the consolidation of popular power, and to contribute to defending the process in case of external aggression. In spite of being an armed group, they have initiated very few actions.”—WW4R

Agencia Prensa Rural, July 13

See also WW4 REPORT #111


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution