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Guaido’s coup-by-media shows his Venezuelan revolution to be little more than a PR campaign

Make a video of yourself and your invariably male, invariably white pals posturing superhero-style about ‘liberating’ a supposedly agency-less, fully oppressed people. Then say you’re in control of the military, and post it online. Bingo: welcome to the 21st century Latin American coup

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
Thursday 02 May 2019 08:38 BST
Venezuela’s Guaido says troops have joined him in 'final phase' of ending Maduro presidency

Yesterday, Juan Guaido tried to pull off the first purely media-orchestrated coup in history. According to reports coming from the ground in Venezuela today, he failed. But you have to search long and hard, carefully rifling through the mainstream cut-and-paste reportage that mortifyingly repeats one and the same narrative if you want to recompose a more balanced picture and keep yourself informed.

Back in 1973, when Chile’s far-right industrialists and financiers overthrew leftist democrat Salvador Allende with the full support of the US and the sector of the army led by General Pinochet which joined at the last minute, the first thing they did was to cut off the media. Now is the opposite. You can count on them. At least that’s what the contemporary far right equivalent of yesterday’s golpistas believe.

The current wave of right-wing putchism in the Americas looks very different from the coups of the past.

Make a video of yourself and your invariably male, invariably white pals posturing superhero-style about “liberating” a supposedly agency-less, fully oppressed people. Add a sentimental story about kids and the elderly having to eat from trash cans to pave the way for the justification that you’re doing this not in your name and that of your industrialist pals but in the name of humanity; then say you’re in control of the military, and post it online.

Never mind that el pueblo, specifically the poor, used to go hungry already back in the “good old days” when the rich got richer and the poorer only got more disenfranchised, disempowered and discriminated against for their skin-colour. Never mind that you and your twenty-five pals in green fatigues actually never made it into the air base but remained outside in the Altamira overpass, or that the video shows no trace of the airplanes and helicopters you’re going to use “to bring back liberty”. Tweet a one-liner about the “decisive phase” of “Operation Liberty” (not “freedom”, freedom is too complicated, too liberal, too lefty) and that will do it.

Only it doesn’t. Sure, hundreds of sympathisers showed up near the Air Force base Francisco Miranda in the opposition-stronghold sector of Caracas while others looked at the scene from the safety of nearby bridges. Live shots were fired from the opposition’s side towards the military encamped in the base, who responded with tear gas.

Sure, Leopoldo Lopez – the real leader of the far-right opposition – was “liberated” while members of the intelligence services stood by (only he wasn’t in jail being tortured by the dictatorship but under house arrest for incitement to violence). And as expected, Trump, Bolton and Pompeo, those champions of democracy and human rights around the globe, tweeted their support for the libertarians together with renewed threats against the government of Venezuela and in particular the military, warning that this was their “last chance” to change sides or “go down”.

But at the end of the day, the military went back to their barracks while a few sought the protection of Brazil’s neo-fascist Bolsonaro, Mr Guaido went back to making videos from an undisclosed location, and Mr Lopez sought refuge in the Spanish Embassy, having taken the “personal decision” not to remain in the Chilean one. Perhaps the latter was occupied already and so wasn’t a suitable place for Lopez to plot his coup.

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Or perhaps it was too Latin American, not European enough for him to reach the much-craved international support that seems to keep alive an opposition that has lost its momentum. Guaido’s self-declaration as the country’s rightful leader and the flawed humanitarian concert put together by the US, Richard Branson and the leaders of Colombia’s far right – as well as seemingly its notorious paramilitary – has not been enough.

Yesterday, clashes between members of the opposition and loyal left hundreds hurt. Images repeated ad nauseam in the media showed an anti-riot tank plunging into anti-government protesters, a deplorable and unacceptable action, while leaving off-frame the hundreds of thousands that surrounded the Miraflores presidential palace to defend it against the golpistas.

Why do those Chavistas who protected the palace remain loyal to the Bolivarian revolution in spite of the acute economic and political crisis? We may assume they’ve been duped or brainwashed, that they live in fear or ignorance and have no agency of their own. That would be facile and wrong. We should question this given narrative.

For this class of Venezuelan may in fact be sharply critical of Maduro, or in despair because of an economic situation that will worsen if the current US sanctions remain in place. But they’ve also been empowered during the last decade and a half and have a pretty good memory of how things used to be; as well as how bad the purge would be if this opposition gains power with the help of a white supremacist foreign intervention.

Both sides have called for further mobilisations, and we can expect further clashes. More violence won’t serve the majority of the people. The only reasonable proposal is to activate the Montevideo mechanism and stand by Latin America’s tradition of diplomatic dialogue. The other road leads to war or famine.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera teaches human rights and philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London

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