The Venezuelan Outcry – FAQs

Tachira won't surrender

Tachira won’t surrender

When did these protests start?

On February 5th, students from Universidad de los Andes in San Cristobal went out into the streets. Due to the heavy-handed response by the authorities, the protests quickly gained support from students elsewhere and now have spread to many other parts of civil society especially – but not only – in the middle class. Many large and several smaller cities are now seeing protests every day.

Why did college students start protesting?

Venezuela has one of the world’s highest levels of crime. After over a year of asking the state government for improved security measures to curb rampant crime on campus, a freshman at ULA’s Táchira campus was sexually assaulted.

This attempted rape caused a wave of local protests, with students and civil society groups taking to the streets to demand justice. The government’s response was heavy handed from the start: five students were detained following a protest and sent to a jail hundreds of miles away in Coro, stoking anger even further. Students in other universities joined the protests in solidarity, demanding the original five be released, only to be repressed in their turn.

As the protest movement gained steam, the protests have become as much about civil rights and the Right to Protest itself – rejecting the government’s criminalization of all dissent – as about the original goals. Later still, they took on the tone of a general anti-government rebellion, with streets being blocked and running battles with security forces taking place night after night.

Is all this a coup?

There is no indication that any component of the armed forces is attempting or planning a coup. Many allegations have been made but none have been backed with evidence.

What are the colectivos?

The colectivos are a kind of tropical Basij. They are gangs of armed civilians broadly aligned with the government, who coordinate with the Security Forces to put down the protests. They have their roots in neighborhood organizations and self-help committees, and were often originally set up to keep poor neighborhoods safe from crime in the absence of an effective police, but they’ve increasingly come to be used as paramilitary organizations willing to do the government’s dirty work.  The extent to which they are really controlled by the government is a subject of much controversy – it’s clear that they are sympathetic to the government, but they’re not part of a unified line of command, don’t follow any kind of formal rules of engagement, and have been filmed firing live rounds into protestors. What’s sure is that they infuse the crisis with a dangerous new element.

Why isn’t the Venezuelan media covering this?

Coverage in Venezuelan radio and TV has been very sparse, and largely pro-government. The government systematically intimidates outlets that cover stories in ways that make it look bad. While there’s no explicit prior censorship, stations that “cross the line” are quickly taken off the air. Even foreign stations, like Colombia’s NTN24 and CNN en Español, have been pulled from Venezuelan Cable Grids in retaliation for giving too much coverage to the protests.

As a result, Venezuelans find it easier to get information about what’s going on on Twitter or on foreign media than by watching their own newscasts. This media blackout has led to waves of rumors and disinformation, adding another volatile element to the crisis.

What’s #LaSalida about?

As the student movement gained altitude, opposition politicians joined the fray. Political leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado started to hold citizen assemblies to discuss what the called #LaSalida (#TheExit). The discussions were oriented to have a grassroot level debate on how to transition to a different government. The government sees #LaSalida as a clear call to a coup.

Who is Leopoldo Lopez?

Leopoldo Lopez is a charismatic young Venezuelan economist and politician trained at the Harvard-Kennedy School of Government. He is the former mayor from the Caracas municipality of Chacao. He was banned from participating in elections in 2008 due to allegations of corruption although he has never been tried for this or any other crime.

In 2011, the OAS issued an order to the Venezuelan government to drop the ban since Lopez had not been proven guilty. He founded the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will). He has been a major supporter of the protest movement. Maduro, on live TV said that Lopez was guilty of murder and terrorism and that he must be arrested. Lopez in return turned himself in. He’s perceived as part of the more radical section of the opposition, which see street protests as a key pressure point to set off a transition to democracy.

Who is Maria Corina Machado?

Maria Corina Machado is an industrial engineer graduated and longtime Civil Society activist turned politician. In 2010 she ran as an independent as was elected deputy (Congresswoman) to the Venezuelan National Assembly for a 5-year term. 

She was one of the key promoters of #LaSalida. She has been under attack from chavismo on threats of removing her Parliamentary immunity. A charismatic speaker, she’s also the second most prominent leader of the more radical wing of the opposition. 

Why was Leopoldo Lopez arrested?

On February 12th, Lopez and Machado summoned a protest to the Fiscalia General (Prosecutor General’s office) to demand that the jailed student be set free. The protest turned violent when pro-government groups as well as the SEBIN started attacking the students. Three people were killed: One paramilitary (colectivo) leader and two students.

Ample footage and evidence shows that the student where killed by the authorities. In spite of that, Maduro accused Lopez for all this. Lopez was arrested on charges of manslaughter, terrorism and destruction of public property. The first two charges seem to have been dismissed.

Are the protests peaceful or violent?

Both. The bulk of the protests have been peaceful. Some of the protesters have resisted the National Guard and the riot police with rocks and in occasions, with molotov cocktails. Barricades have been erected all over the country, often using burning tires.

Is the government’s response proportionate?

The government has shown increased levels of repression every day. So far, we have heard reports that they have deployed the Army (with no riot control training) in San Cristóbal and Barquisimeto. This is a dangerous new escalation.

In San Cristóbal, fighter jets have been overflying the city, presumably to intimidate the students. Overall, the government’s response has been grossly disproportionate, and inflamed the situation far beyond where it needed to be.

Is Maduro a democrat?

Venezuela has seen 19 elections of different kinds since 1999, and chavismo has won all but one of them. The government certainly has many supporters. Yet democracy it’s not only about having elections, especially if they’re neither free nor fair.

For years, elections have been held on a grotesquely uneven playing field in terms of money, media coverage, and use of state power. Opposition candidates increasingly compete amid an almost total media blackout. Serious allegations of electoral fraud from his election last April were never investigated, with the losing candidate even being fined for “offending the state” by challenging the results in court.

Maduro has copied Chavez’s extremist rhetoric against his opponents and keeps calling the leaders of the MUD coalition fascists, and describes dissidents as a disease that needs to be eliminated from the body politic. On early December 2013 after local elections were held for mayors, Mr Maduro invited newly elected or reelected mayors from the opposition at Miraflores Palace to discuss proposals for addressing the country’s woes.

Henrique Capriles, the most prominent moderate leader of the opposition, was summoned after a prominent young actress was murdered on early January 2014 to discuss how to tackle increasing rampant crime in the country. Some people consider these moves by Maduro a ploy to appease part of the opposition, given a worsening economic environment that could lead to social upheaval.

Yet for all the dialogue-pledges, Maduro (and chavismo as a whole) have responded in a draconian and grossly disproportionate way against protesters throughout the country. Students have been detained, tortured, wounded or even murdered by the State’s security apparatus or the so-called “colectivos”.

Was Maduro fairly elected?

No. Maduro’s party, PSUV, relies heavily on  state resources to fund and execute their campaigns. From using petrodollars to state vehicles to state media.

Additionally, many irregularities were reported prior, during and after the election: coercion, threats and manipulation of the voting machines. The CNE, responsible for holding the elections, refused to hold a full audit of the system, particularly, to check for double-voters via fingerprints.

Who are the “Tupamaros”?

The “Tupamaros” are the original “colectivo“. Founded in 1992, with paramilitary underpinnings and pro-chavismo links. They refuse to renounce the use of violence or arms in order to protect communities they fathom “too dangerous even for the police force” according to wikipedia. Some opposition protesters have claimed that the “Tupamaros” have been undertaking the repression against them.

Is the opposition divided?

The opposition is a very diverse coalition from left leaning to conservatives which has only one common attribute: ridding Venezuela of chavismo. Views on how to achieve that diverge. In most major elections the opposition has presented a unique candidate for the contesting districts.

Given the current political crisis in Venezuela, the opposition appears divided. Some members of the opposition wish to defy the government under the criteria based on the Constitution for a regime-change (resignation of the president, recall referendum or presidential elections at the end of the 6-year term); while others refuse to wait until 2019 in order to change the government. New actors, in particular the Student Movement leaders, do not always coordinate effectively with the established political parties. 

Is the US behind all of this?

Following a very old Cuban media-management technique, the Venezuelan regime continues to blame the US and the CIA for all problems occurring in Venezuela. Preposterous conspiracy theories abound. No evidence has ever been provided of such allegations.

The US remains Venezuela’s biggest trade partner.

61 thoughts on “The Venezuelan Outcry – FAQs

  1. Great summary! Though I would add two comments.

    1) “now has reached all civil society”: I know there was a long discussion in this same blog and elsewhere about the demographics of the demonstrators. Without judging here, I think it would be nice to at least comment that there is a discussion regarding whether really “all civil society” is demonstrating, or only certain sectors/classes/areas.
    2) “Colectivos are para-official, government financed, government backed groups.”: I feel this generalization may harm well-intentioned people who have used the institution of the colectivos to try and do something good. Maybe a clarification on the line of (citing @sumitoestevez): “De acuerdo que hay colectivos de paz (ecológicos, etc.), pero quien los demonizó fue Maduro al llamar también colectivo a paramilitares.”


    • great feed back!

      On 1) My guess is that you are implying that the protest have only occurred in uppity neighborhoods by uppity people. I think that argument doesn’t hold true as protest have been seen everywhere and continue to occur everywhere.

      2) Indeed a great point and will fix it.


      • No need to fix. The “Collectivos” are indeed urban para-military structures operating under the financial support of the goverment in popular communities of main Venezuelan cities.Their origin, as you properly referred, were as small urban guerrilla-like combat units in the 60s and as para-policial groups back in the middle 90s (specifically in Catia and 23 de Enero), presumably to deal with local crime. They connected ideologically with the government after the 1992 coup de etat., but they continue to be illegal until Chavez took power. Because they operate within the own communities of many of their members, the Collectivos have broaden into social and community activities; that is what Sumito is referring to. Still, research journalism has shown they operate and control drug trafficking, murdering, cohertion, extortion, and power structures in the places they exits, sort of community para-state.


    • * I think what I mean with the clarification of “all civil society” is that it sounds like a majority of the population is demonstrating and supporting the demonstrations, while (my guess is that) only a part of the ~half of the country which opposes Chavismo/Madurismo is on/supporting the demonstrations.


      • By the way, Chavismo does get more support from poorer and more rural areas, while opposition tends to be stronger in the urban and (slightly) more affluent areas. As long as political alliance remains a precondition for demonstrating (“I don’t/do go to that demonstration because it is from the opposition”) and if the voting-map has not changed radically in the last months, we are likely to see more demonstrations in the not-so-poor not-so-rural areas. That is also the feedback I get from Venezuela (I’m not living there now): Barquisimeto is a mess, but poor areas in the outskirts are quite; Altamira has big demonstrations, while the center has smaller guarimbas and life-as-usual during the day (a bit of what vagonba comments lower in this post). Or maybe is just a security concern: people feel safer to demonstrate (and sometimes only get permission) in opposition governed areas. Note: this doesn’t mean that “protest have ONLY occurred in uppity neighborhoods”, I’m just talking about a bias toward middle class (not really uppity) zones.

        In any case, I feel the message conveys that this demonstrations mean that lately there was a big change on political alliances (suddenly 70% of the population is antichavista), or that poitical alliance doesn’t matter anymore and a majority of the people protest and support the demonstrations regardless of whether they are chavistas. Which of course may just be what you wanted to say…


    • I am trying not to be a radical today, but your insight sounds slightly naive and very Caprilistic (i.e. a political declaration)
      It is a matter of fact that the hardest hit by the economic measures are the poor, they are also the ones that bear the brunt of crime and violence. But Chavizm meant a spill over of those issues over large swaths of the middle class which was not profoundly affected by those issues before. Is the middle class who is sending its kids abroad, fueling a bleeding diaspora; also, unemployment and shortages in real state units, cars, and ultimately all sort of basic goods have fed up middle class Venezuelans. It is logical then, that those who have felt a visible deterioration of their quality of life in such a short period of time will jump out.
      That’s not the case of most poor neighborhoods, where the feeling is that things are always the same; there has always been violence, poverty, no hopes; next to those are the ones that believe Chavez delivered some changes, screwed to their hopes of getting a Mision Vivenda flat, or simply regurgitating anti-American slogans like parrots. So basically, my opinion is that it’s irrelevant who is protesting. From a political point of view, i.e. Capriles’ declaration today, it is important that the poor join the protest because the goal is regime change, and without them apparently there’s no visible solution. For me, these protests are both against the inertia in the MUD, as well as a sign that living conditions have deteriorated so much, that there’s no reason to pretend a normal life, e.g. going to school, to work, etc… Too much coincidence that those protesting are the young ones; I don’t think is seriously relevant for them whether they are from a popular neighborhood or from a middle class condo. I bet you cannot tell…
      Colectivos are organizations set, first of all, to defend the so-called revolution. To say that there are colectivos ambientales is pretty silly, both the past constitutions and the civil code, provided for different kind of organizations. Chavizm did not use them because what they were about to set, were not NGOs, but clash and defensive groups.


  2. “Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that he has initiated fulfillment of three key opposition demands: New presidential elections, a return to the old constitution and the formation of a national unity government” – CNN
    Yet to see if happens in the months to come, but it is a new beginning for the Ukrainians. We need the courage do it in our country as well.


  3. Excellent summary…thanks Rodrigo…I was just thinking about doing this today and you saved me so much time…I will pass it to friends and family who have been getting info in a horrible piecemeal fashion.


  4. another questions: Does these protests carry support from the majority of the population?

    my saddening response would be: no, most of the country is still in calm, most of the streets closures have been done by small groups of people, most of the chavista third is still united inside their sinking ship, the “independent” third is probably confused about what’s happening and even the opposition third is not united behind the strategy, most remain in their homes waiting for everything to return to normal. It’s just not the right time folks, Capriles is right.

    I know the cause is just, insecurity is rampant and wages are unlivable, but there’s still no widespread hunger nor destitution, we’ll probably be there in a year or 3, and that fact alone may be enough to go to the streets right now, but it just doesn’t seem logical to throw our bodies against the bullets for a lost cause at this moment, the army will never react until the crisis reach a critical point and at least 2/3 of the people have rushed to the streets, and even then there’s no guarantee. :(


    • Also in response to Pablo’s comment. I think it is important to distinguish “support” with “direct involvement”.


      • I meant both, a lot of people support the actions but are not involved, a lot of people are angry because they dont want the streets closed, others believe the goverment’s propaganda and fear the country may descent into chaos, I think that the result is that a vast majority of the population neither support nor are directly involved in the recent demonstrations, hence Capriles stance.

        Even though we desperately want to get rid of this goverment that is sinking this country into the abyss, so far I’m yet to see anything that don’t make me think that in a week or 2 everything will go back to normal and the ruler elite will be further entrenched in power until the next guarimba emerge. Quico’s first reaction is still valid in my oppinion. That said, I dont think either that the failure of these guarimbas will mean the end of the opposition, it will just be a considerable setback, maybe in a few months a lot more people will have enough reasons to massively do a new revolt.


  5. Qs and As like this are very helpful.

    Can I suggest you re-prepare A’s to the standard Q’s about “Didn’t Carter say that Venezuela had the best electoral processes in the world, etc.?”.

    As CC readers will know there has been an ongoing campaign to create the impression that The Carter Center has somehow endorsed the established electoral system and the electoral practices of the Government. Rarely does the international media give due consideration to the reality expressed by The Carter Center in its reports of 2006 and 2012 in relation to the significant gap between the principles of a free and fair electoral system and that practiced by the Government and the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission. No one seems to note the response of Dr. Jennifer McCoy, Director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program when asked in April 2013 about the Venezuelan Government’s assertion that the Carter Center had thought the electoral system “the best” of those The Carter Center had reviewed. She indicated that the quotation attributed to the former president was not an accurate reflection of The Carter Center’s assessment.

    The actual Carter Center Report on the October 2012 election says on page 8: “The Venezuelan voting
 system is one of the most
 highly automated systems in
 the world (emphasis added)…”. The Carter Center concluded then that: “…Ventajismo, where the incumbent uses state machinery to create an unlevel playing field during the campaign and extraordinary mobilization on election day, made campaign conditions the main issue in the national debate over the quality of Venezuelan elections.”


    • good point. the electoral issues could use a little added heft. I’d also like to see mention of a few of the more blatant irregularities, especially the dead in voting roll calls, and the manipulated assisted voting (read: suasion).


      • No, and as a matter of fact, the precise words Dr. McCoy said in a press conference about the elections were: “to the level it was possible for us to verify, the Venezuelan elections were fair”. She said these words right after having disclosed that “members of the Carter Center did not have access to the whole counting process, such as to the Totalization Room in the National Electoral Council headquarters in Caracas”. Unfortunately, the opposition leadership nor the local media picked in the subtleness of the message.


    • It’s amazing how many times useful idiots refer to the Carter Center, without even knowing what they actually said.

      That, and people think Chavez natinionalized the oil industry.

      Chavismo works hard to cultivating propaganda abroad.


    • At the same time the Carter Center, elsewhere affirmed the result of the most recent Presidential elections. They have also noted that previous audits of ballots have served to authenticate the results of elections, and not call them into question. Separately, Jennifer McCoy has written about the elections here:

      Overall, I think this is a pretty even-handed piece on what’s happening in VE. The statements regarding Maduro’s election and/or the lack of a democracy in VE are where the FAQ loses objectivity, and betrays bias.


      • Appreciated your effort at clarity. Please note that the final sentence of McCoy’s piece includes “…a review of the voting and campaign conditions for future elections is merited.” The suggestion I was trying to make was that getting Qs/As together on a wide variety of Chavismo assertions (especially the claim/assertion/rhetoric that the Carter Center said Venezuela’s election process is “the best”) might be useful. It might be useful because when the world turns its attention to the Venezuelan chaos there needs to be accuracy …and it is inaccurate, on balance, to say that this Government was fairly elected or suggest that the Carter Center believes that Venezuela’s election system is “the best”.


        • Agree, you are right in the money. As of why the Carter Center was so discrete in their questioning of the Chavista-controlled Venezuela National Electoral Council, I can only speculate they were afraid of being ousted all together from overseeing the process, leaving an expedite door open to gross fraud.


  6. Excellent, Rodrigo. Consider the following small stuff as polish.
    (Caps are typo/syntax corrections within quoted text. Numbered points refer to the associated para. under bold type. Consider the Additions.)

    3. Addition: Parents and other members of civil society joined the protest marches, in support of the detained students.
    5. “..what THEY called #LaSalida (#TheExit).”
    6. Addition: timing of the killing of the tupamaro, i.e., after the official close of the march.
    7. Addition: MCM’s nose smash in Congress.
    8. “Ample footage and evidence shows that the studentS WERE killed by the authorities.”
    9. “The government has shown increased levels of repression, every day. So far, IT HAS DEPLOYED the Army (with no riot control training) in San Cristobal and Barquisimeto.”
    Addition: the government has deployed SUKHOIS — a declaration of war — as a threat.
    10. “Venezuela has HELD 19 elections of different kinds since chavismo came into office, and CHAVISTAS have easily won the vast majority of them. Yet democracy IS not only about having elections, specially if they’re neither free nor fair.”
    Addition: mention briefly who HCR is in “Even Henrique Capriles was summoned after a beauty queen was murdered on early January 2014 to discuss how to tackle increasing rampant crime in the country.”
    11. “The CNE, responsible FOR HOLDING the elections, refused to hold a full audit of the system, particularly, to check for double-voters via fingerprints.”
    12. Addition: Mention that the colectivos are an armed volunteer militia and act as a government-sponsored neighbourhood watchdog group?


  7. Excellent article, Rodrigo! Way to shed some light to the current events, and it’s super helpful to remember that Maduro was not elected in a fair election.

    Typo report: the first question should be “When did these protestS start”.


  8. Maybe you’ve considered it already, and discarded the idea to keep the FAQ lean. But I think it could benefit from adding a “Who is Henrique Capriles?” question.

    It could give some background on him, his time in prison on trumped up charges, his left of center platform, and what he proposes.

    Another point I suggest is worth tackling, is How do riot control practices post 12F, and specially since 19F, differ from standard Western riot control practices? It could make a summary on breaking and entering private buildings, firing at residential buildings for chanting slogans, police forces vandalizing cars in areas where people are protesting, flying fighter jets over residential areas, etc.


  9. A clear summary, but I think it leaves a lot unsaid, for instance the first few points don’t explain WHY there is a call for a salida, and the reason for the protests encompass a little more than violence against students, although this is the main reason and trigger behind the events. You could perhaps add a few additional Q&As, for instance:

    (1) Why and by what measure is Venezuela such a violent country?
    (2) Are the various branches of government independent?
    (3) Is there freedom of the press? What’s the deal with CNN, internet restrictions etc?
    (4) Why is Venezuela suffering from scarcity of essential goods?
    (5) Why is the government imposing exchange controls, and what has been their effect?

    Perhaps these are not immediately relevant to the immediate origin of the current student demonstrations, but they are important points of discussion. It is difficult to understand the extent of the outrage without understanding to what extent the chavistas have sunk Venezuela in a hole.


  10. I do not believe your comment about the opposition having a common goal of “ridding Venezuela of chavismo” is correct and counterproductive in gaining international support. The common characteristics of opposition are restoring the spirit of democracy where the minority is a group of people to be taken into consideration when making government policies, not the enemy to be eliminated. Changing to electoral districts allowed for the PSUV 58.18% of the Assembly seats with 48.20% of the national vote.
    The different branches of government are supposed to be independent and help create a balance of power and not a tool to obliterate those that do not share the same political convictions. Leopoldo Lopez was blocked from public office by the Venezuelan courts and the executive branch. A decision reversed by international courts. Venezuelan authorities have expropriated businesses without respecting the interests of their respective owners or shareholders. International courts have ruled against Venezuela in many instances. Venezuelan supreme court judge Eladio Aponte Aponte has confirmed that the executive branch greatly influences the judicial system to achieve rulings based on political convictions as opposed to the rule of law. Venezuela been progressively removing itself from the jurisdiction of international courts and arbitration mechanisms to avoid being held accountable for violations of fundamental rights.


  11. According to a Kenyon College source, Leopoldo Lopez has a degree in Sociology, not Economics.

    What is the deal among Venezuelans for changing their degrees? Or saying they have degrees they never got? He is certainly not the first case.

    I have a degree in Political Science and have taken numerous courses in economics, but that doesn’t make me an Economist.


    • agree, odk. Claims of holding degrees one does not possess points to a certain lack of credibility, when not insecurity. Vennies don’t like to appear dumb, so a few invent to their discredit. LL, himself, may not have manipulated his academic credentials. But someone did along the way. As you’ve noted, the manipulation can get even more deceitful. A certain Vz blogger (not of CC, TDE or VN&V) has, in the past, perhaps still, flaunted academic credentials that he doesn’t even come close to possessing. When countered, a rage of red-herring invectives follow. No one is fooled.


    • I think Lopez and others describe him as an economist as he worked as an economist even though he didn’t have a degree on it. He is indeed a sociologist by training that practiced as an economist. Hopefully that clarifies it.


      • And yet, I don’t see that clarification done on the post or elsewhere. There is a famous adeco that flaunted an economist degree from UCAB where in fact he did studied but never finished it. To this day, he is bashed by faculty members because of this.


    • opinionesdekantinas-

      from your same source, “From Kenyon, Lopez went on to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he earned a Masters in Public Policy degree in 1996.”

      Ok, so, not Economics… but an M.A. from Harvard School of Gov. is no shabby accomplishment!


      • I agree, nor his degree from from Kenyon College is a shabby accomplishment. Sociology is a very important branch of knowledge. I doubt L.L. would be so capable of grasping the Venezuelan reality if he did not have his preparation from both schools.


  12. Sad that people still fall for this “the gringos are coming” nonsense. Old, tired communist propaganda technique with no basis in fact other than that the gringos come everyday in oil tankers and buy oil. Served as a pretext for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.


  13. You need to add a section about the information blackout strategy of the government. (NTN24, CNNe, internet outages in Tachira, Zello blocked…the list is long)


  14. I would ammend the part of “[opositions common attribute] is ridding Venezuela of chavismo”. Oppositions main goal isnt exactly “to get rid of chavismo”, but to change government. To reestablish democracy, where all parties and ideologies (including chavismo) could have a place.


  15. Stratfor leak emails confirm CANVAS has been “very active” in Venezuela since 2010.

    Who is CANVAS? Here is what Stratfor analyst Mark Popic reckons in another leaked email
    “The leader of CANVAS is going to be coming with his DC operative to
    Austin. These guys are hard core revolutionaries who brought down
    Milosevic and then made it their day-job to setup and create revolutions
    around the world. They are behind a number of “color revolutions” and
    have heavy ties to the U.S. intelligence community. They are at the
    forefront of a lot of revolutionary activity today, including Venezuela.”


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