Late last month, as the Venezuelan opposition attempted to storm the G-15 Summit of developing countries in Caracas, Venezuela’s already divided political arena rapidly polarised. Nine people were killed and scores injured in a series of violent clashes between opposition militants and the National Guard over the subsequent week.
Opponents of President Hugo Chavez tried to break down the Summit’s security fence, torched Chavez’s local party headquarters and blocked traffic in the capital. The National Guard was accused of using excessive force and detaining protestors without charge to contain these demonstrations.
The demonstrations began in an effort to force the National Electoral Council (CNE) to approve the opposition’s petition for a recall referendum on Chavez’s right to finish his current term in office. After the CNE announced on 1 March that it had only found 1.4 out of a requisite 2.45 million signatures to be valid, the opposition continued to block roads and attack the National Guard.
The current conflict is the latest development in the long-standing enmity between Chavez’s democratically elected government and his opponents in the business community. While Chavez is pursuing social reform and independence from the US, the corporate opposition are desperate to return to the previously US friendly system.
In April 2002, many of the same figures involved with the recall referendum ousted President Chavez in a coup aided by the US government. Only the intensity of pro-Chavez protests ensured his return to office three days later. This time, hundreds of thousands of supporters took to the streets of Caracas to oppose the opposition’s violence and US interference in Venezuelan affairs.
The US has again funded the current efforts to depose Chavez. Documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act reveal that the group responsible for the anti-Chavez petition, received aid from a body funded by the US government.
This intensification of opposition violence comes at a time when Chavez himself is radicalising. Speaking at the G-15 Summit, he decried the ruination that decades of neoliberal policies have exacted upon Latin American economies. The core principles of neoliberalism are embodied in the US instigated Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), which Chavez denounces as the “path to hell”, yet his opponents strongly support. Chavez is instead trying to galvanise regional support for ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) which would prioritise development over profit and anchor economic policy in the social needs of a region in which 26% of the population currently live on less than $2 a day.
Just as recent violence has helped to harden Chavez’s attitude to the Venezuelan opposition and US interventionism, the opposition’s hopes of deposing the him constitutionally are fading. It has begun to work illegally once again. As long as such mutual radicalisation continues, Venezuela’s future seems destined to be volatile.