The March on Caracas: Final Proof Venezuelans Have Turned on Maduro

By: Pedro García Otero - Sep 5, 2016, 10:11 am

I wrote this piece minutes after returning from the Great March on Caracas: the September 1 demonstrations in Venezuela that saw both the opposition and the regime turn out.

A heartbroken Nicolás Maduro spoke on the streets today. This time, the president did not dare to transmit his speech on national radio and television, and with good reason.

Chavismo is dead. It retains power only because it has full control over governing institutions, but it is no longer in the hearts of the people. And there is nothing Maduro can do about it.

He might close the highways to Caracas. He might threaten the opposition leaders who organized the March on Caracas. But it won’t change how people feel.

Maduro might even announce withering counter-offensives, such as Hitler did in April 1945. The faces of his followers, less than 3,000 people who gathered in the streets of Caracas to hear his speech, showed their reluctance and fatigue. These faces are impossible to hide from forever.

Imagen provista por una fuente confiable de la avenida Bolívar, donde manifestaron los seguidores de Maduro, en el momento en que este hablaba. (Cortesía)
Image of the Bolívar Avenue during Nicolás Maduro’s speech. The lack of audience is evident. (Cortesía)

If Maduro, Jorge Rodríguez and the rest of his entourage tried to counter the actions of the opposition on Thursday, they failed.

On a platform near the main stage, a speaker asked the audience: “Where are the Conviasa people?” And a small group of workers from the national airline replied.

He continued: “Where are the people from the Ministry of Transport?” Another small group responded, unimpressively, in what seemed like a clear demonstration of the little power that the administration has left. It is now limited to public employees who were forced to attend the demonstration.

On the other side of the fight, thousands and thousands of people overflowed the city’s main streets to get to the Great March on Caracas. They even overflowed the access roads to those streets.

Maduro boasted that it did not get to Libertador Bolivarian Municipality. But the demonstration did not enter the largest municipality in Caracas: it started out there. Maduro cannot deny defeat so easily.

The opposition, stronger after this gigantic mass demonstration, announced a real offensive. There was a “cacerolazo” on Thursday night, and within a week, the movement will march toward the National Electoral Council (CNE) building. Moreover, the opposition has planned for Venezuelans to retake all of the county’s capital cities two weeks from today.

Maduro’s government is clumsy. The fault for that lies in their political backgrounds, and the people Hugo Chávez surrounded himself with during his years as president.

Chávez never wanted an alternative to his leadership. Consequently, those who progressed within his party were the most obedient, the most corrupt and the least talented.

Maduro was not there because Chávez considered him the smartest of his followers. In fact, many believe that Chávez, an eternal optimist, thought that he would defeat the cancer that eventually killed him. In this context, Maduro was the only one who assured him that he would return the power to Chávez after his recovery.

Maduro just announced the capture of Colombian paramilitary camps. However, his lack of leadership has created a sense of fatigue within his own followers.

If he had no strength to beat the opposition before the March on Caracas, he has even less now. His own party is crumbling. Its members must be wondering if they should continue following such an uneducated, intemperate, and erratic leader.

Pedro García Otero Pedro García Otero

Pedro García is the Spanish managing editor of the PanAm Post. He is a Venezuelan journalist with over 25 years of experience in local newspapers, radio, television, and online media. Follow him @PedroGarciaO.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Colombia’s FARC Peace Deal

By: Guest Contributor - Sep 5, 2016, 10:11 am

By Louis Kleyn After four long years, Colombia's negotiating team has returned home with an agreement with FARC leaders. The guerrilla organization has been a security issue in different parts of the country since its inception back in the 1960s. However, it became more relevant in the '90s, thanks to the cultivation, processing and trafficking of cocaine. The "FARC problem," and the search for its solution has been the main focus of the Colombian government since the administration of Belisario Betancur. After the military successes of Álvaro Uribe's administration, the beginning of the peace talks in Havana took many by surprise. FARC's behavior has been notably violent of late, having ambushed Colombian soldiers and kidnapped citizens. The Cuban government offered up Havana for hosting the peace talks. This is a country whose leaders do not hold many democratic values — neither freedom of expression nor free enterprise. Action taken by Juan Manuel Santos' administration prior to the talks were also criticizable. To give greater importance to this "historic" moment and justify the sacrifices to come, the government made the "FARC problem" look even greater by talking about "52 years of war" and connecting the conflict to tens of thousands of people who were already dead, despite those casualties coming from a wide range of problems beyond FARC. The government negotiators were professional politicians and enlightened literary figures. They did not seem to be valid opponents for the unscrupulous and clever guerrilla leaders, who were forged in adversity and possess extraordinary personalities that allowed them to progress and succeed in a violent outlawed organization. The FARC negotiators, with impeccable cold blood, were willing to extend the talks without time limit, to break the patience of the Colombian government. On the other hand, the government negotiators felt they were wasting their time in Cuba. // When the dialogues exceeded six months,which seemed long enough, people understood that the process was not evolving in a favorable way for Santos, and that FARC would not yield easily to his desires. In the end, the result was a near-implausible agreement. On one hand, there are specific topics that are impossible to accept in a democracy: 10 automatic seats for FARC representatives in Congress until 2026, in addition to the 16 seats it get for a special constituency. Moreover, FARC will receive a significant amount of state funding for its support, political dissemination, access to mass media communication and pardon for all its crimes. The agreement is unfair to the great mass of the working population that strives daily for minimum wage, for the groups that have recently led peaceful protests seeking modest income increases, for the prisoners with minor offenses and even for the murderers and white collar criminals whose felonies might be even lower than those of the guerrilla. There are other "abstract" issues such as the "constitutional" label of the agreement, its incomprehensible and capricious rules and the idea that "Transitional Justice" may have over ordinary justice. This will generate legal uncertainty in an already chaotic and collapsed institutional system, and also gives FARC potential excuses to say that "the state" breached the agreement. Rafael Caldera, an important representative of the traditional Venezuelan educated class, generously pardoned Lt. Hugo Chávez who, taking advantage of the democracy he despised and that he had tried to tear apart via coup, succeeded in getting to power a few years later. President Santos, who has invested a great personal effort to address the "FARC problem," and who echoes the desire of the great majority of Colombians to disarm the guerrilla and reduce violence, should take a less passionate and more neutral stance toward the upcoming referendum. If the Colombian electorate, exercising their legitimate democratic right, rejects the agreement, the government would have a clear mandate to renegotiate. The people of Colombia are facing a strange dilemma. They either vote for the FARC to seat in Congress until 2026 or, according to former President César Gaviria, FARC will unload its fury on Colombian cities and rural areas. Is this a triumph for extortion? Louis Kleyn has worked over 25 years in investment banking. He is currently a member of Colombian Derivatives Market, and supervisor member of the Guarantee Fund of the Colombian Stock Exchange. This article was originally published in Portafolio.

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