Deadly Opposition Violence in Venezuela: The First Major Destabilization Attempt Since 2002-03

Opposition protests turned deadly yesterday, with at least seven people having been reported killed and over 61 others injured as opposition groups reportedly burned the homes of PSUV leaders, community hospitals, and mercales (subsidized grocery stores), attacked Cuban doctors, attacked state and community media stations, and threatened CNE president Tibisay Lucena and other officials. Violence is likely to continue today, as both Capriles and Maduro have called for their supporters to demonstrate in the streets. Maduro and other senior government officials have condemned the acts and have warned that the opposition is attempting a coup d'etat. PSUV legislators have suggested they may pursue legal action against Capriles for promoting instability.

The campaign of violent protest, in conjunction with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles' refusal to recognize the election results, represents the first major extra-legal destabilization attempt by Venezuela's opposition since the failed coup in 2002 and oil strike in 2003. It is also significant in that the U.S. is backing Capriles' position, thereby helping to provoke conflict in Venezuela — even though most Latin American nations and many other governments around the world have congratulated Maduro on his victory and called for the results to be respected.

The opposition strategy is predictably divisive, however. Factions within Venezuela's opposition have long opposed extra-legal and especially violent methods of attempting to force change. Some in the opposition have also hinted that Capriles' cries of "fraud" are not credible. Opposition-aligned CNE rector Vicente Diaz has said that, while he supports a full audit of the votes, he has no doubt in that the results given by the CNE are correct. Diaz made comments to this effect on opposition station Globovision yesterday; the TV hosts then quickly concluded the interview.

Opposition blogger Francisco Toro, meanwhile, has criticized the opposition strategy of crying fraud, noting that, if any such fraud exists, it will be found in the 54 percent audit of the votes that the CNE conducts as a routine verification for each election. Toro writes:

Listen, I understand how "count every vote" is an appealing slogan: bumperstickable and easy to understand and hard to resist.

downplaying the extent of the violence in opposition protests, have also noted that Capriles and the members of the opposition who back him risk delegitimizing themselves by refusing to accept the results and waging a protest campaign in response. Reuters reported today:

plan to stoke instability by refusing to accept the election results, and use students as "cannon fodder" in a violent protest campaign. While this did get some scattered attention in Venezuela at the time, it was regrettably ignored by major foreign media outlets.

@Dan_Beeton. This article was first published in CEPR's Americas Blog on 16 April 2013 under a Creative Commons license.

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