Another Color Revolution? The Deceptive Use of the Phrase “Peaceful
Protests” in VenezuelaBy Steve Ellner
Global Research, March 29, 2014
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The Venezuelan opposition and much of the media use the term “peaceful
protests” to distinguish gatherings of protesting students and other
young people from the more violent actions including vandalism and
shootings carried out by those outside of the university community.
“Peaceful protests,” however, is a loaded term that serves to plant
doubts about the intentions of the Chavista government. In the first
place, the actions of the police and National Guard are portrayed as a
violation of the constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate at the
same time that the government is blamed for failing to get the “violent”
protests under control. In the process, Venezuela is depicted as
virtually a failed state or, as opposition leader Leopoldo López put it
in the title of his March 25 New York Times op-ed article, “a failing
state.” Another outlandish assertion that makes its way into the media
is that the “violent” protesters are actually Chavista infiltrators
intent on discrediting the opposition. Consequently the violence has
absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful protests and the opposition
in general.

Barricades setup by “peaceful protests” are removed by people living in
Las Vegas de Táriba, Táchira state.
The Chavista discourse sometimes plays into this deceptive line of
reasoning in an attempt to isolate the radical fringe of the opposition.
In appealing to the mainstream opposition group the Mesa de la Unidad
Democrática (MUD) to join the government-sponsored “Peace Dialogue,”
President Nicolás Maduro and other Chavista leaders sometimes reinforce
the distinction between the “peaceful” and “violent” protesters.
Protests Range from Nuisance to FatalitiesHowever the term “peaceful
protests” is misleading if not deceptive. In the first place, nearly all
of the thousands of opposition protests that have taken place over the
last six weeks in Venezuela have been illegal and would not be tolerated
in any democratic nation throughout the world. At best, the “peaceful
protests” consist of blocking traffic lanes of major avenues, resulting
in vehicle backups for miles often forcing thousands of people to lose
an hour or more of their time. In addition, the “peaceful protests”
sometimes include barricades, fires, and the dispersing of oil on lanes
used by motorcyclists. In this sense the distinction between the
“peaceful protests” and the violent ones is blurry.
In another blurring of differences, the opposition’s slogan “No More
Deaths” leaves the impression that peaceful protesters have been the
main victims of the violence, thus glossing over the fact that among the
36 fatalities, 6 are members of security forces, others are Chavistas,
others are innocent bystanders, some are peaceful protesters and others
are violent ones. Of course all 36 deaths are equally tragic, but the
opposition discourse plays down the fact that many of the wounded and
dead were engaging in violence. One report provided by the radio station
Alba Ciudad 96.3 FM stated “We can observe that much of the
international media, in their eagerness to discredit the Venezuelan
government and label it murderous, assure that all of the dead are
students or members of the opposition assassinated by government
security forces, a claim we have proven to be completely false.” The
report went on to claim that only five of the deaths were at the hands
of security forces. See: “Conozca los 35 fallecidos por las protestas
violentas opositoras en Venezuela.”
The defense of the “rights” of the peaceful demonstrators include
statements by human rights advocates that in a democracy civil
disobedience is perfectly legitimate and protesters have thtake to the streets. However, in the first place, a distinction needs to
be made between disruption for disruption sake and marches of protesters
who use streets rather than sidewalks due to the large number of
participants. In the second place, the objective of responsible civil
disobedience is to make a statement, not to cause disruptions. I have
observed acts of civil disobedience in the United States, one involving
the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Yale University in New Haven in which the
protesters were quickly rounded up and hauled off to jail. In another
rally that I witnessed at Yale, protesters against Apartheid in the
1980s had previously reached an agreement with the municipal authorities
and accepted that they would be jailed and fined for their actions.
There was actually no “bad feelings” between the city authorities and
the protesters and the details were planned ahead of time to minimize
public inconvenience. This is a far cry from what is happening in
Venezuela. In many if not most cases, the number of protesters do not
exceed 50 people. The question can thus be asked: Why don’t they use the
There is another area of convergence between the peaceful and violent
protesters which is a further justification for prosecuting both.
Although the opposition sometimes denies this, or tries to play it down,
the protesters of both groups are calling for regime change as embodied
in their main slogan “la salida” (“exit”). Some opposition leaders
spuriously claim that they are merely demanding the “resignation” of
President Maduro and that change of government can be accomplished
within the framework of the constitution. Jailed opposition leader
Leopoldo López, for instance, in his recent New York Times article,
stated “a change in leadership can be accomplished entirely within a
constitutional and legal framework.” These statements are deceptive. If
Maduro were to resign, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello
would assume the presidency, a sequence which would not at all be to the
liking of the opposition. This claim to legality is a replica of the
April 11, 2002 coup when the opposition asserted that President Chávez
had resigned and Pedro Carmona was merely “filling a vacuum” and thus
acting in a democratic fashion. Not only was the allegation of Chávez’s
resignation a blatant lie, but the procedure that followed was in
complete violation of the constitution. Indeed, Carmona ended up
decreeing the virtual abolition of the constitution itself.
The opposition and much of the national and international media claim
that the “peaceful protesters” are demonstrating against concrete
problems such as insecurity, scarcities and inflation. But the
protesters have failed to put forward any specific proposals to correct
these problems. Their sole aim at this point is regime change, as
leaders such as María Corina Machado and López himself have explicitly
stated on occasion. This is not to deny that opposition leaders have a
hidden agenda of specific changes which they intend to implement once in
Regime Change By Any Means Except ElectionsThe demand for regime change
on the part of both the “peaceful” and violent protesters would not be
tolerated in any democratic nation in the world, beginning with the
United States. The accusation, for instance, that the Communist Party
U.S.A. advocated “the overthrow of the government” was the justification
for jailing hundreds of party members during the McCarthy period in the
1950s. The assertion, however, was misleading since the Communists were
not calling, or making preparations, for the overthrow of the government
but only felt that it would inevitably someday occur. Nevertheless,
Communist leaders felt the full weight of the law at the time. More
recently, the FBI monitored the “Occupy Houston” movement on grounds
that some protesters allegedly advocated “the overthrow of the
government,” as has been revealed by transparency advocate Ryan Shapiro.
Advocacy of regime change in non-democratic countries is even more
perilous as shown by the recent death sentences handed down by the
heavily U.S.-supported Egyptian government to 529 members of the Muslim
In short, the rhetoric divide between peaceful and violent protests have
served the interests of the opposition. Thus, for instance, opposition
governors and mayors take advantage of this distinction in order to
cover up their failure to check disruptive activity in their
jurisdiction. The media, for its part, uses the binary construct in
articles on the alleged excesses of security forces, such as the ones
recently published in El Tiempo of Puerto La Cruz on March 25 headlined
“National Guard Represses Peaceful Protests” and a similar one
published in Ultimas Noticias on March 5. Not once in the forty years
before Chávez’s advent to power in 1998, did the commercial media use
such phraseology. •
Steve Ellner, who has been teaching at the Universidad de Oriente in
Venezuela since 1977, is the editor of the recently published Latin
America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power
in the Twenty-First Century.