Following a month of anti-government protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, tens of thousands of government supporters filled the streets Wednesday to commemorate the one year anniversary of the death of Maduro's ally and predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
As Reuters reports, "Tens of thousands of red-clad 'Chavistas' were gathering for rallies in Caracas and elsewhere in honor of the socialist whose 14-year rule won him the adoration of many of Venezuela's poorest." The day, filled with parades and events to honor Chavez, was a chance for Maduro "to reclaim the streets and show opponents that he too can mobilize."
Anti-government protesters in recent weeks have taken part in daily demonstrations, airing grievances against Maduro. Critics, however, say that much of the nuance of the political tensions in Venezuela have been left out of western coverage, with many U.S. outlets in particular portraying the movement as a massive country-wide uprising against the socialist president, threatening the stability of the country.
To the contrary, as many informed experts have pointed out, support for Maduro—who has largely carried on Chavez's policies—remains high, particularly among the lower and working classes of the country.
"'Chavistas' largely remain loyal to their hero's dying wish that they support Maduro," asReuters reports. "So far, the protests have not spread far from a middle-class core, and the military seems loyal, making a Ukraine-style change unlikely."
As Miguel Tinker Salas, Latin American studies professor at Pomona College, wrote yesterday, the anti-government protests have been distorted in the media. He explains:
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Much of the reporting by the mass media gives the impression that Venezuela faces a national rebellion. The reality is that the protests have been restricted to certain pockets in the country, mostly middle and upper middle class neighborhoods, not entire cities. Most damage to private property and infrastructure has occurred in these neighborhoods. According to the government 18 municipalities have been the center of protest out of 335. And even in municipalities where there are protesters, residents live a tale of two cities, with some areas besieged and others functioning under normal-like conditions. With the advent of carnival, there are also contrasting images of people at the beach and others protesting behind barricades.
And foreign policy expert Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote yesterday, the anti-government protests have been "grossly distorted in the major media." Weisbrot writes:
The New York Times had to run a correction last week for an article that began with a statement about "The only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government …" As it turns out, all of the private TV stations "regularly broadcast voices critical of the government". And private media has more than 90% of the TV-viewing audience in Venezuela. A study by the Carter Center of the presidential election campaign period last April showed a 57 to 34% advantage in TV coverage for President Maduro over challenger Henrique Capriles in the April election, but that advantage is greatly reduced or eliminated when audience shares are taken into account.
Although there are abuses of power and problems with the rule of law in Venezuela – as there are throughout the hemisphere – it is far from the authoritarian state that most consumers of western media are led to believe. Opposition leaders currently aim to topple the democratically elected government – their stated goal – by portraying it as a repressive dictatorship that is cracking down on peaceful protest. This is a standard "regime change" strategy, which often includes violent demonstrations in order to provoke state violence.
Wednesday's opposition protests were smaller than the thousands who marched Tuesday and in previous days, Agence France-Presse reports, with roughly 300 people demonstrating in the capital's wealthier east side.