Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian published Tuesday, says the United States is actively fomenting a 'slow motion coup' in his country, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing his democratically elected government as a way to gain more profitable access to its vast oil resources.
Rejecting the dominate narrative presented by the U.S media regarding recent protests in the country, the man who succeeded Hugo Chavez as president and won re-election last year said, "They are trying to sell to the world the idea that the protests are some of sort of Arab spring. But in Venezuela, we have already had our spring: our revolution that opened the door to the 21st century."
Maduro says claims the street protests are at least partly being fueled by U.S.-backed operatives, and defends this position by pointing to more than 100 years of history of Washington interference in Latin America as well as new details contained in files leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—both of which make clear what U.S. intentions continue to be towards those who resist the military and economic dominance of the U.S. and its allies.
"Is 100 years of intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean not enough: against Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Brazil?" he said to the Guardian. "Is the coup attempt against President Chávez by the Bush administration not enough? Why does the US have 2,000 military bases in the world? To dominate it. I have told President Obama: we are not your backyard anymore."
By comparison, Maduro claims that the opposition forces in his country are following the same model as the U.S.-supported anti-government protesters that recently overthrew the government of Ukraine. Like in Kiev, he explained, the right-wing opposition in Caracas and elsewhere have tried to "increase economic problems through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation." What those protesting the government have tried to do, Maduro continued, is "create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention."
The Guardian's Seumas Milne and Jonathan Watts, who conducted the interview, pressed Maduro on whether or not his government has been overly repressive against protesters and if political dissent is a punishable offense in Venezuela. As they report:
About 2,200 have been arrested (190 or so are still detained) during two months of unrest, which followed calls by opposition leaders to "light up the streets with struggle" and December's municipal elections in which Maduro's supporters' lead over the opposition increased to 10%.
Responsibility for the deaths is strongly contested. Eight of the dead have been confirmed to be police or security forces; four opposition activists (and one government supporter) killed by police, for which several police officers have been arrested; seven were allegedly killed by pro-government colectivo activists and 13 by opposition supporters at street barricades.
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Asked how much responsibility the government should take for the killings, Maduro responded that 95% of the deaths were the fault of "rightwing extremist groups" at the barricades, giving the example of three motorcyclists killed by wire strung across the road by protesters. He said he has set up a commission to investigate each case. The global media was being used to promote a "virtual reality" of a "student movement being repressed by an authoritarian government", he argued. "What government in the world hasn't committed political or economic mistakes? But does that justify the burning down of universities or the overthrow of an elected government?"The protests, often led by students and overwhelmingly in well-off areas, have included arson attacks on government buildings, universities and bus stations. From a peak of several hundred thousand people in February, most recent demonstrations have dwindled in size and are restricted to opposition strongholds, such as Tachira state on the Colombian border.
A hardline opposition leader, Leopoldo López, who participated in the 2002 coup, and two opposition mayors have been arrested and charged with inciting violence. Another backer of the protests, María Corina Machado, was stripped of her post in parliament.
This was not "criminalising dissent", Maduro insisted. "The opposition has full guarantees and rights. We have an open democracy. But if a politician commits a crime, calls for the overthrow of the legitimate government and uses his position to block streets, burn universities and public transport, the courts act." Critics, however, insist the courts are politicised.
In the end, Maduro contends that Venezuela embraces the polarization that its democracy affords.
"Politics is not only for the elite, for centre-right and centre-left parties, while the elites distribute power and wealth among themselves," Maduro said. "Venezuela has a positive polarisation because it is a politicised country where the large majority take sides over public policies. There is also negative polarisation that doesn't accept the other and wants to eliminate the other – we must get over that with national dialogue."
As for when he'll step aside and on the revolutionary legacy of his predecessor Hugo Chavez?
"The people will decide until when I can be here. Be certain that if it is not me it will be another revolutionary," he said. "What will be indefinite is the popular power of the people".