Venezuela: The Strike that Never Was

In downtown Caracas, a normal day
Venezuela: The Strike that Never Was

Compared with the previous opposition strike last Thursday, the result was not good. And even that one showed that the measure had not been supported by most workers – the only ones capable of paralyzing a country – nor by many businesses.

Caracas was going to wake as a city in revolt. That was the idea you got from reading the declarations of right wing leaders. It was day one of the 48-hour strike, a measure aimed at stepping up the pressure on the streets to prevent the election to the National Constituent Assembly on Sunday, July 30. The reality was different: in some parts of Caracas it looked like a holiday.

At least that was the case through much of the morning. In the east of Caracas, where most supporters of the right live, there was little movement. Businesses were closed, there was a trickle of buses, and many roadblocks, both in residential areas like Boleíta, and on highways, like the one to Prados del Este. But with one peculiarity: they were more debris, trash, logs and wires, than people. Some had a couple of people, others were deserted. The promised uprising was in practice a game of blocked streets with no one to be seen.

The west of the city presented a different face from the very start of the day. There was less activity than usual, but it was far from looking like a city on strike. Buses were running, shops were mostly open, people went about their business. A fairly normal Caracas day in the midst of this prolonged conflict.

It was like two different cities, with their backs to each other. The separation was one of class.

Thus passed the morning and the middle of the day, in a calm that precedes the storm. It was in the afternoon when the scene changed, and the two levels of violence organized by the right took to the stage. The first one played out in Bello Campo, where the “shock troops” – small groups blessed by priests and leaders like Freddy Guevara – went looking for a confrontation with the security forces. Their objective was to create a media event, with pictures that their media could then invert and present as a “the government attacking” them. In fact these shock brigades used stones, Molotov cocktails, mortars, and – something the right never admits – had armed people shooting from rooftops.

The other level was activated in other parts of the city, such as Petare and Macaracuay. No cameras here, no epic narrative around the shock troops. Here it was simply armed groups attacking the state security forces with firearms. In one such case in Petare, the cells first fired from barricades between the buildings, then went into the barrio and fired from stairways and roofs. Even as the neighbors passed by with their children, and workers walked home from work.

Something similar happened in other parts of the country. In Lara state, for example, right-wing groups attacked and set fire to the townhall in Duaca. But this too was reported as an attack by the state security forces. Always, whatever happens, and even when the evidence is undeniable, the scheme is the same: to make into victims those who attack, shoot and burn.

The right wing forces announced the full success of the scheme. Just as they had done the previous week, just as they would do in every action.

The lack of support from employers in the previous strike was reinforced by J.J Rendón from Miami in an interview on Sunday: part of the business sector had not complied with the action, particularly large industries. The same happened on Wednesday. .

In terms of public opinion, the response has not been positive either. One of the most common images in the east was that of people avoiding abandoned barricades – and walking to their workplaces. The strike did not draw fresh support, and neither did the roadblocks. It was the same old people, only fewer of them, without the backing of the majority of those just trying to make a living.

As a measure to escalate the pressure ahead of July 30, the balance is also unfavorable. They expected an uprising across the city, but the strike was only visible in some areas of Caracas. With just three days to go before Sunday’s election, do they have a hidden card up their sleeve? What is certain is that they failed to advance in building a mobilization to put pressure on the government and make it change its course.

The only way of seeing the strike as non-negative is if the conflict is projected onto a long term basis – using the strategy of a parallel government – with July 30 marking the beginning of a new phase of escalated action. In that sense, the strike was aimed at the international front, and at keeping up the activity of its social base, those shopkeepers and freight carriers who are dissatisfied with the government – although not all those who closed and stopped did so of their own volition: many were threatened, as many business posters showed. Only in this sense can the the strike be seen as a moderate success.

The right has a formula that is constant: it turns to violence and its international supporters just as its capacity to mobilize decreases. It happened again this Wednesday. Again the numbers did not turn out. While at the Organization of American States the United States once again failed to get the support it needed to escalate the diplomatic pressure on Venezuela.

For its part, Chavismo is facing a central challenge: to achieve a high turnout in Sunday’s elections, which would give the Constituent Assembly the legitimacy it needs. This Thursday, the campaign closed in Caracas as the opposition strike stumbled into its second day. The picture of violence imposed by the right could be beneficial for Chavismo: it sharpens the political confrontation and, as is well known, Chavismo thrives on debate, polarization, and, above all, on a desire – shared by the majority of Venezuelan society – for a democratic solution to the conflicts.

The coup scenario, posed by the right with its plan for a parallel government and violence, is an all or nothing bet. So every day is key.

Source/Marco Teruggi – teleSUR

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