November 5, 2002

Incitement = Violence

It keeps happening. Time and again we think we've hit bottom, that the political scene can't possibly sink any lower into this goopy mishmash of the ridiculous and the grotesque. And then it does.

The latest low came Monday afternoon, when the reactionary and fascist forces of the squalid opposition tried to perpetrate yet another fraud against the constitution in their quest to destroy democracy. Now, read that last sentence again. Admittedly, I've compressed, but I haven't made anything up - each of those insults was actually hurled at the opposition yesterday, and by high ranking government officials too. And what was the outrage these fascists committed? Why, they went around, clipboard in hand, asking people to sign a petition to hold a referendum on whether or not to ask Chavez to resign voluntarily. Just like the black shirts! And then, then, they had the gall to try to march peacefully to the National Elections Council to hand in the two million + signatures they'd gathered! Straight out of Mussolini's playbook...

All of which would be funny if it wasn't for one pesky little detail: some of Chavez' more simple-minded followers actually buy the rhetoric. The incitement that pours out of every government official every time s/he gets near a microphone has real consequences. Yesterday, those consequences came in the form of (at least) 9 people hospitalized with gunshot wounds. One TV cameraman was shot in the chest, saved only by the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. Other cameramen got clear pictures of at least one guy in a ski mask unloading an automatic gun into the opposition march. In one especially hair-raising episode, Alfredo Peña relates that a tear gas canister was tossed into an ambulance as it attempted to carry away three wounded opposition protesters.

Lina Ron - who's still not in jail - was on hand, of course, to lead the glorious revolutionary counteroffensive against the fascists. Eventually the National Guard and the Metropolitan Police had to step in and dissolve the crowd with teargas. It took the opposition march over 3 hours to cover the final three blocks to CNE, while PM and GN troops tried to deal with the chavista countermarch.The sad thing is that, at this point, this kind of barbarity barely even shocks people's at least the seventh time it's happened since April. It's basically becoming routine for chavistas to shoot live ammo into opposition crowds.

Needless to say, the government finds none of this objectionable. VP Rangel actually went on TV to congratulate the civilized attitude of both the opposition AND the government crowds. Maybe Chavez's psychiatric problems are contagious: downtown was a chaos of bullets and teargas as he was making that statement. Why would he object, though? As Teodoro Petkoff points out in TalCual today, Chavez already crossed that rubicon by branding the Llaguno Bridge gunmen from April 11th as "heroes" for "defending the revolution." What's changed? Nothing's changed.

The scary thing about the government's whacked out rhetoric is that it creates a climate where chavista hotheads feel fully justified unloading their guns onto their political opponents, where they're led to believe they're on the side of goodness and history and right when they battle the forces of reactionary evil with anything they can get their hands on. Their revered leader singles out people who act that way for praise. So, needless to say, they're in no doubt that, so long as the comandante is in power, they'll never be held accountable for what they're doing.

At least the signatures are in now. They're probably the hottest political hot potato Venezuela has ever seen. The Elections Council is in a dreadful state, but it's just going to have to deal with it: the constitution is very clear in giving it just 30 days to either call a referendum or invalidate the request, and a new CNE can't be named that quickly. They'll probably approve it, and the government will certainly challenge it in court...and that...that's when the sparks are gonna fly...