Sat, Apr 12, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Venezuelan president accuses US of fomenting recent protests

By Seumas Milne and Jonathan Watts  /  The Guardian, CARACAS

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accused the US of using continuing street protests to attempt a “slow-motion” Ukraine-style coup against his government and “get their hands on Venezuelan oil.”

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Maduro, elected last year after the death of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, said what he described as a “revolt of the rich” would fail because the country’s “Bolivarian revolution” was more deeply rooted than when it had seen off an abortive US-backed coup against Chavez in 2002.

Venezuela, now estimated to have the world’s largest oil reserves, has faced continuous violent street protests — focused on inflation, shortages and crime — since the beginning of February, after opposition leaders launched a campaign to oust Maduro and his socialist government under the slogan of “the exit.”

“They are trying to sell to the world the idea that the protests are some of sort of Arab Spring,” he said. “But in Venezuela, we have already had our spring: our revolution that opened the door to the 21st century.”

The conflict has claimed up to 39 lives and posed a significant challenge to Maduro’s government. On Monday, Maduro agreed to a proposal by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) for peace talks with opposition leaders, who have up to now refused to join a government-led dialogue.

The US denies involvement and says Venezuela is using the excuse of a coup threat to crack down on the opposition. Human Rights Watch and Venezuela’s Catholic hierarchy have also condemned the government’s handling of the protests, while Amnesty International has alleged human rights abuses by both sides.

Maduro claimed Venezuela was facing a type of “unconventional war that the US has perfected over the past decades,” citing a string of US-backed coups or attempted coups from 1960s Brazil to Honduras in 2009.

Speaking in the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, the former bus driver and trade union leader said Venezuela’s opposition had “the aim of paralyzing the main cities of the country, copying badly what happened in Kiev, where the main roads in the cities were blocked off, until they made governability impossible, which led to the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine.”

The Venezuelan opposition had a “similar plan,” he said.

“They try to increase economic problems worse through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation, to create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention,” he said.

Pointing to the large increases in social provision and reduction in inequality over the past decade and a half, Maduro said: “When I was a union leader, there wasn’t a single program to protect the education, health, housing and salaries of the workers. It was the reign of savage capitalism. Today in Venezuela, the working class is in power: It’s the country where the rich protest and the poor celebrate their social wellbeing.”

Venezuela’s protests have been fueled by high inflation, which reached a peak of 57 percent, but has now fallen to a monthly rate of 2.4 percent, and shortages of subsidized basic goods, a significant proportion of which are smuggled into Colombia and sold for far higher prices. Opposition leaders accuse the government of mismanagement.

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