The last two weeks in Venezuela have been extremely tense.
Since the right wing opposition called for street demonstrations on 12 February “Day of Youth”, burning barricades and random acts of violence have erupted around the country. Cuban doctors have been assaulted, the cheap state-run buses burned, schools and government buildings attacked.
Images of demonstrating students blocking streets have circulated around the world. This creates the illusion of a mass social movement demanding an end to the government of Nicolas Maduro and the Chavista project.
But the image is deeply and deliberately misleading.
The right claims to be fighting for democracy—yet in Venezuela elections are regular, open and clean.
President Nicolas Maduro insists that it is a fascist movement, and there are certainly some very sinister people involved, including paramilitaries.
So far the burning barricades and protests are largely limited to middle class areas. The poor districts of the capital Caracas, for example, have come out in their masses in support of Maduro.
They know that the leaders of the so-called “civic movement” are the same people who, in April 2002, launched a coup against then president Hugo Chavez.
Their object was to destroy Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”. It promised to use the resources of oil-rich Venezuela to fund social projects in education and health.
The coup lasted only 48 hours before a mass movement of support for Chavez stopped it in its tracks. That was time enough for the coup leaders to publish lists of trade unionists and activists to be killed.
So violence is nothing new to a Venezuelan right bitterly hostile the poor and the working class. But the timing of the protests points to a deeper issue.
The reality of most people’s lives—but by and large not of the protesting middle class—is of runaway inflation, shortages, and huge queues in shops. The social programmes of which Chavez was rightly proud are deteriorating.
The oil wealth that should have financed a new diverse and productive economy has disappeared into private bank accounts.
The scale of corruption within government is common knowledge. Oil revenues are increasingly diverted to paying public debts or to finance imports of goods such as food that Venezuela is not producing.
The commitment of ordinary Venezuelans to the different society that Chavez promised remains firm for the moment. But real solutions to the real problems they face are the only way to guarantee that the old order will never return.