Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition parties announced on Saturday that they were launching a new offensive of protests and actions against the Chavez government, while earlier in the week Wikileaks published emails revealing their strategy.
The new offensive was announced at an opposition rally on Saturday, an event organized by opposition parties in protest of the recent devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, a measure they have likened to an IMF-sponsored adjustment package.
Leaders of Henrique Capriles’ center-right party Primero Justicia (Justice First) and other parties that make up the opposition coalition organization Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD) gathered in East Caracas to show their disapproval of the devaluation, and to begin a new wave of actions against the government.
“If up to now it has seemed like we have been passive, that is over,” said Henrique Capriles, promising to ramp up opposition activity.
Several major figures of Venezuela’s opposition were present, including Leopoldo López, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, opposition legislators Ismael Garcia and Alfonso Marquina, among others.
The group of politicians stood together on a stage surrounded by a mass of supporters and took turns speaking to the crowd.
“We have to come out into the streets to confront this situation… it is the government who is to blame for our economic situation,” said Leopoldo López to cheers from the crowd.
“Today more than ever this is not one person’s struggle, but everyone’s struggle. That’s why we ask all Venezuelans in all the country to help fight for a better Venezuela,” he said.
On the stage was an elaborate publicity stunt that sought to play on the problem of food shortages that have been felt across Venezuela in recent months, focusing especially on the country’s most important staple food.
A massive backdrop with images of empty supermarket shelves was flanked by shopping carts full of what looked like packages of Venezuela’s most famous brand of corn flour, Polar’s Harina Pan.
A closer look revealed that the word “PAN”, meaning bread, had been replaced by “PAQ”, referring to “paquetazo”, as IMF adjustment packages are often called. The speaker’s podium was also made into a giant package of corn flour.
“The people have come to condemn before the whole world what the government has done with this adjustment package,” said Antonio Ledezma.
“This adjustment package in the name of the revolution is cheating the very men and women that have given them their trust,” he said.
The Polar company immediately issued a statement protesting the use of their brand for political ends, and threatened legal action.
Opposition leaders have taken hold of the devaluation of the currency and launched a fierce campaign of criticism against it in recent weeks.
Calling it a “red” adjustment package, they have exaggerated its real value, claiming the currency lost 50 percent of its value whereas in reality the devaluation was only about 32 percent. They have claimed the effects have been devastating for consumers, though prices have not risen significantly.
“The government talks about change and about revolution, but what they did here was take money away from the poor. That is the truth about this adjustment package,” said opposition legislator Ismael Garcia.
The fierce campaign surrounding the devaluation seems right in line with the strategy outlined in documents released by Wikileaks last week. The organization published tens of thousands of emails from the US-based private intelligence company Strafor, which has provided strategic guidance to the Venezuelan opposition.
The emails reveal that Stratfor has coached the opposition in recent years to exploit certain hot-button issues such as electrical blackouts, crime, and freedom of expression.
“It seems that the elctrial [sic] collapse might ven [sic] be a nice excuse to call a national emergency. Very interesting indeed,” wrote Stratfor head Karen Hooper during a national energy crisis in 2010.
Stratfor analysts apparently provided the opposition with lists of important issues to be exploited depending on the specific situation in the country. They also showed specific interest in uniting opposition factions and strengthening the opposition student movement as a way to reproduce the events that led to the toppling of several Eastern European regimes in recent years.
Frequent reference is made to the Center for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), an organization that was integral to the toppling of the Milosevic government in Serbia in 2000.
“They are very impressive group of guys. They just go and set up shop in a country and try to bring the government down. When used properly, more powerful than an aircraft carrier battle group,” reads one email.
“Chavez is nothing compared to going against the old Soviet regimes,” reads another.
Leaders of the Venezuelan opposition assured on Saturday that they were more united than ever, and would soon announce a single candidate that they would all unite behind in the event of new elections.
“The country can be absolutely assured that we will have a unity candidate,” said Ledezma.
On Sunday, the MUD coalition initiated meetings to discuss who would be their candidate. There appears to be some disagreement within the coalition as some parties are opposed to the most likely candidate, Henrique Capriles, because they were shunned by Capriles and his party Primero Justicia during the presidential campaign last year.
There is also disagreement about whether the opposition coalition should announce who their candidate will be, or should wait until new elections are actually called to do so.
The results of today’s meeting are to be announced later this week.