Although there were some economic problems in Venezuela over the past year, the main aim of the protesters is to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro and to effect regime change, lawyer and writer Eva Golinger told RT.
A wave of anti-government protests, the largest in a decade, has been sweeping through Venezuela since early February. It started in the western part of the country, with students demanding increased security after a female student reported an attempted rape. Protesters were also complaining about shortages of basic food items and high inflation. From there, the demonstrations spread fast to the capital, Caracas, where they quickly turned into violent. Since then Venezuela has witnessed constant anti-government protests, with many people falling victim to violence.
RT: The number of those killed in clashes is rising every day – is the government unable to stop the violence?
Eva Golinger: First of all, I think it's important to look at who this violence really benefits, and whose interests are really benefitting from this type of violence. And I think it becomes clear that it’s without doubt the anti-government protesters, because they are using it as a way to try to show that the country is in crisis and that the government is responsible for the violence.
I think if you examine the facts as to who exactly has been the victim of such violence, we’ll see that in fact the numbers are now up to seven National Guard police officers who have actually been killed by anti-government protesters – and that's not being reported by most mainstream media outlets. At the same time, among others unfortunately been killed in a protest in Venezuela, the majority are either pro-government supporters or innocent people who were just trying to get through the barricades – illegal barricades that were set up by the protesters.
So one main issue which has been a problem is the fact that a lot of these protests are occurring in municipalities, where the opposition is in charge with their opposition mayors and governors, and they are refusing to stop the protest in any way. So they are refusing to use their own police forces to prevent the protesters from engaging in that type of violence or setting up the barricades that have been the largest responsibility for the deaths that have occurred over the past six weeks.
And then at the same time there have been the efforts made by the government to try to push back some of the protests that have also either resulted in violence or have been used to show some kind of government repression. So personally I think there is much more the government could be doing in order to ensure that people's legitimate right to protest is respected, but that has been done in a peaceful way and when it's not done in a peaceful way it endangers others’ lives, then of course it has be controlled for the security of other people.
RT: People are protesting against food shortages. What's the reason for the deficits?
EG: Actually people are not protesting in Venezuela in general against food shortages. Those who are protesting against the government have said specifically that their aim is to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro, and their goal is regime change.
So this is not a protest movement that is any way looking to reclaim certain rights. Certainly, there have been issues such as some food shortages as well as some economic problems over the past year that have led to discontent among parts of the population of Venezuela, but these are not those who are driving these protests. They have tried to use that to say that there is a reason behind that, but it's not. And now, at the same time, the problem [of the protests occurring] had been addressed by the government. President Maduro, for example, has opened a dialogue with business leaders to try to fix the issue of product shortages. Some of them have been caused by mismanagement on behalf of the state in terms of foreign currency controls, which prevented certain imports taking place. But a large portion of it has been direct sabotage from the private enterprises, primarily engaging in contraband. Over 40 percent of products in Venezuela are being used as contraband across the Colombian border because in Venezuela there are price controls and limits on certain products and of course private businesses can get more for their money across the border in Colombia. There is a mix of different reasons for some of the problems that have been occurring in the country. But again, the overall objective of the protests is nothing to do with improving the economy in Venezuela, it's simply about regime change.
RT: Maduro has been using Chavez's figure to cement his own authority – do the protests mean that this doesn't work anymore?
EG: President Maduro of course came to power through elections after the death of the President Hugo Chavez and he was not someone who was initially inspired to become president of Venezuela. So he is now leading the movement that was founded by President Chavez and his supporters, so certainly Chavez's figure still overshadows much of Maduro's presidency, but this is not to say that Maduro is not a legitimate president now with his own policy, political platform and agenda.
Certainly there are those in the opposition who initially were objecting when Chavez was alive, and were always trying to get Chavez out of power, and now of course they are trying to show that Maduro is not Chavez and they use Chavez against Maduro. This is really just a political tactic and I think that the bottom line here is that we have in Venezuela many anti-government movements, opposition movements that have refused to accept the legitimacy of the elected government that is supported by the majority. Polls show [this support] still continues and actually [the government] has increasing popularity in the country in the face of this violent protest, [which is] spearheaded by extremists in the right-wing opposition in Venezuela. At the same time the opposition, while Hugo Chavez was alive, have never accepted him as a legitimate president. They always wanted to get him out of power through a coup or through other mechanisms, but they always failed. Now they are simply trying to do the same with Maduro.
It's the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. There are very powerful interests that want to take charge of Venezuela and that's the bottom line, that’s what it is about. There is nothing to do with whether or not Nicolas Maduro is a good president of Venezuela or what problems there are in Venezuela. It's simply about regime change so that powerful interests can take control of Venezuela's resources.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.