Lucas Koerner is a journalist at Venezuelanalysis based in Caracas, Venezuela.
transcriptSharmini Peries: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Violence flared up again in Venezuela on Wednesday and Thursday when at least seven people were killed in 48 hours. The opposition has been calling for a new wave of protests and street blockades throughout the country, enticing and escalating the violence that the government is responding to. These renewed protests are also taking place just days after President Maduro said that he had foiled a coup attempt on the day that a police officer stole a police helicopter and dropped grenades and fired shots at the building of a supreme court. While this is going on, the National Electoral Council is engaged in preparations for a national constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Delegates will be elected on July 30th. The opposition, though, has vowed to boycott the vote. Joining us for an update on these and other recent developments in Venezuela is Lucas Koerner. Lucas is a writer for the website VenezuelaAnalysis.com and a master student at Venezuela's Institute for Advanced Studies. I thank you so much for joining us, Lucas.Lucas Koerner: Great to be here, Sharmini.Sharmini Peries: So Lucas, first of all, tell us what the situation is like in Caracas. Based on some reports, it sounds like the city is under siege, especially recently in the last 48 hours. What is it like on the streets?Lucas Koerner: I could say that Caracas is probably, at least the western part of the city, is a lot calmer than other cities in the country right now. On Wednesday, I went to pick up my father from the airport and to take him to the eastern part of the city, and we were almost trapped in the east because of ... You know, it was a day of nationwide opposition barricades, and it was almost impossible to get out because all of the major highways and a lot of the smaller streets were barricaded by groups of five to ten to maybe 20 or 30 maximum protesters with police often looking on. The local police in these wealthier eastern municipalities is completely tacitly supporting these protests by not doing anything. In the western part of the city, although, it's definitely calmer though. Since Tuesday, you have seen some more unrest in some of the barrios, but nothing in comparison to what you've seen in Maracay, in Aragua, where you saw Monday night, massive looting. You saw 68 businesses looted. You saw attacks on numerous public institutions, left-wing political party offices, and then Barquisimeto, our reporter who lives there has also reported last night significant looting within her neighborhood and in other areas in the city. So, there's definitely epicenters of ... Again, I think we should stress that these are the same epicenters of violent unrest continue to be Aragua, Miranda, Lara, and in this moment those are the major areas. Most of the rest of the country is actually not facing this kind of violent unrest that we're seeing here.Sharmini Peries: Right, and the death toll is obviously continuing and escalating. What are the numbers like, and who's largely responsible for these deaths?Lucas Koerner: Well, the total number is up to 93 now after seven people died in the course of 48 hours. The vast majority of the deaths, they're unsolved. They're yet to be solved given that there are so many incidents, but I can say that the vast majority of people killed are not protesting, but they're people who are bystanders that are killed in a variety of contexts. All the people who were called in the past 48 hours, none of them were killed by security forces that we know of. Two of them at least were killed when they were walking down the street near a protest and they were shot. They could have been shot by security forces. They could have been shot by protestors. We don't know. One case, a death at a barricade where a truck reached a barricade in Maracaibo in the west, and they intended to loot the truck, and it reversed, and it hit a motorcyclist and ran over the motorcyclist, and then the protestors at the barricade threw Molotov cocktails at the truck, incinerating the truck and the motorcyclist who was burnt alive, and then one of the people in the truck all suffered burns on 90% of his body, 95% of his body. There's just a level of brutality that ... There's definitely 13 confirmed deaths that have attributable to security forces, and that probably goes a little bit higher. The attorney general office has claimed that up to around 20 are human rights [inaudible 00:05:02] killed by state security forces. That is one analysis. According to our numbers, at least 24 people are victims directly or indirectly of opposition political violence, so these are a range of cases whether [inaudible 00:05:16] 10 minutes from my house was shot in the face because he went through an opposition barricade or cases as in this former Olympic swimmer in the eastern city who was going down a highway and someone who was turning around because there was a barricade, and there was an accident and he died. These are all these accidents that are caused by these extremely unsafe conditions that are being promoted by the oppositions call to take the streets indefinitely until the government falls.Sharmini Peries: Right, and how are the general population reacting to all of this. We know that this situation is very heightened with the opposition and people affiliated with them engaged in these protests and street blockades, and then of course the government is responding to all of that, but how are ordinary citizens responding to this kind of heightened violence in their cities?Lucas Koerner: I think the opinion polls continue to bear out that the vast majority of the Venezuelan population, at least 80% or more, rejects violent protests and wants them to come to an end and similar numbers support dialogue between the opposition and the government for a negotiated solution that can deescalate tensions. So, I think that the vast majority of the population is not participating in these violent protests and rejects them. I think in terms of the position towards the government, that is definitely more polarized because I guess maybe the more traditional base of the government within the barrios while there's immense dissatisfaction with the government, there's not support for immediate snap presidential elections for Maduro to be ousted, which is basically the position of the right-wing opposition coalition, but in middle-class areas, there is support for such a radical demand. So, it definitely varies among the population.Sharmini Peries: Right, and then explain what just happened this past week with the police officer stealing a helicopter and the shots that were fired. What was that all about?Lucas Koerner: We still are very unclear about the situation. It's very strange. This former special investigative police officer and pilot had it who was part of this police body's aerial brigade. He stole the helicopter from the Francisco Miranda Air Base in eastern Caracas, and he published a video on Instagram at the very same time as he launched an attack on the Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry, dropping grenades, and in this video, he invoked Article 350 of the Constitution, which justifies civil disobedience in the face of democratic rights and human rights being trampled, and he basically called upon the military to take up arms against government. While it's unclear whether this is part of a larger conspiracy within the armed forces or if he has links to the opposition, he has espoused demands that are consistent with the opposition's program. The opposition's continually invoked Article 350 to justify its protests, and they've continually called for the military to take up arms against the government as recent as the last month when Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed opposition leader who was leader of the last round of protests like this in 2014, he called upon the military to revolt. So, the opposition has refused to condemn the helicopter attack. It has simply just decided to suggest that it's a false flag operation or that it didn't happen. It's a very confusing situation and very jarring that you can see this kind of terrorist attack on a public institution very close in middle Caracas.Sharmini Peries: What do we know about what Maduro said in terms of a foiled coup against him, and also he made a very strange statement last week in relation saying, "What we cannot achieve by way of the ballot box or the vote, we'll achieve with guns." What was that about?Lucas Koerner: I think with regard to the coup, I think he was referring ... He called the helicopter attack a coup attempt, particularly because Oscar Perez, the author of the attack, he said he was acting on behalf of a coalition of civilians, military officials, and police. We don't know if that coalition exists. Sources within the military, completely unconfirmed, have told me at least that there has been an uprising of a part of the army, though it's very unclear. In terms of Maduro's statements, they were actually made before the coup. I think that they kind of testify to the extremely polarized and dangerous character of the current standoff in Venezuela in which it's a zero-sum game in which the opposition seeks to take control of the government and effectively roll back all the gains of Bolivarian Revolution and perhaps use the repressive apparatuses to go after Chavistas and teach people a lesson for having dared to challenge the traditional dominant classes. Meanwhile, the Chavista sections the government and definitely many sectors of Chavismo, of the popular sectors, absolutely would not tolerate an opposition government and might in fact take up arms. I don't think civil war is likely, but it should not be discarded in this situation that there are a lot of guns in this country and it's a zero-sum game as I said.Sharmini Peries: Right, and Maduro might have been lashing out in frustration. Whenever he speaks, he makes reference to the fact that the opposition in Venezuela is supported by the United States, and we know from past experiences and the coup attempts on President Chavez and so forth that this is not hypothetical. There was lots of evidence pointing to the fact that the U.S. may have been quite involved in the previous coup d'état. What evidence, if any, do we have when President Maduro lashes out at the U.S. in this way?Lucas Koerner: I mean, U.S. intervention is not something that is, you know, the U.S. supported this action or ... I mean, it's a structural reality in which the United States finances the Venezuelan oppositions, and that ultimately while they certainly have local economy, in the end they receive their green lights from Washington if they're going to do anything. It's clear that the opposition is receiving a green light to go ahead with this indefinite aggressive posture to maintain the streets no matter what until the government falls. The Trump administration has given them the green light, and that's a change from the Obama administration in which Tom Shannon from the State Department was attempting to promote dialogue. So, it just goes to show you the fact that the United States has not condemned the helicopter attack and hasn't even referred to it. I mean it's absolutely preposterous given that in any other country you have a terrorist attack and usually the whole world and the majority of pundits come out and condemn it, but it happens in Venezuela and it's just dismissed and written off as a figment of Maduro's imagination.Sharmini Peries: Alright, Lucas, I thank you so much for coming on the Real News and giving us a status update on developments there and look forward to having you back very soon. Thank you so much.Lucas Koerner: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.