Geopolitics

Venezuela's Protests, Seen From The Far Left

The battle at hand on the streets of Caracas and beyond may be more fractured than it first appears.

Voices rising from all sides in Venezuela
Voices rising from all sides in Venezuela
Manuel Sutherland*

Much of the international media has been reporting on the unrest in Venezuela from the perspective of the anti-government protesters. Inside Venezuela, the pro-government press is standing behind President Nicolas Maduro. Here is a very different view of events, in seven key points:

1. Insults and incitement: The country’s latest round of unrest began when a march was pushed on the major social networking sites for Feb. 12, with themes like “Get Maduro Out” and “End the Dictatorship Once and For All.” There were also calls to release certain students detained earlier for obvious acts of vandalism.

The Feb. 12 march was indeed well-attended. Right-wing speakers began heating up the crowd with such “peaceful” calls as, “We're going to rise against this government,” and “This government will fall.” Then there were more unpleasant utterances by those calling Maduro a “damned Colombian,” a reference to longstanding rumors that Maduro may have been born in Colombia. Nevertheless, the event featured no physical confrontations, and after some vigorous shouting outside the offices of the Public Ministry — the state prosecution agency — people began to disperse.

2. A violent turn: The government’s strategy not to obstruct the march assured a peaceful protest. While most of the opposition must have been pleased to recover their morale this way after their dramatic defeat in the December municipal elections, the most radical wing of the Right — the Voluntad Popular party led by Leopoldo López — had to recover some of the prominence lost to the former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, increasingly seen by some as too moderate.

And so, a tiny group of protesters started taking out their gear: face masks, Molotov cocktails, firearms and a small arsenal they began distributing in parts of central Caracas. It was clearly planned beforehand.

In an instant, a march that had “concluded” became a violent siege of the Public Ministry, as elements began burning kiosks, raising barricades and shooting. Masked individuals and a group of youth tried to burn five vans belonging to the state security police, the SEBIN. With the unexplained absence or riot police, certain protesters entered clearly defined security zones, and the SEBIN intervened, with firearms. That is when three protesters died.

3. Discontent of radical anti-communists: The economic situation is bad. Yet marchers bore no placards with economic slogans or anything relating to wages or public services. They were demanding more liberty (liberalism), less government intervention in private companies (liberalism) and the resignation of the communist tyrant. The anger appeared directed at the usurpation of power by “Cuba’s lower-class sympathizers.” The most elegant protesters were saying this regime was just “hoi polloi” leading Venezuela to ruin.

While none of the protesters know what socialism is, many were protesting against a “Castro-communist” dictatorship they blamed for all shortages, from toilet paper, to soap to food etc. Their solution seems simply to return to the “good old days” of cheap and plentiful products, under the private sector’s unfettered sway. Their ignorance has made them forget episodes of rampant inflation in past years, as they naively insist the government is plotting to pummel our noble businessmen with regulations.

A file photo of the Leopoldo Lopez, who is driving the latest protests (Daniel Dominguez19)

4. An upmarket uprising: It’s notable that student protesters have been most active in some of the wealthiest districts, like Chacao outside Caracas. The mayor of Chacao, Ramón Muchacho, a firm government opponent, has already called them “very aggressive” and characterized them as an increasing nuisance to residents.

5. Sterility of right-wing vandalism: Conservative leaders have, in time, distanced themselves from violent postures. They are moving away from the idea of toppling the government by banging pots and pans — or city furniture. Now they say these were the acts not of daring protesters, but of “infiltrators.” Yet the government’s soft approach to these infantile “subversives” seems to foment more of the impunity the extreme Right enjoys in Venezuela. Especially when we compare its response to the shocking violence police have used against certain recent, much smaller, protests by Marxist groups and striking workers.

6. Leopoldo López exploits right-wing indignation: Leopoldo López challenged the state by turning his own arrest into a public spectacle, but implicitly recognized the Bolivarian president’s authority by making apparently moderate demands: for the release of students, disarming of government militias, and assuring protest rights. Leaving the government to decide whether it will imprison him and turn him into a “temporary martyr” while imposing its authority, or absolve Leopoldo of his responsibilities and further boost right-wing impunity.

7. It's economics, stupid: There is no “economic war” against the state, but the government’s inability to perceive real economic problems is pushing it toward a useless dialogue with those who want to overthrow it. The government thinks there are “patriotic” business sectors that will renounce the extraordinary profits to be had through fraudulent importations and currency speculation. It seems the heirs of Hugo Chávez cannot conceive of a country without the 400,000 capitalists who control 60% of GDP and leave the rest to 13 million workers. There is no reason why workers should accept this or assertions by the most “anti-worker” sectors of the government that “any protest is anti-revolutionary.”

The working class cannot make sacrifices so the government can make pacts with capitalists, but fight for an alternative program to any neo-liberal adjustments. What we must propose are radical measures, to audit and suspend internal and foreign debt payments, for example, or nationalize banking. This is what will block the attempts to worsen our living conditions to save the profits of a bunch of parasites.

*Manuel Sutherland is research coordinator at the Center for Education Workers of Venezuela (CIFOs) and works for the Association Marxist Economists in Latin America (GER).

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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