Gregory Wilpert Replies to Leo Casey

Gregory Wilpert Replies to Leo Casey

I am grateful to Leo Casey for his detailed response to my article. It allows me to explore some of the stereotypes about Chávez and Venezuela that I lamented in my article.

There is no doubt in my mind that Casey presents Chávez as what I referred to as “the stereotype of the caudillo (strong man).” His elaboration of this charge is full of false or distorted claims about what has happened in Venezuela.

With regard to human rights abuses, Casey mentions violent attacks against opposition demonstrations. Although it is true that people were killed during demonstrations between April 2002 and March 2004 (hardly before or since that period), there are several facts one should be aware of when drawing conclusions about the Chávez government with regard to this violence. First, the violence came from both sides of Venezuela’s political divide and affected both Chávez supporters and opponents equally. Chávez’s security forces, however, were almost never responsible for these deaths. Rather, in all except for one case the deaths were caused either by unidentified shooters (such as during the April 2002 coup), civilians from both sides, or by city police under the control of a city mayor who was with the opposition.

Second, the record of human rights abuses, such as the breaking up of peaceful demonstrations or the torture of arrested demonstrators has been much better during the Chávez government than during previous governments. Venezuela’s security forces have had an abysmal human rights record for decades, and only during Chávez’s presidency has it begun to improve.

Third, to bring up extrajudicial killings as evidence of Chávez’s repression of the opposition is absurd. To call these the action of “death squads” or “disappearances,” conjures the image that these are politically motivated killings to annihilate the opposition, as was the case in El Salvador, Argentina, and Chile. However, not a single one of these extrajudicial killings was politically motivated. The people who have been affected by actual death squad activity in Venezuela are Chávez supporters. More than seventy peasant leaders have been killed by hired assassins in the past four years in Venezuela’s countryside over land disputes. All of these peasant leaders were Chávez supporters. Also, the only assassination of a well-known political figure was of a Chávez government official (Danilo Anderson) who was investigating those involved in the coup.

Fourth, Casey claims, “Scores of government critics are now being rounded up in political arrests,” without saying a word about the circumstances. First of all, only a small handful of political leaders have been arrested, and in all cases there is a clearly actionable case against them: their active role in the April 2002 coup. In almost all cases the individuals in question have been released from prison and are awaiting the results of an investigation or ...