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April 5, 2014

Venezuela: A Call for Peace

By Nicolas Maduro

Source: Information Clearing House

April 02, 2014 "Information Clearing House
- "The New York Times
" --  CARACAS, Venezuela — THE recent protests in Venezuela
have made international headlines. Much of the foreign media coverage has distorted
the reality of my country and the facts surrounding the events.

Venezuelans are proud of our democracy. We have built a participatory democratic
movement from the grass roots that has ensured that both power and resources are
equitably distributed among our people.

According to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality
: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We have reduced poverty
enormously — to 25.4 percent in 2012, on the World Bank’s data
, from 49 percent in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics,
extreme poverty diminished
to 6 percent from 21 percent.

We have created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our
citizens nationwide. We have achieved these feats in large part by using revenue from
Venezuelan oil.

While our social policies have improved citizens’ lives over all, the government has
also confronted serious economic challenges in the past 16 months, including inflation
and shortages of basic goods. We continue to find solutions through measures like
our new market-based foreign exchange system
, which is designed to reduce the black market exchange rate. And we are monitoring
businesses to ensure they are not gouging consumers or hoarding products.
Venezuela has also struggled with a high crime rate. We are addressing
this by building a new national police force, strengthening community-police
cooperation and revamping our prison system.

Since 1998, the movement founded by Hugo Chávez
has won more than a dozen presidential, parliamentary and local elections through an
electoral process that former American President Jimmy Carter has called
“the best in the world.” Recently, the United Socialist Party received an overwhelming
mandate in mayoral elections in December 2013, winning 255 out of 337

Popular participation in politics in Venezuela has increased dramatically over the past
decade. As a former union organizer, I believe profoundly in the right to association
and in the civic duty to ensure that justice prevails by voicing legitimate concerns
through peaceful assembly and protest.

The claims that Venezuela has a deficient democracy and that current protests
represent mainstream sentiment are belied by the facts. The antigovernment protests
are being carried out by people in the wealthier segments
of society who seek to reverse the gains of the democratic process that have
benefited the vast majority of the people.

Antigovernment protesters have physically attacked and damaged health care clinics,
burned down a university in Táchira State and thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks at
buses. They have also targeted other public institutions by throwing rocks and
torches at the offices of the Supreme Court, the public telephone company CANTV
and the attorney general’s office. These violent actions
have caused many millions of dollars’ worth of damage. This is why the protests have
received no support in poor and working-class neighborhoods.

The protesters have a single goal: the unconstitutional ouster of the democratically
elected government. Antigovernment leaders made this clear when they started the
campaign in January, vowing to create chaos in the streets. Those with legitimate
criticisms of economic conditions or the crime rate are being exploited by protest
leaders with a violent, antidemocratic agenda.

In two months, a reported 36 people have been killed. The protesters are, we believe,
directly responsible
for about half of the fatalities. Six members of the National Guard have been shot and
killed; other citizens have been murdered while attempting to remove obstacles placed
by protesters to block transit.

A very small number of security forces personnel have also been accused of
engaging in violence, as a result of which several people have died. These are highly
regrettable events, and the Venezuelan government has responded by arresting
those suspected. We have created a Human Rights Council to investigate all incidents
related to these protests. Each victim deserves justice, and every perpetrator —
whether a supporter or an opponent of the government — will be held accountable for
his or her actions.

In the United States, the protesters have been described as “peaceful,” while the
Venezuelan government is said to be violently repressing them. According to this
narrative, the American government is siding with the people of Venezuela; in reality,
it is on the side of the 1 percent who wish to drag our country back to when the 99
percent were shut out of political life and only the few — including American
companies — benefited from Venezuela’s oil.

Let’s not forget that some of those who supported ousting Venezuela’s democratically
elected government in 2002 are leading
the protests today. Those involved in the 2002 coup immediately disbanded the
Supreme Court and the legislature, and scrapped the Constitution. Those who incite
violence and attempt similar unconstitutional actions today must face the justice

The American government supported
the 2002 coup and recognized
the coup government despite its anti-democratic behavior. Today, the Obama
administration spends at least $5 million
annually to support opposition movements in Venezuela. A bill calling for an additional
$15 million for these anti-government organizations is now
in Congress. Congress is also deciding whether to impose sanctions on Venezuela. I
hope that the American people, knowing the truth, will decide that Venezuela and its
people do not deserve such punishment, and will call upon their representatives not
to enact sanctions.

Now is a time for dialogue and diplomacy. Within Venezuela, we have extended a
hand to the opposition. And we have accepted the Union of South American Nations’
recommendations to engage in mediated talks with the opposition. My government
has also reached out to President Obama, expressing our desire to again exchange
ambassadors. We hope his administration will respond in kind.

Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward. We welcome anyone who
sincerely wants to help us reach these goals.