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This riot is brought to you by…your government!

It’s hard to contain the seething anger I feel when watching the TV footage from yesterday’s riot downtown. I’ve written again and again about the need to de-escalate the crisis here, to chill out, to negotiate, to take chavistas seriously, to take their hopes and fears into account, to include them in a democratic solution. But then I watch the Lina Ron sponsored little affair downtown yesterday, I can’t help but fall into despair. How, how is it possible to de-escalate a confrontation with a government that condones this shit? How is it possible to trust a government whose supporters have tacit permission to shoot guns at their political opponents in the streets?

Takes two to tango. Takes two to de-escalate. And yesterday made it, once again, totally obvious that the government has no interest at all in de-escalating.

It depresses me to no end that Lina Ron now sets the national agenda in this country. A full time provocateur, professional riot-organizer who coined the hideous phrase “a shut shop is a looted shop” to intimidate shop-keepers into staying open next monday, she’s the incarnation of the basest, the vilest in the chavista regime. In any halfway serious country she would’ve been locked away months ago: she’s been captured on camera inciting her underlings to violence so often it’s become a journalistic cliché here. How can we be sure her little acts are government-backed? It’s not just her evident immunity from prosecution, her constant hyper-heated pro-government rhetoric. It’s that she’s so assured of the official backing she enjoys that yesterday she even took a short break from the riot to pop over next door into the National Assembly to consult strategy with the government’s congressional delegation. All in full view of the cameras. So how do you trust a government that operates this way enough to negotiate with it? How do you de-escalate with people that are this deeply committed to violence?

I mean, my God, at this point we’ve just gotten used to the phrase “disturbances generated by backers of the government” as a standard journalistic phrase…it doesn’t even strike us as odd anymore, it’s just…routine…

If moderate chavistas (are there any left?) had any sense at all – or any power at all – they’d realize that it’s precisely this kind of crap that’s pushing this country towards violence. The grotesque scenes last night marginalize doves like me, making us look like fools for calling for an accomodation with these people. It incites the non-chavistas in the army, who have it rubbed in their faces one more time that government-supporters can do anything they want downtown and the law just doesn’t apply to them. It raises tensions across the whole society, pushes it towards a coup, towards a confrontation, towards a war. It’s insane…

In the end, it was just Lina and a few dozen hot-heads making trouble downtown. The hotheads are not the problem. The problem, what’s totally unacceptable about these episodes, is their evident coziness with the government, the obvious fact that nobody in power is willing to move against them, that they’re protected. Whatever it takes, the government must be made to understand that this is not an acceptable way to do politics, not to 90% of Venezuelans. We can’t accept it.

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Known to friend and foe alike as Quico, Francisco Toro is Executive Editor at Caracas Chronicles.

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