Venezuela: The Marigold Revolution?

3 MINS READOct 5, 2007 | 21:21 GMT
Another color revolution may be forming — in Latin America.
Our story begins in 1999, when a small group of Serbian college students took a look at the government of then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and decided that enough was enough. They began regular protests against Milosevic's authoritarian rule and began to act as a nexus, coordinating their efforts with other dissident groups and minor political parties. In early 2000 they named their student activist group Otpor. Within months, Otpor's invigorating and slick campaign tactics helped energize and unite various political factions and bind them together into a confederated anti-Milosevic movement. And in October of that year, Milosevic's government fell. After its greatest hour, Otpor did not dissolve. It evolved. It remained active in demanding political accountability at home in Belgrade, but also stretched out internationally, seeking training and allies. As the organization's founders graduated from university the group became more nuanced and gradually grew to command a broader and deeper skill set. Otpor strengthened its connections with Western governments and nongovernmental organizations, which provided the group with funding and limited amounts of intelligence about potential weaknesses in regimes they were already targeting. The tactics used in the crucible in Belgrade were "marketed" in documentaries and training manuals. Otpor became more than "just" a student group and transformed itself into the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). Among the group's strongest allies are Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institute and, through them, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State. In 2003 CANVAS worked with the opposition in the former Soviet state of Georgia and helped foment the Rose Revolution. In 2004 similar efforts merged with a broader international effort to spur Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution. Not all of CANVAS's attempts proved successful. Efforts in Belarus, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, for example, bore no fruit. But the group's ability to mobilize and unite disparate factions and strike at the core of authoritarian systems are among the best on the planet. In 2005, CANVAS turned its attention to Venezuela, and on Oct. 5 — the seventh anniversary of Milosevic's fall — five student leaders from Venezuela arrived in Belgrade for training. Demographically, Venezuela is very young, and thus in political terms student groups are potentially powerful. Additionally, the student movement is probably the most cohesive single faction within the Venezuelan opposition to President Hugo Chavez — which is itself perhaps the most ineffective and fractured opposition in Latin America. Venezuelan students only recently became active in anti-Chavez activities, and formed the backbone of opposition to decision to not renew the broadcasting license of RCTV, the country's only meaningful private television station. Success is by no means guaranteed, and student movements are only at the beginning of what could be a years-long effort to trigger a revolution in Venezuela, but the trainers themselves are the people who cut their teeth on the "Butcher of the Balkans." They've got mad skills. When you see students at five Venezuelan universities hold simultaneous demonstrations, you will know that the training is over and the real work has begun. Editor's Note: A mistake that originally ran in this analysis has been corrected.

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