Trying to understand February’s Venezuelan puzzle
Since February the 07th 2014, hundreds of Venezuelan students protested in the west part of the country specifically in Mérida and Táchira. They wanted to reject the failure of the national state concerning: people’s security, including their own security inside the universities, scarcity from particularly medicines, hyperinflation (56% in 2013) as well as the press’s censorship that has been shameless for the last months. National newspapers are not able to buy the paper they need, to in fact print the news, which means that the days of Venezuelan newspapers are counted. As a matter of fact only “opposition” newspapers are targeted. The national TV channels are completely silent about any national mobilization and they rarely (meaning NEVER) cover opposition’s leaders statements, or the violence that the country has been experiencing the last days. Knowing that concerning the 25 000 Venezuelans that died violently last year, there weren’t any transmissions on these TV stations.
“We will never negotiate our freedom, even if that coasts us our lives”
After the protests began in the west part of the country on February the 08th several students were brutally attacked by the national army and other illicit armed groups pro government. Five students were imprisoned without the due process; they were immediately put in jail and charged as terrorists. The government then accused the opposition for the students’ proceedings and the consequent violence, so they conducted irrational actions such as preventing opposition’s leaders from Voluntad Popular, Leopoldo Lopez and Carlos Vecchio (a center left political party) of boarding a national flight, without a mandate or an explanation.
February the 12th a particularly symbolic national date, students marched massively in Caracas, as in many other cities of Venezuela. Opposition leaders were present, but the students had the main initiative. It was a very impressive and peaceful demonstration with thousands of people demanding security in the country, the end of basic goods shortage as well as they showed their solidarity with the students’ cause… Their main claim now was the liberation of the unfairly detained students. But when the protesters were peacefully leaving the place, the official army, as well as paramilitaries chased them and fired guns and tear gas bombs creating confusion and anarchy leading to dead. Two people were shot, one student and one leader of the armed pro-government groups, known as colectivos, many students were randomly apprehended and several others simply disappeared. The social networks such as Twitter or Facebook became the only platforms available to report these tragic events. National medias still remained silent; this is not only a scandalous fact, but also against the Venezuelan Constitution and international conventions that statue that the access to information is actually a human right. The day after, February the 13th, a Colombian news station NTN24 was definitively forced out of the air in Venezuela (even when the service is exclusively private). The government gave a previous 2 hours notice affirming that they were destabilizing public order. A blockage on Twitter images’ was also reported by several users, which was then confirmed by the american company. These actions have only been taken in regimes known as authoritative, in fact the international NGO Human Rights Watch denounced the new turn of Venezuelan institutions… Even if authoritarian decisions have been taken for years! But the truth about violence in Venezuela is that it is not a news channel that promotes it, it’s been part of a government program known in the old days as circulos bolivarianos (bolivarian circles). These paramilitary groups were created by Chavez to defend the revolution and are the same that at electoral time have created chaos. Still on February the 13th, students held an Assembly inside the Central University in Caracas, when these “circles” attacked them, today named (armed) colectivos. Juan Requesens the students’ council president from the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas tweeted: “5 students were wounded by these groups [the pro-government armed groups] they think that will calm us down, but the more violent they are, the more students will protest”.
The truth is that Requesens pointed out a major problem: the “colectivos” as these armed groups are common and wrongly known in Venezuela are there to wound, attack, destroy and create chaos. Unlike students regular citizens in the barrios (Venezuelan slums) are scared of these groups and while there are legitimate reasons to be frightened of them, there’s also an imaginary that is being manipulated particularly by government propaganda. The mean of this manipulation is to grow the panic against citizens and force them to demobilize; terror is a particularly effective weapon against empowerment, it has been demonstrated by history. Only a few resist terror and history usually calls them “heroes”.
These colectivos (usually riding motorbikes) are infiltrated on the same time in the formal police, the National Guard, the Venezuelan prisons, as well as in the poorest neighborhoods and the political and social organizations of the country. They are anarchic organizations, or in other words they exist to create anarchy, but the major problem is that they’re financed and especially they’re armed by the national state. A colectivo leader known as “Chino” Carías affirmed to a local newspaper that the provenance of their arms and financing was a secret, but that they would react violently (“habrá plomo”) he said if Chavez’s legacy was to be threatened. What is that suppose to mean? That’s a question it’s going to remain unanswered in this article, but we leave to the reader these facts and we continue to analyze the evolution of February’s events.
February was a very complex (and tiring) month for Venezuelans, not only in the country but also for Venezuelans abroad, which have demonstrated and showed solidarity with protests and concrete political actions in their host countries. The Venezuelan Diaspora has been a consequence of Chavismo’s prosecution and the lack of opportunities for young professionals, but it’s also du to the massive firings that occurred in 2002 inside the national institutions, especially the oil industry.
Back to February’s panorama…
After days of demonstrations where violent clashes took place, several other students died, many others were imprisoned, but especially students and local NGOs complained of torture, harassment and even sexual aggressions during detentions. Meanwhile international organizations and world leaders started timidly expressing the need of respecting human rights in Venezuela! But any important measure has been decided (excepting the USA) we have to remember that Venezuela left the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and diplomatic relations have always been very controversial during the Chavismo era. On the other hand, very comfortable financial agreements with Venezuelan oil in institutions like the ALBA are not to be neglected on the international relations balance of powers…
Political prosecution followed, Voluntad Popular’s offices were searched without a legitimate mandate, as well as Leopoldo Lopez’s (VP’s leader) family members’ homes. Then Lopez announced, he had decided to turn himself, this was February the 18th. Lopez claimed his innocence and decided to renounce to his freedom, not without calling for popular support. The pictures and videos of that demonstration are colossal, hundreds of thousands of people assisted to express their support to Lopez, but beyond that, they united their voices to reject the arbitrary, the institutional, political and social chaos that the state has been responsible for since the beginning of the demonstrations (and years before that).
The days after, discontent continued in the streets, clashes and repression remained the rule rather than the exception. The national TV channels continued to be silent, but the international press coverage was slightly reinforced. This woke up the government’s fear and even credited international reporters were apprehended, sometimes beaten and what seemed to be the goal, their equipments were seized, this was done systematically. This demonstrates a clear wish to hide the truth.
Venezuela’s Minister of Justice, Luisa Ortega Díaz, declared February the 21st that there were 8 deaths during clashes since February the 12th, plus 137 wounded during the protests. That same day Patricia Janiot and her team from the United States’ news channel, CNN were expelled from the country. These arbitrary actions were taken after a student’s televised debate between official and opposition representatives took place. The debate was clearly in favor of the opposition students’ arguments. But the worrying part for the government was that as a matter of fact their claims could sound familiar to any Venezuelan and that certainly enraged the government, who literally “kicked” CNN’s team out of the country and started menacing again. After several days Maduro had to swallow his big words and CNN is still today on the air in Venezuela (even if the access to this channel is by satellite).
On February the 25th the balance was heavier, the casualties increased: 15 Venezuelans were dead, 20 allegedly disappeared, almost 600 detained and dozens of complaints of torture… The state were the clashes were most common is Táchira also because repression is brutal and not far from a civil war.
Then Maduro decreed a forced vacation form February the 27th, Carnival, a major national celebration started February the 28th, but he attempted to calm down the protests with an anticipated rest day. Nevertheless the celebrations were poor; the majority of Venezuelans were neither on the mood nor the capacity to party, which is almost “anti Venezuelan”, but it was a fact. Even in the national beaches most of the time pictures showed people protesting and students showed their creativity putting crosses on the sand to show Venezuelan deaths, not only during the protests but on the name of the 25 000 Venezuelans that died in 2013. Many of the “cross protesters” were beaten or detained.
Therefore the government called to a dialogue with the opposition. But the conditions seemed unequal the main opposition actors refused and particularly students leaders maintained their position that while there were students and protesters behind bars they would not sit at any dialogue table.
“Dialogue table” showing basic products that are very hard to find.
To close up this intense month, the national forces decided to offer a last horrendous act against Marvinia Jimenez, a protester from Carabobo who was brutally beaten by several guards. A female National Guard hit her several times with her helmet, Jimenez lied on the floor, she didn’t even defend herself and of course she was unarmed, videos and pictures proved of this cruel act… The worst part was that Jimenez was imprisoned, not able to communicate with her family for several days and accused of aggression against the national forces for a total of 5 charges! An “aberration of justice” were the words of Foro Penal, a local NGO in charge of defending Venezuelans against the Venezuelan (in)justice.
This video has adult content and might not be watched by children, without their parents permission: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls_WbABCD4s
How can Venezuelans expect a dialogue if the executioners are their own national institutions?
How can Venezuelans feel ready to reconciliation, while several families are crying for their dead children and the president Nicolas Maduro imposes a national party and dances salsa on national television?