San Cristobal Continues to Feel the Heat
The situation in San Cristobal, Tachira continued to be intense last night, marking the third consecutive night of heavy confrontations between the National Guard and demonstrators in the city. Here are some pictures from last night.
And this video, also from San Cristobal last night, shows security forces in action in the city. The video appears to show security forces breaking the windows of some homes. The people filming say, “Look at the State Police, breaking the windows of that home. Is that what they’re for? Those sons of bitches”. One of the women present near the cameraman says “We have to put that out where that lady is”, and the camera then pans to a fire nearby:
Tachira – and San Cristobal in particular – have seen a level of military presence other areas of the country have not yet encountered. Here is a video from March 28, showing military units disembarking from a plane in La Fria, Tachira. In true gocho fashion, the men filming the troops appear completely irreverent to the possible seriousness of the situation:
And here are some pictures of army troops in Tachira from the last 24 hours:
In the picture below, the soldier on the left is holding appears to be carrying some variant of the Dragunov sniper rifle. The solider on the left appears to be carrying an AK-103 rifle, which is standard issue for the Venezuelan army:
It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it would be safe to say that the rifle the soldier below is carrying is also an AK-103.
Today in Caracas, a demonstration in solidarity with the citizens of San Cristobal took place in Chacaito. Gaby Arellano, a student leader from San Cristobal, said:
Our method of organization could be useful for Caracas and for the rest of the country. We are battling in Tachira to show the world what is happening in Venezuela.
This afternoon, National Assembly Deputy Walter Marquez said that he would be requesting an investigation by the International Criminal Court on the events in the country, and in particular into the actions of President Nicolas Maduro and several other PSUV officials, including Governor Jose Vielma Mora. The deputy claims that “there have been systemic and progressive attacks” in several areas of Tachira. On those detained during the protests, Deputy Marques said:
… the majority of them have been submitted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It’s a grave violation of human rights that amounts to crimes against humanity. That’s why we are collecting proof through a multidisciplinary investigation to make the complaint before the International Criminal court.
News From the Rest of the Country
In an interview to El Universal, Carlos Vecchio – director of the Voluntad Popular party, currently in hiding as a result of an arrest warrant against him – made a couple of interesting statements. Here are some choice bits from the interview:
Question: Do you think, as Maduro assures, that there is a ‘continuing coup’ going on, one that includes three air force generals?
Carlos: If you complain because you can’t find milk, the regime says you’re attempting a coup. We’ve been hearing that for 15 years. It’s the same story. Everyone who dissents is immediately labelled to diminish the strength of their protest. The only continued and permanent coup here is that of an oppressive system against a people who cannot find food, who are murdered on the streets and whose savings are not enough to life. And the hardest thing: they take away from them the freedom to progress and come out of poverty.
Question: Have you (Voluntad Popular) or other officials maintained contact with army officers since February 12?
Carlos: No. Absolutely not. To the army, I tell them to honour the Constitution. They cannot be at the service of political partisanship. It cost Venezuela a lot to form and professionalize our army, and now they want to turn it into a montonera [roughly, a band of highly political guerrilas].
Question: How would political change happen without the help of the armed forces?
Carlos: The change we, Voluntad Popular, have promoted, is a democratic change from top to bottom. With the people. Consolidating our majority along with a great social movement. If you don’t have those things, no change is possible. And the mechanisms that we have proposed are Constitutional: resignation, [Constitutional] amendments, recall election and constituyente [?]. These mechanisms are activated with lots of organized people, not with the army.
Question: Didn’t you guys make a mistake by calling for “La Salida” [the protests], in light of what has happened? Around 40 dead, thousands of arrests, hundreds of tortures, the beheading of Voluntad Popular, the incarceration of Leopoldo Lopez along with two mayors, and also the removal from her seat of Maria Corina Machado? Didn’t you underestimate the possibility that the government would respond, as it has, in a polarizing and repressive way?
Carlos: We haven’t murdered, detained, or tortured anyone. The dictatorship has provoked and generated this violence, the detentions, murders, and tortures. Our struggle is peaceful. We don’t believe in violence because that only benefits the government. From here [Voluntar Popular], we call for our peaceful protest to continue. We reject acts of vandalism. The call [for La Salida] gave a voice to a people who were angry and waiting for someone to wake them up. The demonstrations have no precedent. They’ve been national, massive and they have not been called for [through mass media]. There was a perception that everything was fine [in Venezuela]. That was a lie. What does exist is a massive level of discontent because we have the worst scarcity of recent times, the highest inflation rate in the world, and one of the most violent countries. How are [the people] not going to speak up? As a political leader, it is a moral duty to wake up a people who are suffering. That’s what we did. And we were right. We’re nearing 50 days of protests, the vast majority of them peaceful.
Another interview, this one with the now confessed murderer of Adriana Urquiola. The interview was conducted over the phone with Yonny Bolivar, who is currently a fugitive and is in an undisclosed location outside of the country. The case has sparked lots of interest because of Yonny’s personal story, and because he was in possession of a police identification card. Here is a portion of that interview:
Question: What happened on the night of March 23 [the night Adriana Urquiola was murdered]?
Yonny: I was coming back from Valencia. It was past 8:00 PM, and after exiting [the highway] at Las Tejerias, when I was in [a street] in Los Nuevos Teques, there was a barricade. You could see the fire and there were hooded people who started to throw bottles and stones. A bunch of them came towards my car, and I heard screaming and hear three shots. It was a big mistake, but I exited the car, unholstered my pistol and fired off a couple of shots at around a 50 degree angle. During the CICPC investigation they found that one of the bullets hit a lamp post, bounced off and took Adriana Urquiola’s life.
Question: Was it on purpose?
Yonny:My intention was not to kill anyone. If I had fired directly at the protesters more people would have died… if I could go back in time I would, I feel very bad about the death of Adriana Urquiola.
Question: Why were you armed?
Yonny: The weapon I carry is completely legal.
Question: Why did you have police I.D.?
Yonny: I prefer to not touch that issue right now.
The situation in Venezuela has been largely overshadowed in the North American media by flight MH370 and the situation in Eastern Europe. However, over the last couple of days, there have been rumblings of increased international attention. On Thursday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio spoke at length in the Senate about the situation in Venezuela. Here in Canada, a petition has popped up on Change.org calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attention to the developments in the country.
There was quite a bit of panic last night on Twitter and Facebook regarding the situation in Tachira. There were lots of reports of massacres and all kinds of horrible things taking place. Having followed current events through Twitter for quite a while, I know that Twitter is the best medium for the spread of panicked rumours ever designed by humanity. I don’t mean to discredit the website, since I think that it is an incredible tool of communication, but like all tools of communication, it must be used with a healthy amount of skepticism. Similarly, the pictures that popped up on social media of the army in Venezuela carrying rifles (Dragunovs and AK-103s) appear to have caused another smaller panic, and I saw the pictures used as evidence that, again, some kind of horrible massacre was imminent.
I do not want to diminish the terror that residents of Tachira must be feeling by having their state militarized in such a brutal fashion. I do not agree with the use of military forces to deal with civil unrest. However, what Venezuela needs the most from us outside of the country is not the dissemination of unfounded rumours, but rather the watchful vigilance of events in the country that can only come from remaining as calm and objective as possible. It is exactly during these times of chaos and confusion that we must be the most vigilant, lest we fall into panic ourselves.
The weapons soldiers in Tachira have been captured carrying are just that – weapons soldiers carry. They are, as far as I can tell, standard issue weapons for the Venezuelan military. Their appearance in the streets of Tachira is troubling and I wish this wasn’t happening, for sure, but they are not by themselves a sign of impending killings. The issue is not, “Why are these guns in the streets of Tachira?”, but more broadly, “Why is the military in the streets of Tachira?”