Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace Nestor Reverol held a press conference yesterday in which he blamed the opposition for starting a “terrorist escalation” of violence in the country, and provided as evidence the protests that have taken place in Caracas and other cities over the past week.
The protests have been met with overwhelming repressive force from National Guard soldiers, National Bolivarian Police officers, as well as armed pro-regime civilian groups. On Thursday night, a 19-year-old protester named Jairo Ortiz was shot and killed by police at a demonstration in Carrizal, Miranda state.
Reverol called the protesters’ attempt to reach the western half of Caracas “irresponsible and senseless”. The buildings that house the regime’s ministries and government agencies — including the Miraflores Palace — are located in the west part of Caracas, which is why the opposition is not allowed to hold demonstrations in the region. The ban does not apply to demonstrations by regime supporters.
The purpose of this condemnable action is none other than confrontation and violence between Venezuelans in order to start a terrorist escalation in order to attack the institutions of the democratic Venezuelans state.
Reverol said that the protests are part of a “agenda of violence, disturbances and terrorism” by opposition forces that are trying to overthrow the Maduro regime in order to take power for themselves.
Reverol also made reference to the attack against the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) offices in Chacao yesterday. In the mid-afternoon, demonstrators broke windows at the building and set a fire that damaged the entrance to the office. Reverol said that the event took place “planned and under the direction of” opposition leaders. He also said that the leaders had been identified, and suggested that legal action would be taken against them soon.
The attack was universally decried by opposition leaders including the mayor of Chacao, Ramon Muchacho, who called it “an act of vandalism”.
Security Forces Fire Tear Gas at Religious Procession
A religious procession in Caracas was the target of state repression today as state security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowd that had gathered around Los Palmeros de Chacao. The procession, which takes place on Palm Sunday, involves faithful carrying palms to represent the crowds that met Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.
It is not clear what precipitated the repression.
Below, the video showing the moment the crowd begins to flee from the gas:
Woman: They’re shooting tear gas at the people who were with the Palmeros. We’re one block away from the Chacao church. The Palmeros are here because this is their day.
Police Visit Capriles’ Office
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles announced late last night that police showed up at his office in Bello Monte, Caracas at approximately 11:30 PM local time. Capriles said that the visit, and that at one point fifteen police vehicles responded to the scene.
National Assembly deputy Juan Requesens said that the police officers told Capriles that they were there to talk to him about an earlier event, but that he suspected that there was an ulterior motive to the visit. Requesens said:
It is clear that they are trying to [plant evidence] on our governor…
Requesens suggested that the government was trying to blame Capriles for the anti-regime protests that have spread throughout the country over the last week.
Capriles was banned from holding office for 15 years on Friday. Given his prominent position as an opposition politician, Capriles was the likely candidate against Maduro in next year’s presidential election. His office was attacked by regime forces yesterday, which resulted in a small fire.
Lopez Placed in Isolation for 15 Days
The imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular party, Leopoldo Lopez, has been placed in isolation for 15 days. The news broke through Lopez’s mother, Antonieta Lopez, who suggested that Lopez’s isolation is a punishment for the ongoing human rights work that his wife, Lilian Tintori, is conducting.
Antonieta broke the news through a series of tweets in which she called her son’s treatment in the Ramo Verde military prison “torture”.
14 Arrested in Yesterday’s Unrest; Ortiz’s Alleged Killer Sent to Yare III
The Public Ministry announced today that 14 people had been arrested during yesterday’s unrest. The arrests were made during protests in Caracas, as well as in Aragua and Carabobo states.
In the case of slain protester Jairo Ortiz, the Public Ministry confirmed that National Bolivarian Police officer Rohen luis Leonel Mata Rojas had been charged with homicide and improper use of a firearm. He was ordered into custody pending his trial at the Yare III prison in Miranda state.
Amnesty International Seeks Clarification on Red Gas
Amnesty International called on the Maduro regime to provide information on a red crowd-dispersal gas that was used to quell yesterday’s unrest in Caracas. The call came via a tweet through one of the organization’s accounts in which it demanded “clarification” on the nature of the substance:
The most common type of aerosol crowd-dispersal agent is CS gas, commonly known as tear gas. Tear gas tends to be a grayish-white colour. It is possible that the red gas used in Caracas yesterday was type of CN agent which, although not as common as CS gas, is also used by security forces to the same effect.
Maduro Threatens Smolansky With Arrest Over Red Gas Claims
Maduro responded today to reports of the mystery red gas that was used to disperse crowds of protesters in Caracas yesterday, and threatened El Hatillo mayor David Smolansky with arrest over his comments about the gas.
Suggesting that talk of the red gas is an attempt to justify a military intervention in Venezuela, Maduro said:
Yesterday, one of these people — the mayor of a municipality out east — tried to accuse me and the government of having used chemical weapons against the people (…) I ask the authorities to investigate with an iron fist this attempt to have a military intervention in Venezuela over the criminal and reckless messages from this mayor…
Maduro continued by saying:
Venezuela has never in its life had biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Tear gas, which is used routinely by Venezuelan authorities, is in fact a chemical weapon according to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Article I(5) The Convention bans the use of tear gas and other “riot control agents as a method of warfare”, but their use in non-warfare situations is not explicitly banned.
During the same address, Maduro threatened to “overthrow” any government that might come to power in Venezuela other than a chavista one:
A right wing government that takes political power — we would overthrow it with our civil-military union and we would radicalize the revolution!
Maduro also said that he was “eager” for elections to take place in Venezuela “so we can give these people a beating really soon”.
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