Headlines since yesterday have been dominated by the detention of thirty three people who began protesting in Caracas’ subway system when a subway train was suddenly take out of service. The Government accuses the protesters of planning the action (??) blaming Leopoldo Lopez’ Voluntaf Popular movement of the action, claiming that it was planned ahead of time, simply because the movement has been distributing leaflets like the ones above, in order to exploit politically (why not?) the people’s frustration with the increasing bad service at Caracas’s subway system.
The subway has indeed become one of the Government’s Achilles Heel’s as it seems to break down almost daily, like I wrote about before. But clearly, the Government is getting increasingly sensitive and and intolerant on the issue. First it began kicking those that took pictures of the subways problems and Tweeted them, this time around it arrested the protesters, has now held them for two days and it plans to accuse them of terrorism, organizing to commit a crime and altering public order. Clearly the first two charges are exaggerated, but the Chavez Government wants to stop protests in any way it can.
This is not new, there has been an increasing level of criminalization of protest. Just last week, it was announced that Miguel Angel Hernandez would be tried for wearing the t-shirt below:
which says “Hugo I shit on your revolution”, which has a picture of Homer Simpson. Mr. Hernandez did this during the Caribbean Baseball Series last February and was detained by the National Guard as he was leaving the stadium. Nobody thought he would be tried for this. The words may be offensive but Mr. Hernandez has the right to do exactly what he says in a democracy.
The Government knows that the proliferation of protest will damage its image. The subway used to be a symbol of something that worked in Venezuela, but now is facing problems that are impossible to resolve in the short term (Only 18 of its 41 trains work today and the Government gave three years ago the maintenance contract to a Spanish company used to working with incompatible equipment, it was a french company that built it originally) Opposition groups are definitely trying to take advantage of the symbolism and reality of the subway, this is what the Government wants to stop.
But accusing these people of terrorism and trying to suggest these are yuppies and oligarchs may backfire, as their relatives protest on live TV and subway users are certainly not your typical Venezuelan yuppie. The subway has indeed become a political testing ground for the incompetence of the Government and any further deterioration of the system, or a major break down, will simply back fire and make this a very hot political issue without the Government having the ability of fixing it in the short term.
Sounds like so many other problems in Venezuela…