Archive for February, 2014

A Confusing Day: Confession, Repression And Backtracking In Venezuela

February 24, 2014

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It was a very intense and confusing day in Venezuela today. It all started with Vielma Mora’s statements, which likely threw a curve ball at Nicolas, who can barely handle a softball. While many were wary of Vielma’s statements or confessions, who cares? The importance of Vielma’s statements is not that he may become the leader of any force, but that it throws a monkey wrench into Nicolas’ dream world. A shaky Maduro now has to face internal dissent, when he can barely manage his own faithful groups.

Because even when Vielma tried to backtrack:

VMHe still said “I assume my words one by one“. i.e., no censorship, no repression, no overflights, no Leopoldo in jail, even if he “loves” the revolution.

Jeez, if he loves it so much, why is it so imperfect? Why not just blast it and be done with it?

And as Maduro met with motorcycle drivers, the wrong image, even if they were not part of the same armed groups terrorizing Venezuela today, you have to wonder what goes through Nicolas’ clearly feeble mind. He should have never left his bus driving position.

And for those PSF’s visiting us recently claiming the US wants Maduro to go, I remind them that you know little about what is going on here in Venezuela. Among other things, besides the worst repression of the last 15 years, “Madurismo” or whatever you may want to call that guys’ following, is avoiding the Constitution blatantly, including:

-The Venezuelan Supreme Court is full of Justices who are alternates. In order to name full time members of the Supreme Court, you need 2/3 of the Deputies of the National Assembly to approve them, something Maduro wants to avoid.

-The same is true of the members of the Electoral Board, whose terms expired in April of last year. The Government has made no move to elect them.

-And the Comptroller died two yeras ago and has yet to be replaced. Another position that requires 2/3 majority.

And even Henrique Capriles, who days ago was taking a Ghandi-like position, today came out blasting Maduro and refusing to meet with him. I heard only part of what he said, so here is Bloomberg’s quotes:


BFW 02/24 20:14 *CAPRILES SAYS VENEZUELA HAS TO FIND `EXIT’ TO MADURO PRESIDENCY
BN 02/24 20:14 *CAPRILES SAYS `THE BOAT IS SINKING’ AFTER REJECTING TALKS
BFW 02/24 20:13 *VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION GOVERNOR SAYS HE WON’T ATTEND TALKS
BN 02/24 20:07 *CAPRILES SAYS 242 PROTESTORS STILL DETAINED
BN 02/24 20:06 *CAPRILES SAYS 649 VENEZUELANS DETAINED IN PROTESTS SO FAR

So much for a Mandela style or Ghandi-like posture, Capriles finally seems mad.

And he should be. And he should not call for a “truth” commission, unless Maduro has some form of gesture, like releasing Leopoldo Lopez or Simonovis, or all of the above.

Or Maduro could resign too…Given the deaths, the repression, the human rights violations, that is what Maduro should really do. He will have to soon anyway.

In fact, Capriles (can’t find the quote) suggested that Maduro had committed genocide, not easy words to pronounce when you are talking about a President.

But with twelve deaths form the depression so far and over 600 detained, that is exactly what is going on in Venezuela.

Because Art. 53 of the Venezuelan Constitution says anyone can gather publicly with anyone without permission.

And Art. 55 says security forces have to respect people’s human rights

And Art. 49 says every person has the right to be judged by his natural judges, but Leopoldo is in a military prison, where he was charged.

And the same Art. 49 says that every person has the right to know why he is being charged, have access to the evidence and time to prepare a defense. None of this is being followed in Venezuela with the protesters.

And on top of that they are being killed (twelve so far) injured and repressed violently, without Maduro even showing that he knows what is going on in the country he presides over.

And to top it all off, Maduro declares Thursday Feb. 27th. and Friday Feb. 28th. to be holidays, so that Venezuelans will have six days off in  a row, since next week are the Carnival holidays.

Clearly Maduro does not want to offer peace, he is hoping protests will go away. But like Valentine’s day, when the same strategy backfired, he may be surprised again.

In fact, people are as militant as ever today. What did Vielma know that he said what he said? Why did Capriles become aggressive all of a sudden?

I don’t know, but when two such dissimilar political figures act the same way, something is afoot. Some crack in the facade is showing. Some weakness is being perceived and they both want to take advantage of it.

Remember, if Maduro resigns, the Constitutional way out of it is elections within a month and both sides seem to be jockeying for position in that race.

just a feeling…

(And Ramirez talked about Sicad 2, who cares?)

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Tachira State Declares Rebellion In Venezuela

February 24, 2014

Hey! Vielma Mora, f…. you!

Tachira Governor Distances Himself From Venezuelan Government

February 24, 2014

vielmaGovernor of Tachira Jose Vielma Mora

In a surprising development, pro-Government Chavista Governor Jose Vielma Mora distanced himself sharply from the Government.(audio link to interview included) Tachira is the most radical state in its protests against the Government of the last few weeks.

Among other things Vielma stated:

“I am autonomous… I have asked General Bermudez (who led the repression in his State) to be replaced …to show my intention of peace””I do not agree with Simonovis and Leopoldo Lopez being kept in jail””There is a problem of shortages and there is an economic problem, there is a problem with the foreign exchange differential””I am against censorship of any kind””I disagree with flying military jets over Tachira, it was an unacceptable excess””Students have a right to protest”
“There was an excess of General Pirela of the National Guard, he was replaced”There you have it, the first major Chavista political figure to clearly distance himself from the Government. This creates a new problem for an already tangled Nicola maduro. The only question at tis time is whether Vielma Mora acted alone, knows something or is simply being opportunistic. No matter which, this is a very significant development for Venezuela and the current events taking place in it.But only time will tell why he did it.

Peaceful Day, Violent Evening in Venezuela

February 22, 2014

After a very peaceful day, when Chavismo held its somewhat small march and the opposition, despite the limited media availability, held huge marches everywhere, including a massive one in Caracas as you can see by the overall view from that drone above, the evening has not been as quiet.

And it is hard to understand what is the Government’s strategy. What does it gain from sending the National Guard and “colectivos” at this time, on a Saturday night? After the march, students returned to Altamira and blocked their usual stretch, which is no more than around three sides of the square. They did this Thursday, nothing happened. Again last night, nothing happened. But tonight after a very peaceful day, the Guard went after them with the aggressive and armed colectivos, much like Wednesday. Really, what’s the point?

It would seem at this time, that it is to the Government’s advantage for things to quiet down. So, why repress the way they did in Altamira, where they have retaken the square after avoiding it for two days?

This is the square right now:

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What have they gained? To send the students back to planning where they go now. To get them even more angry than ever after a day that was sooo nice for them.

Because at this point, Caracas is third in the ranking of the Government’s problems.

Number one, of course, is San Cristobal, where the Government has a huge problem in their hands. If they try to get the people out of the streets, there will be violence and repression and things will actually worse. Many are likely to be killed if the Government tries the violent approach. And the peaceful route seems to be a dead end, as the population is incensed at the violence an it seems as if even the National Guard does not want to fight its “pueblo” and there are very few avenues of negotiation available.

Then, there is Valencia. Repression there has been remarkable and today the girl who was shot in the eye with pellets died after three days in intensive care. This will only get people more incensed than ever. To give you an idea of the level of violence in Valencia by the National Guard and the police, this is a picture of the cartridges, bullets, shots, casings left at a single residential complex on Wednesday:

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Is this normal? Isn’t this a little bit overdone?

So, why would you want to increase unrest in Caracas?

And I repeat, the question is what is the Government after? Because I don’t see a pleasant end to all this repression. And it will have a huge political cost for the Government. Are Maduro’s buddies simply letting him run the show so that he screws up and they can remove him? At this time, this seems the most likely scenario in my mind.

The march was extremely peaceful and it was really massive. here are my pictures in no particular order:

photo(25) photo(23)

Looking back on the Los Ruices elevadophoto(22)

From the Los Ruices elevado

photo(20)

Heading back after two hours, people still arriving in droves.

photo(19)

Students jailed, criminals free, Made in Venezuela

The next to last picture above was taken two hours after the first picture after I started heading back. people were still arriving in droves and I could not go close to the stage, simply there were too many people to go forward. I don’t recall this ever happening again.

And despite all of the Government expenses, the Chavista march was puny in comparison. Last night, I went out late at night, bordering the La Carlota airport and found the military airport filled with buses with the people brought to the march in Caracas, the only one the Government held today. To say nothing of those held all over the world.

Maduro has made mistake, over mistake over mistake so far. Today just seems to be another one. Jailing Lopez was stupid, shutting down the Colombian TV station was another, massive repression over and over is another, kicking CNN out another one (even if the backtracked)

Internationally, Maduro has lost what little credibility of doubt some people may have had. Even his closest allies are likely wondering what is going through his head, even if their silence is shameful. Funny how these leftist idealists are more concerned about their mercantile interests at this time than about human rights and the violation of the Venezuelan Constitution.

What a pitiful bunch of so called leaders Latin American Presidents and politicians have become.

But a day of reckoning seems to be arriving for them. They should be concerned by now that a Government change, even within Chavismo, will lead to less preferential treatment for them.

And I will soon leave Caracas, with mixed emotions. On the one hand I have to go back, on the other it has been so much fun being here and covering events close to them. But there is also a feeling of wanting to be here to see the end of this. I don’t know when this will happen, but I want to be here no matter what. It’s been so long in coming…

Not that I know what is coming.  think Chavsimo will replace Maduro at some point, How and in which sequence of legality or not, I have no clue. Who comes after him is even more of a mystery. What is clear is that economically the days ahead are very tough and this instability has debilitated the Maduro Government even further. And it remains as indecisive as ever on economic matters, which will only exarcebate events even further.

Stay tuned, even if I will no longer will have a front seat, like I have tonight in Altamira.

How Venezuelans (mostly Gochos) Build Barricades

February 20, 2014

As I said today, students are getting more organized. Nowhere is this more the case than in Tachira State, where this protests begun. For those that say that this is a middle class protest, look at San Cristobal, the capital of Tachira, a state that suffers from the fact that 30-40% of the food in Venezuela is being smuggled to Colombia to be sold. If you think things are scarce in Caracas, try going to a supermarket there.

San Cristobal has suffered the brunt of the repression. Last night they had no lights, no internet and no water. Despite this, the people have kept up the fight. Reportedly 70% of the city is in the hands of the protesters. Tonight,  I have heard little from San Cristibal, maybe the blackout is complete. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that the gochos, as people from the Andes are called, are tough people. They have been at this fight longer than anyone, so they have learned. Here are examples of some of the barricades and some of the tactics that these Venezuelans are using:

IMG-20140220-WA0013(1) A simple barricade, bring lots of junk to block tanks from going by IMG-20140220-WA0015 How about some big rocks to block the way. This pebble seems to do the job

tuberiasThe Government never built the water system , but they did leave the concrete pipes, let’s use them!

IMG-20140219-WA0018Why don’t we move this small tree onto the street?

arbolOurs is bigger than yours!!!

 

IMG-20140220-WA0017How about this home made anti-pellet vest?

Wait for it, wait for it, now!

(Thanks to all the people that sent pictures, many were repeated, you know who you are)

While Protests Continue, Government Creates Third fx Market

February 20, 2014

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Life in Caracas right now is anything but normal. Last night, I tried to go to the supermarket at &:30 PM as I had little to eat where I stay, but just as I got there, they were closing, as students had started to protest in the neighborhood. Except for some crackers and a precious tangerine, that was all I ate through the Beirutesque evening near Plaza Altamira. Not a bad diet, if you want to look at the positive side.

Today, many people did not go to work, they could not get out of their neighborhoods or they decided they would not hassle the traffic in the evening another day. Thus, Caracas was quite empty, little traffic, quite nice. This despite the almost total blackout and censorship of the news.

But it is getting close to sunset and the student movement is doing their thing, actually moving around, trying to keep the authorities in check. What was a disorganized band of protesters without leaders has by now become a fairly organized movement, with strategies and plans. Last night they were surprised by the strength of the attack, tonight they will not be caught off guard. I saw preparations today, which I will not talk about here, which imply a level of organization not present even two days ago.

And at 4 PM sharp, the students began blocking the Francisco de Miranda Avenue, which last night became a rather violent place. More violent than at anytime in the 2003 strike, more violent than I have ever seen it.

Here were the students setting up at 4 PM:

alta

The Government also knows there is more organization, as helicopters flew over Caracas until a few minutes ago as the sun set.

And today the Government formally announced the Sicad 2, foreign exchange market, creating a third official exchange rate, ignoring the history of all such systems in history everywhere in the world, all of which have ended badly. The more exchange rates there are (there are four if you include the unmentionable) the more in trouble country’s get into.

And Minister Ramirez said that the new “market” (The Government will fix the price) will start on the 24th., don’t believe it for a minute, this thing is as crude as you can imagine. But in the end it is a devaluation, as airline tickets will be paid at this rate (which I think will be south of Bs. 20, but near it). This is another victory of the radical-radicals over the radicals who wanted a floating permuta market.

For foreign companies who have no access to Sicad 1 or Cencoex, this is another devaluation. For prices, this si another push up, more inflation ahead, full speed Nicolas!

And now, I think the effects of the violence and the feeling of being in a Dictatorship prevail over the increasing economic chaos the country faces. The students will not leave the streets, the crisis will deepen and it all be Maduro’s fault. With bodes badly for him. Timing is hard to predict, but I can tell you I don’t believe for a minute Maduro will finish his term. And I don’t want to be too bold in my prediction and say it explicitly, but I think he is doomed if he follows the path of repression and using the armed “colectivos” with the military to repress. By May, add 100% inflation annualized to the mix and things really will be complicated for whomever is in Government.

Tough days ahead for Venezuela. Last night felt like a mixture of the Caracazo and 2003. It was only during those two periods that I have felt that the Government lost control of the situation. It can only get worse at this point, unless Maduro decides to back down.

But he does not appear to be ready to, but neither do the students.

It’s showdown time!

As Protests Become Widespread, So Does Repression in Venezuela

February 20, 2014

After the Government showed some restraint all day yesterday in Caracas, mobilizing National Guard troops but not having them act, despite the widespread  blocking of the highways and major street in Caracas, things changed last night.

First, in Valencia and San Cristobal, repression increased, tear gas was used and many were injured. In Valencia alone, there were seven people who were shot. One a former beauty queen was shot and died today, further incensing students.

Then today, as protests became widespread when opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was supposed to be arraigned in Caracas, but was instead moved to a military facility in Los Teques where the arraignment was supposed to take place. This is not only illegal, but shows the political character of Lopez’ detention. While he has been jailed, none of those seen in pictures and videos killing the students on February 12th. have been detained. And the Head of the intelligence police was removed, but given another position,which could be considered a promotion.

By this afternoon, protests were blocking highways and major intersections all over Caracas, from Catia to Petare. The biggest concentration was in Plaza Altamira from where the Government mounted a huge attack with National Guards, police and “colectivos” in motorcycles. There were barricades all over the area but with time the Government thugs moved up to Altamira square. First they used tear gas, but by the end they were using cops and colectivos in motorcycles, shooting weapons, not only tear gas.

This is a video about a block from Plaza Altamira tonight:

this is another:

This was happening as Maduro gave a rambling speech in which he was aggressive and calling for peace at the same time and defending the “colectivos” as groups that work for the fatherland.

At this time, people have been shot in La Candelaria at this time of day, while protest have begun in Catia in Western Caracas. At least two people are reported to be shot dead in the west of Caracas.

Repression in San Cristobal, Tachira State, where the protests begun seems to be the worst. The Government shut off electricity and communications to the city as National Guard tanks went into it.

I stay very close to one of the hottest spots of repression. While I tried to watch parts of the action, it became dangerous. Students came into our parking lot seeking refuge from the guards who wanted to detain them. Fortunately they did not come in into our building, which they did all over the place. This is absolutely illegal.

I saw either police or guardsman go on the sidewalk on a motorcycle following students that were trying to escape from their attacks on the streets. They had some sort of rifle in their hand, either tear gas or a real gun. As repressive a scene as you could ever imagine.

This is not going to stop here. Students are becoming more radical, as the Government turns the repression an the human rights violations to an incredibly new level, without any shame. Maduro praising the colectivos tonight was simply a declaration that this Government is more than a dictatorship. It has now become one in which repressive violence will be openly used against the population that disagrees with or protests against the Government. This can only lead to further violence.

I find it hard to believe that there is no dissent within the Government about this new tack.  Internationally, the repression together with the arbitrary detention of opposition figures has shown the world the true face of the Maduro Government, where appearances are no longer important.

And that is an image, the Government can not erase.

(This post was supposed to go on last night, but computer problems did not allow me to upload it, sorry).

In Venezuela Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez Turns Himself In

February 18, 2014

It was certainly a day to remember. Despite the Government banning the opposition march and prohibiting marches, Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in in a demonstration which was simply massive. His handover was perfectly choreographed, leaving images that have a highly emotional content and guaranteeing that this day, whatever may happen was a victory for the Voluntad Popular leader.

I mean, there are very few things missing from a picture like this one:

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Lopez being pushed into the National Guard tank, white flowers in one hand, flag in the other and screaming at his supporters. Really, can it get any more dramatic than this?

And this was after Lopez had given a fiery speech to his supporters hanging on the statue of Jose Marti in Plaza Brion of Chacaito at the end of which his wife was lifted up by the crowd to say goodbye to him right before he turned himself in. How can anyone not be moved by this image?:

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And it was Lopez who, from the inside of the military vehicle, used a megaphone to ask people to move aside to let the vehicle through. Lopez was calma calm and at times it seemed as if the guardsman taking him looked more scared than he did.

And the show of support was nationwide, as students organized protests in all major cities, all of them with huge crowds, all ending at the Palaces of Justice of each State with the students handing in their demands.

I went to the march, leaving somewhat late, but was surprised when a couple of Kilometers away from the march, the street was still full of people walking towards Chacaito. And when I got to Chacaito it became difficult to get through because it was so crowded. Once in the intersection with the main Country Club Avenue, I was surprised by the sea of people coming down from that direction. It turns out it was the people from the West of Caracas, who, because the march was not allowed beyond Chacaito, had to come via Libertador Avenue to where Lopez turned himself in. From there, we turned South towards Las Mercedes, went under the Autopista and then climbed back on it, only to find that the students had not only blocked it, but occupied it all the way to the Cienpies Distributor. There were people everywhere, in front, below, above. And there was lots of police and guardsman, but they they were clearly given the order to do nothing, despite our fears that we could be gassed any minute.

This is an overall picture from above, two blocks away from where Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in:

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Here are some of my pictures as I walked along:

photo(12)Towards Chacaito

photo(13)Going down Las Mercedes, Autopista in front

photo(14)Trying to get through in ChacaitoIMG_1654Students sitting on the Autopista

IMG_6793Autopista towards the East, full of people

And I don’t want you to think this was a Caracas phenomenon, this was Valencia (where seven students have been shot)

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And at this time, 7:37 PM , students are still out in the streets blocking the way

I am still surprised the Government went ahead and jailed Lopez. To accuse him of being a terrorist, when there are pictures showing that it was the Government’s intelligence police who shot the students on Feb. 12th. is somewhat dumb. By jailing him, not only does he become a martyr, elevating his stature within the opposition, but also creating another political prisoner and another reason for the students to fight.

Maduro also loses credibility, when it was him that suggested Lopez was responsible for the deaths of the students, not the Prosecutor, raising doubts, once again, abut the separation of powers in Venezuela. To make matters even worse, it was the Head of the National Assembly, Diodado Cabello, who took Lopez to his arraignment. What is Cabello doing there? He does not belong to any of the braches of Government that should be involved. The Government later said it was to protect Lopez’ life from the “right wing”, a silly excuse, more so, given that Lopez is also labelled as “right wing”.

Because while all this was going one, Maduro was holding his own march, despite his ban on demonstrations, where he said Lopez was being taken directly to jail (Ughh?) by helicopter, showing the President does not even understand legal procedures. In his speech, Maduro rambled, attaching President Piñera of Chile and Santos of Colombia, for involving themselves in Venezuelan affairs.

But more importantly, you just don’t go jail an opposition leader like Lopez on trumped up charges, without raising suspicions that this is simply autocracy at work. Lopez now becomes a hot potato for Maduro: Keep him in jail he becomes a symbol, release him, you look weak (and somewhat dumb!). He will actually be charged with murder, a silly charge if there ever was one.

Lopez seems to have scored a victory sooner than he thought when he started going out to try to gather the protests under his wing. Even Capriles went to the demonstration, as all opposition politicians showed up at the demonstration to show their support.

For now, the students remain on their own, a random band of disorganized protesters that have kept the Government in check for ten days. They will not go easily away and now they have one more prisoner to defend.

Here is an overview of the protest via a video:

While Government Tries To Blame Lopez For Deaths, Paper Shows Otherwise

February 16, 2014

Ever since last Wednesday’s student March which left two dead, the Government has tried to say that former Presidential candidate Leopoldo Lopez and Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, who led the protest, were responsible for the the deaths right after the demonstration ended. But, usually pro-Government paper Ultimas Noticias, has done an extraordinary investigation of videos and pictures and what it has found is a carefully orchestrated withdrawal of the police, which were replaced by Intelligence police officers and plainclothesmen, who were wearing and used guns against running students.Having guns near a demonstration is illegal, Government officers murdering people at a demonstration is a crime against humanity by them and their superiors.

What this investigation shows is the power of the smartphone, as the evidence came mostly from amateur tapings (note that one of them, the person making the video is hiding under a car)

Here is the text and the video

and here is a summary of the text for those that do not speak Spanish. I recommend watching the video (at the end) after reading the text:

“It was at 3:13 PM when Bassil Alejandro Dacosta fell. The line of fire was in the hands of individuals identified with unirforms, plates and vehicles of the Bolivarain Intelligence Service (Sebin) accompanied by others dressed as civilians. They had taken over between the Tracabordo and the Ferrenquin corners of La Candelaria, after the Bolivarain National Police withdrew its troops

Here is the reconstruction: A group of students tries to go up from Monroy to Tracabordo. The march was over. Those left were screaming at police. They advanced towards a Sebin motorcycle, knocking it to the ground. The Sebin and civilians move forward and start shooting pistols rifles. The students withdraw. Others, among which was Bassil Dacosta, cross to a lateral street. It is not clear why they decide to trun around 12 seconds later, they cross the line of fire. Dacosta falls. At no point does the shooting stop.

Dacosta is the next to last of  a line of students that crosses trying to escape the bullets. His buddies pick him up and carry him away”

Witneeses say the corner ahd been taken over by men and women in motorcycles, like “those you see in TV”. All dressed as civilains. Some with helmets and t-shirts. Some with their faces covered. They were shooting at the protesters in the Monroy corner. “They would shoot with their arms out and then hide”. In the wall of a City office there are at least 10 tarces of bullet impacts.

The civilians talked to the Sebin officers and withdrew. Sebin officers occupied their places.

At the head of the group came a  Kawasaki Versys 1000 motorcycle with another large guy with kaki shirt and jeans with a short wave radio in his hand. He seems to be the leader. After Dacosta falls, he gestures towards a man in gray camouflage clothes.

At the instant of Dacosta’s death a photographic sequence shows at least seven men wielding their weapons. Five are shooting standing up, one is shooting in the air and four are shooting at the protesters. Two wear uniforms.

One of them wears a white shirt, green military pants, helmet and blck lenses, He moves in a motorcycle with official palate 2-177. The other wears a long sleeved black shirt, jeans and black shows. No helmet or glasses. The civialisn were acting in coordination with those in uniform.

One of the shooters picks up the motorcycle overthrown by the students. Two pick up the shells from the bullets, they get on their motorcycles and leave.

Questions: Maduro said those responsible had been identified, a day later the scientific police was still studying the scene?

Why did the National withdraw from the scene?

Why were weapons used to repress the protest?

Why were there civilians with uniformed Sebin officers repressing the march?

From the video: Why did the motorcycles easily cross between the students and the police?

Why did the guy jump over the police only to be seen shooting later?”

Here is the video:

Here are a few pictures of the guy in white from three different angles, one of them while shooting:

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Meanwhile the investigative police last night went to Leopoldo Lopez’ parents’ home and his home reportedly to arrest him, in part for being responsible for the death of Dacosta. . He was not there. Maduro called him a coward for not turning himself in.

Tonight Lopez distributes this video, upping the ante in these protests calling for a march to the Prosecutors office to demand a number of things and to turn himself in for crimes he has not committed. He is asking everyone to wear white, as a sign that this is a peaceful movement.

For the Government this represents a quandary. Jailing Lopez will only ignite things even more, but it was Maduro who accused him of crimes, nobody knows specifically which ones. Will the Prosecutor obey Maduro and jail Lopez? Will a Judge sign the order to capture him?

Can the Prosecutor accuse Lopez while Ultimas Noticias has shown clear evidence that it was police and civilians in official motorcyles who were shooting at that instant at the students. Will they go after those responsible for Dacostas’s death?

It is certainly an interesting week to be here.

Note added at 9:21 PM Sunday Feb. 16th. : This work is having an effect, President Maduro said tonight on nationwide TV that he had order all Sebin officers to stay at their barracks!!!

Venezuelan Protest and Violence As Seen From Afar

February 14, 2014

soldado

When you are not in situ, it is not easy to report on events like those that have been taking place in Venezuela. Even if your read every thing, there is no substitute for being there.  On the ground, watching TV, talking to people and getting a feel for what is going on. That is why I yielded to Daniel yesterday, I could do no better than him.

But as a blog concerned with Venezuela, how can I not write about the events of the last two days if that is all I am thinking about?

So, here is my take:

Venezuelans are fed up. The shortages, crime and inflation are taking their toll. People are arrechos, which in English has a very straight translation: People are really pissed.

While you or I may not agree on a strategy of protests, I believe Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, in the knowledge that people were about to start protesting, decided to get ahead of the protests and start calling people to go out and protest in the name of #LaSalida. Somehow, when the protest began, they would be the receptors of the frustration that most Venezuelans have when they line up for purchasing basic staples, almost every day.

The students, the young frustrated people of Venezuela, were going to protest on February 12th. anyway, the day when Venezuelans celebrate La Batalla de La Victoria, a battle won by Jose Felix Rivas who was accompanied by students, regular ones and those from the seminary. They stopped the royalists led by Boves, thus February 12th celebrates the victory of youth at that battle.

And they went to the Prosectors office, where they met with not only resistance from police, but with violent groups belonging to either the so called “collectivos” or to the “Sebin” intelligence police. There are videos of Police and Sebin (intelligence police)  officers shooting real bullets against the protesters.

But even before violence erupted, the Government was already threatening the media, saying that they could be shut down for showing protests. Most of the media applied self-restraint and it was difficult to determine exactly what was going on.

By the time February 12th. came around, there were few media outlets covering the events, and one, Colombia’s NTN24, was not only blocked from the Internet after covering events live all day. But NTN24 was removed from the programming of all cable TV stations, simply disappearing from the scene, while protests were taking place. Maduro called this a “decision of State”

I call it stupid censorship…

And while there is evidence in video and picture form, that both SEBIN officers and “colectivos” shot at the student protesters, the Government issues and arrest warrant against Leopoldo Lopez and a Chavista Deputy calls for removing parliamentary from Deputy Machado, in order to be able to investigate her and prosecute her. But remarkably, after this diffuse charges against the “leaders” of the protests, there is no call to investigate or prosecute those that were taped and seen shooting and killing at the protesters. (The arrest warrant against Lopez has yet to be executed)

Which is quite revealing, no?

Moving towards today, it is clear that there will be no investigation of what happened. According to the Maduro Government (?) it is all a conspiracy to overthrow him, as if a bunch of students with stones and guts can actually expect to fight with the organized criminal system Chavismo has established.

Going forward things could get complicated. The students are unlikely to leave the streets now that there have been deaths and the way the Government has reacted. Maduro and his cronies like the confrontational style and are unlikely to back down from their stance. If each sides pushes forward, things could get violent and tricky very fast. Many students are still in jail.

The events are also affecting the dynamics of politics within both the Government and the opposition. Within the Government, because the colectivos remain a problem for the military and they have played a significant role in igniting the protests. And despite Maduro’s ban on protests, they continued on Thursday despite the streets being full of National Guardsman and their anti-riot equipment. Clearly, someone was holding off the troops for the time being.

Within the opposition, the gamble by Maria Corina Machado and Lopez to ask people to take to the streets, has paid off. Their role in Venezuelan politics will become more prominent if the Government decides to go after them. On the other side of this is former Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has tried to distance himself from the protests and if the protests gather steam, he may lose his position as leader of the opposition.

Maduro has been careful not to attack the students, but has focused on the leadership of the protests at the political level, which implies he is being careful. But any mistake on either side could escalate this conflict to unknown levels and places.

Some question the strategy of protests. I believe protests will be daily events in Venezuela going forward, as shortages and inflation accelerate due to the inaction of the Government. I don’t believe taking to the streets is a strategy, but a reality of daily life in Venezuela, which some may take advantage of politically. Where it leads is as unclear as any other strategy, as the results of last years Presidential election showed. The opposition was well behaved and in the end got ripped off by the Government which never performed the promised audits. It is no surprise that many believe a different strategy is needed now.

But in the end, this is not or should not be about removing the Government, but about pressuring the Government to change course. Scarcity, inflation and crime affect Venezuelans equally, anyone that thinks that Chavistas are happy should read polls more carefully. Yes, there is a hard core militancy that will never say things are bad, but more and more Venezuelans are fed up with the whole economic situation. Absent Chavez, they are not as willing to put up with problems as they used to. Students protesting belong to homes on both side of the political divide. Just because Chavismo shows little dissent publicly, it does not mean that there are no disagreements within the many sides of Chavismo in Government, including the military. The tougher things get, the wider the protests, the wider the dissent. And the more pressure there will be on Maduro to change course…