Archive for February 20th, 2014

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)

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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).