Hunting Birds with Missiles

By Cristina Marcano

El País–March, 12th 2014

The Venezuelan government reacts to the protests with an extraordinary level of hate and viciousness. President Maduro, who listens to advice from the Cuban high command and finds himself trapped in his own ideological clichés, is condemned to fail as a president and a dictator.

Machiavelli said: “weapons must only be used as a last resort, once every other form of communication has failed”. It seems, especially after the levels of repression seen in Venezuela during February, that Nicolas Maduro has been reading a good deal more Che Guevara inspired literature than anything the Italian strategist wrote. Or perhaps he thinks he’s arrived at the end of the road.

The Venezuelan president has not spared any expense in terrorizing the young protesters in an attempt to persuade them to abandon the streets. Having failed to resolve the students’ demands Maduro has opted for a modus operandi based on dictatorial repression to guarantee a “Cuban style peace” in a country that also finds itself in the middle of an economic debacle and ridden with crime, which only seems to point the way towards further discontent and protests.

The Venezuelan government has unleashed into the streets local police forces, the National Guard, the People’s Guard and the National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).  It has also given the order to paramilitary groups, commonly known as “colectivos”, to defend the Bolivarian revolution alongside the government’s law enforcement agencies.

The Venezuelan government has used fighter jet aeroplanes and dozens of tanks to intimidate the young protesters from San Cristobal (Tachira State), exercising a level of force more suitable to fighting Al Qaeda terrorist groups in Afghanistan than a group of youngsters armed only with stones and a few Molotov cocktails. Day after day the police and military soldiers have overwhelmed the protesters with teargas even though the Venezuelan Constitution expressly forbids its use as a means of crowd control. Equally anti-constitutional has been the use of firearms loaded with live rounds, which have resulted in the deaths of several protesters.

Maduro ordered the arrest of the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. (We all know by now how the judicial system works in Venezuela.) Lopez has become Maduro’s first great political prisoner. Numerous journalist as well as several unfortunate passersby have been arrested. So far more than 1,000 people have been arrested; a new record that even surpasses the number of people arrested during the infamous 1989 looting spree known as “El Caracazo”.

Since the protests started about a month ago, and possibly to save us from the “anxiety” of it, the president has served up a cocktail of censorship which has included the expulsion from the country of international TV networks such as NTN24. He threatened the French Press Agency (AFP), managed to block Twitter for a day, and banned and threatened the main presenter for CNN Latin America. More than 70 local and foreign reporters have been attacked (an average of four reporters per day). Not to mention the endless lies, rants and ravings on national television by members of his cabinet. The government claimed, for example, to have captured eight international terrorists wanted by Interpol; they in fact turned out to be an Italian photojournalist and a Portuguese passer-by.

We have seen (not on national television, of course, but via YouTube or Twitter) intense and unending police brutality and abuse. We have seen the heads of protesters being kicked by big, heavy black boots. We have seen women’s faces being battered with soldiers’ helmets simply for refusing to give up their mobile phones. We have seen bones crushed by military heels, we have seen eyeballs busted by teargas canisters; we have seen the skulls of protesters crushed with the butt of rifles. We have seen beautiful young faces completely disfigured by point blank shots fired by the guards. Such was the case of Geraldine Moreno, who did not survive the encounter with our “glorious” National Guard, which is how Maduro described the perpetrators just a few hours after she had passed away.

These acts make up a voluminous catalogue of abuses and irregularities, which include judicial excesses, clearly documented by multiple human rights NGOs and which have increasingly enraged and frustrated protesters as the days go on. The Venezuelan Penal Forum stands apart as having been the only organization to have presented 40 chilling accounts of cruelty and inhuman torture to the Tribunal of Supreme Justice, displays of viciousness and hate completely unknown to us Venezuelans for at least a couple of generations.

Why did Maduro decide to go hunting for birds with missiles? Why not try to quell the protests in the manner of his ally, Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil? The students’ initial demand only amounted to an increase in personal security within their own campuses, given these institutions have become ridden with insecurity and criminality, and the release of two colleagues who had been arrested in the city of San Cristobal.

Why has the president not acknowledged these legitimate complaints? Was it convenient for him to escalate the level of protests? Protests that have, so far, left 23 people dead and over 300 injured? Why is Maduro showing his claws in this way having been in power for less than a year? Is it possible that there are factions in the revolution’s high command whose interests he is serving? Is he perhaps being shadowed and pressurized by his associate and second in command the captain Diosdado Cabello (president of the National Assembly)?

Is Maduro really a puppet being manipulated by Cuba? And if so, is he prepared to assume the political (and perhaps legal) consequences of his responsibility for the human rights violation that he is perpetrating? For whose benefit is Maduro flexing his repressive muscles? Is it just the opposition?

A pivotal tragic event that took place on February 12th as the students’ peaceful protest was coming to an end that day has not yet been sufficiently clarified. If members of the National Intelligence Agency (SEBIN) had not opened fire that evening (which tragically resulted in the death of two protesters) there wouldn’t have been any deaths; instead there would have been 23 injured and 30 arrests. Five days later national television reported that the police officers involved had not followed the appropriate protocol and had disobeyed orders to remain in their barracks. If this is true, whose orders were these police officers following that day? Or is it just that they were thirsty for blood? Still today we remain totally in the dark about exactly what happened that day.

The cynicism, the lies, the criminalization of the protesters and their demands, the impunity and outright denial of evidence about human rights violations (before they’ve even had the time to investigate allegations) combined with the judicial brutality meted out on the detainees have generated a deep-seated arrechera (Venezuelan slang for rage and indignation), which the government has been carefully fueling for a long time now.

Without doubt Venezuela has experienced a tremendous aftershock. The events occurring in February have removed whatever vestige of democracy the country had, that sense of democracy which goes beyond the electoral process of simply casting your vote at the ballot box.

After a month of non-stop protests and severe repression, leading members of the opposition (which has been hugely affected by the political persecution of Leopoldo Lopez and his political party) are confronted with the challenge of having to rein in public indignation, which now seems unbridled. These same opposition leaders must reformulate and present a concise and united plan of action to bring hope to those youngsters on the streets, who have become skeptical and who feel exiled inside their own country, those same young people who are fighting for their country with so much courage.

The protesters have done well to demand dialogue with the government under specific conditions because they’re aware that revolution isn’t predisposed to genuine dialogue. Revolutions are imposed on the people.

The small amount of legitimacy that Maduro held for that half of the Venezuelan nation that did not vote for him has completely vanished now. For those same millions of Venezuelans the president is nothing more than the shadow of an autocrat. Not really a strong man, he’ll never achieve that. Instead, more of a weak man needing to assert himself through displays of strength and bravado in an attempt to instill fear into a group of people who are becoming more heated by the day. As much as Maduro tries to growl he is unable to hide the insecurity of his gaze.

It is possibly for this reason that he has relied on the fearsome “colectivos”, the paramilitary groups reminiscent of Tonton Macoute’s in Haiti, or the Panamanian Dignity Batallions, or even Castro’s Rapid Response brigades. Ultimately though Maduro is aware that repression will not solve Venezuela’s problems.

The country may be politically divided but we are not divided in our loss of quality of life. We are all suffering equally from lack of security, food shortages, inflation, currency devaluation and a crisis in health care. It’s not just for fun that people bang their pots and pans in the slums and shantytowns, where many of those who are unhappy about the situation still do not join in because of fear of reprisal by the paramilitary groups.

Maduro, who is being advised by the Cubans and remains firmly entrenched in his ideological clichés, is destined to fail as a president. Not only is he dragging along a dysfunctional economy and the heavy legacy of corruption but he has also remained firmly associated with the same ineffectual political cabinet that has led a nation with the largest oil reserves in the world into an economic catastrophe.

Perhaps that is why he has so quickly resorted to the use of repression before attempting any means of dialogue. Perhaps, in the end, he thinks this is the only way to govern a group of disobedient Venezuelans in the midst of so much political and economic atrophy. Nevertheless, Maduro runs the risk of failing as a dictator as well.

Paradoxically it seems as if he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Source: Marcano, Cristina. “Cazando pajaros con misiles”

El País. March, 12th 2014

Ediciones El País, S.L.

[March 12th 2014]. <http://elpais.com/elpais/2014/03/11/opinion/1394537488_426585.html&gt;

Main image: Eduardo Estrada

Translated by #infoVnzla

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