Venezuela: Opposition Rallies End in Bloodshed, Riots

By: Marcela Estrada - @marcestrada - Feb 13, 2014, 11:37 am

EspañolOn Wednesday, what was supposed to be a peaceful protest to demand the release of four arrested students and solutions to Venezuela’s severest problems, turned into blood shed — leaving three dead and more than 30 people wounded. So far, the government hasn’t held anyone culpable for the violence and victims, except opposition leaders and protesters.

After one week of student protests throughout major cities, student representatives — alongside leaders of the opposition, including Representative María Corina Machado and national coordinator of the Popular Will Party Leopoldo Lopez — invited people to join them in a national protest. In Caracas, the activity was supposed to start in Plaza Venezuela and finish at the Attorney General Office.

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Opposition and students protest in Caracas. February 12, 2014. Source: PanAm Post Staff.

Upon peaceful arrival at their destination, most protesters left. However, a smaller group decided to remain in front of the government building until their classmates, detained in Táchira and Mérida, were released.

Leopoldo López denounced the complete absence of police forces to protect them, and the arrival of a smaller group that he identified as agent provocateurs. Apparently, this small group started to attack the government institution and to riot. Students also denounced the arrival of another armed group, known as Tupamaros (Marxist-Leninist vigilantes). The Tupamaros started to shoot unarmed students who were on the scene.

Freshman student Bassil Alejandro Da Costa (24) from the University Alejandro de Humboldt suffered a shot to the head.

“The shot came from a corner where three men in jackets started to shoot people. We don’t know if they were police or something else. We were just throwing rocks, and they started to shoot us,” stated a student who preferred to remain anonymous.

After Da Costa’s death, the violence on the streets of Caracas increased. Masked men destroyed part of the Attorney General Office, set fire to five police cars, burned trash on the streets, and started to throw objects at police officers.

Douglas Rico, deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation Police stated, “there’s just one dead.” Regarding the number of people injured, he just said, “there’s a little bit of everything.”

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Violent groups started to attack the students and destroy government facilities. Source: Últimas Noticias.

Police officers responded with more violence, shooting the students, and physically assaulting them by kicking and punching them. From that moment on, mass arrests started to take place. Minister of Interior and Justice Miguel Rodríguez Torres announced there were up to 80 detainees. Two of them were journalists who were covering the violent clashes after the protest.

However, NGO’s such as Venezuelan Criminal Forum claim the number of detainees is much higher. Currently they are gathering information through social media on the detainees and the missing students.

An hour later, members of a Chavista militia arrived at the Hospital La Arboleda with one of their colleagues wounded by a bullet to the head. The man died and was identified as Juan Montoya, a former police officer and member of the January 23 militia (23 de Enero). Montoya was previously charged for terrorism and being the instigator of an explosion in the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce back in 2008.

President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello denounced the violent attacks, but only referred to Montoya’s murder, disregarding the other death (at that time). He claimed Montoya was killed by fascist groups, and said “it was unfortunate the murder of a combatant of the Bolivarian revolution . . . He was cruelly murdered by fascism, for us it was painful . . . His murder won’t remain unpunished.”

Cabello also held the opposition leader Leopoldo López responsible for being the chief leader behind the violent groups yesterday.

President Nicolás Maduro gave instructions to security forces to prohibit any type of protest led by “fascist groups.” He emphasized that from now on, any group that wishes to protest in Venezuela will have to ask permission from the government.

At 8:15 p.m. EST, Chacao Mayor Ramón Muchacho — a municipality in Caracas — confirmed the third death: Roberto José Redman Orozco (28). He also suffered a shot to the head from a group that attacked the students on motorcycles. Another student who was at the scene explained that some people started to shoot the students from an old government building.

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No TV station could broadcast the riots. Source: Últimas Noticias.

During the day, the death toll as well as the number of detentions were only reported through social media, since all basic cable channels on television were transmitting the government’s political rally. Via satellite television, a Colombian TV station, NTN24, was the only one providing updates on the violence that was taking place.

However, by early evening, the National Commission for Telecommunication in Venezuela cancelled NTN24’s transmission from the list of satellite TV channels.

Venezuela’s national union of press workers rejected this measure and asserted it only “increases censorship and self-censorship in the media.” Liliana Guerrero, president of the federation for student unions, told PanAm Post, “we have received tremendous support from people in social media. It’s no secret that in this country, the media in not allowed to show our protests. However, social media has been our only mechanism to inform what is going on in the demonstrations.”

Opposition leader López claimed the government was the one behind the armed groups that attacked the protesters. He also denounced people who were infiltrated in the protest and sent by the government to cause spiraling violence.

This wouldn’t be the first time that agent provocateurs have shown in opposition rallies. Student leader Guerrero previously told the PanAm Post, “we know there are always people infiltrating these protests.”

Last night, Judge Ralenys Tovar Guillén issued a arrest warrant for Leopoldo López. According to the newspaper El Universal, Guillén had ordered the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) to apprehend him. He’s charged with conspiracy, incitement to crime, public intimidation, arson of a public building, damage to public property, serious injury, homicide, and terrorism.

Marcela Estrada Marcela Estrada

Marcela Estrada reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs. Follow her at @marcestrada.

Socialism’s Pathological Scarcity: A Never-Ending Tale

By: Efraín Salazar - @efrainjsp - Feb 13, 2014, 10:46 am
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EspañolWhy do the economies of socialist states fail? Why have countries like Cuba and Venezuela experienced periods of severe scarcity? Is it a conspiracy of big capitalists to end the “revolution"? This is, in fact, the oft-repeated rhetoric of collectivists of various stripes worldwide. Some argue, for example, that the immense poverty of Cuba is a function of the so-called blockade by the United States. However, the truth is that poverty is a product of the onerous mandates and economic planning that is characteristic of socialist countries. That is why in countries such as Venezuela — which at one time experienced an economic bonanza like few countries have in history — people now kill each other in supermarkets over a kilo of flour. The problem with the concept of economic planning is the underlying fallacy that the economy is controllable — that a central, government agency can coordinate the investment of various assets in a country and improve its productivity. The idea of simply improving decision-making in economic matters, through consolidation of information and resources, is extremely tempting for any ruler — one that none manage to escape. However, as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Consider the example of Cuba and its fully controlled economy. Since 1960, Cuba has arranged a massive nationalization of all industries and financial institutions. During the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, and especially Ernesto Guevara, were convinced that the central planning of the Cuban economy would build a new society. Still, Ernesto Guevara is the most influential socialist of Latin America, because of his guerrilla exploits and romanticized economic ideals. Guevara's primary goal was to use the income garnered from the sugar industry as a way to boost the country's entire economy. As director of Cuba's Central Bank, he nationalized all industries and redistributed resources across the market. In theory, Guevara's economic planning was meant to not just improve the economic development of Cuba, but lead to the creation of a "new man," incentivize volunteer work, and encourage collective participation. (Of course, any resemblance of Guevara to a certain character within the Venezuelan government is mere coincidence.) The results of Guevera's economic meddling were, in the end, such a disaster that even Guevara himself hated his role in government. In 1962, Cuba introduced the infamous ration card, placing price and quantity controls on food and immediately causing shortages. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the situation in Cuba only worsened. Even still, the country did not abandon its central economic planning. Every five years, new five-year plans were created — once again proving the highly addictive nature of economic control to a government. Even when their economic planning failed, the Cuban government still had the perfect scapegoat to blame: the United States. It should be noted that there hasn't actually been a "blockade" around Cuba since the US navy left the island in 1962. There has, however, been a limited embargo which to this today impedes US Americans from doing business with Cuba. The embargo is meant to put pressure on the Cuban government to enact reforms, democratize, and demonstrate a respect for human rights. Even with the embargo, however, the United States does not prevent other countries from trading or conducting business with Cuba. In fact, since 1995, Cuba has been a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the island receives 6.6 percent of its imports from the United States in the form of humanitarian aid. In short, only the Cuban government and its poor economic vision can be blamed for the country's stunted commercial growth. With Venezuela, however, we have a different story — and to call the National Simón Bolívar Project and the Homeland Program "plans" for the economy is absurd. They are, in truth, nothing more than collections of fine words and clichés without any tangible goals. The history of the Bolivarian Revolution is in actuality a story of control. The flowery words within the tale attempt to mask the true purpose of the "revolution" — total domination by the state in every aspect of the economy. Through oil revenue, the Bolivarian Revolution uses its access to dollars as a way to suppress the foreign exchange of currency and limit the free market. In fact, the most powerful means of control that exists in Venezuela today is in its currency restraints. The Venezuelan economy suffers from Dutch disease: the wealth of resources in the country allows for an artificial currency exchange rate, and consequently, it is much cheaper to import than to produce. The government of Venezuela maintains a monopoly on the supply of dollars, and since not enough dollars are ever sold, companies are left with their hands full of bolívares — which are worthless outside the country. The inevitable result is scarcity. As in Cuba, the blame cannot be placed on the “empire,” the “parasitic bourgeoisie,” or “economic warfare.” The Venezuelan government and their quest to intervene and control the economy is ultimately to blame. Central economic planning causes such disruption to the market that the result will always be scarcity, along with more and more regulation — a classic "slippery slope." Of course, this debate is not new, and the clash between intervention and free market practices goes back as far as economics itself. In this case, we must turn to history to settle the argument. Incredibly, there still remain socialists who will defend the failures of their doctrine, even in cases like the Soviet Union — it wasn't "real" socialism — or Cuba — the "unfair" US embargo! Even more incredible, however, is that there remain leaders in government who refuse to accept their mistakes, blame others for their failures, and people still believe their stories. Translated by Isabella Loaiza Saa.

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