EspañolOn Monday night, the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and the National Police (PNB) cracked down on a protest held outside the presidential palace — and not just any protest. This one included 850 former military members discharged from the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).
According to El Nacional, regional command unit 5 of the GNB (Caracas) arrested the lawyer who represents the group and 10 other former soldiers at the protest.* Twelve hours after their arrest, the location of the detainees was still unknown.
The former military members had to leave the FANB in 1992, after they participated in the coup attempts of February 4 (4F) and November 27 of that year.
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Much like the student demonstrations in recent months, the protesters on Monday evening faced tear gas and pellets from police. However, unlike the student protesters, these former military men resisted and fought back, hand to hand, against the police. Still, the regime’s enforcement agents detained the attorney representing the group, and his location remains unknown.
“We had a formation, and we outnumbered them, so we resisted,” said Abilio Carrasquel to the PanAm Post, who participated in the 4F coup that launched the political career of former President Hugo Chávez Frías.
The former military men protested at the gates of the presidential palace to demand the government make good on a series of claims delivered in the Special Law of Reinstatement into the Military and the Social Security System of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces of February 6, 2012. Hugo Chávez passed this law with the promise to those who accompanied him during the coup attempts that they would be readmitted into the FANB and receive all the benefits that entails. To date, however, that promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Former Lieutenant Carrasquel recounted that on Monday afternoon hundreds held a march from the Supreme Court (TSJ) to Miraflores to demand a response to their petitions, after already introducing the maximum of four writs of amparo (constitutional claims for redress) to the judiciary without any response.
“Because of the barricades and guarimbas [road-blocking activity], they put in writs of amparo and arrested two mayors (San Cristóbal and San Diego). Why doesn’t the TSJ respond to our petitions?” questioned Carrasquel.
According to Carrasquel, once they arrived at Miraflores, they received an initial round of tear gas and shots from police. Following negotiations, the group’s attorney, retired Lieutenant Américo Gutiérrez, was received by a general of the ministry of the vice president and a general for regional command unit 5 (assigned to Caracas).
“They told the attorney that we had not complied with some corrections that the TSJ had requested regarding our writs of amparo, which the attorney Gutiérrez called a lie, because we did comply. So, they said they wouldn’t talk to us, they withdrew and then began the second round of repression from the police, worse than the first. The PNB ambushed us from behind, and in front we had the GNB,” said the former lieutenant, who claims the police beat him during the confrontation.
It was then that the police arrested the attorney, along with 10 other former military officials.* As of Tuesday morning, neither their families nor their fellow protesters knew the whereabouts of the detainees.
“We assume that they have them in the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) or the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGIM), but their families are worried because they know nothing,” said Carrasquel. El Nacional has reported that they could be charged with rebellion for protesting outside the presidential palace.
Claims of Corruption
Of the over 3,000 applicants who were left on waiting lists for the reinstatement process, only half have been recognized, explained Carrasquel, who believes the process is “flawed.” One of the reasons he cites for this is the fact that the first of those recognized for reinstatement were those in high ranking positions like the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, Minister of Energy Jesse Chacón, Congressman Pedro Carreño, former Governor of Aragua Rafael Isea, and Minister of the Interior, Justice, and Peace Miguel Rodríguez Torres.
“We were told that they were the most highly needed for reinstatement, but we ask how this was possible if they already occupied high ranking offices. Among us are people who are indigent, disabled, and sick, who were left in poor conditions after the uprisings,” said Carrasquel.
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The 1,500 men who have not yet been reinstated argue that the Supreme Court has made it clear that they have a right to return to the FANB, since they were never legally expelled and no legal judgments were ever made in this regard.
However, they feel they have been deceived. In December 2014, when they began the process of introducing their writs of amparo, the group of former soldiers received a temporary ID and pension that turned out to be false and illegal, according to the Supreme Court. Feeling scammed, these former soldiers were then prompted to introduce writs of amparo and held vigils outside the gates of the Supreme Court.
After Monday’s demonstrations, however, the GNB has made it known to protesters that they will be prevented from holding any more vigils outside the TSJ. “We will continue to fight, but we cannot hold demonstrations anymore, because we do not want to cause confrontations,” said Carrasquel.
Criminalization of Protest
The NGO Venezuelan Education Program-Human Rights Action (PROVEA) asserts that the right to protest has been systematically criminalized in Venezuela. “It is constant factor, and the forceful repression against people close to the ruling party proves it is constant,” said Rafael Uzcátegui, research and media coordinator of PROVEA, in a statement to the PanAm Post.
Uzcátegui explained that when the data regarding protests in Venezuela is analyzed, a high percentage those affected by this policy — people who have been repressed or face legal trouble after protesting — are supporters of the ruling party. “The criminalization of protest has no political affiliation,” said Uzcátegui.
He also makes note that it is unconstitutional to prevent a group of former military members from peacefully gathering at the doors of the Supreme Court. “Vigils are a form of peaceful protest,” he said.
*Editor’s note: the article was updated to reflect an accurate number of those arrested during the protest. A total of 11 former soldiers were detained, including the attorney representing the group.