Venezuela: Opposition Rallies End in Bloodshed, Riots
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.
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.”
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.
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.