Venezuela’s Night of the Long Knives


EspañolVenezuela’s Ramo Verde military prison has become a symbol of oppression, a dungeon for freedom. It’s no exaggeration to say that democracy has been kidnapped and thrown in Ramo Verde.

Just like the infamous Rotunda in the days of Venezuelan dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, or South Africa’s Robben Island where Nelson Mandela served the greater part of his 27-year sentence, today the prison facility is used as a cage for anyone who dares raise their voice against the creeping tyranny seeking to cement its grip over Venezuela.

On Thursday, February 19, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) arbitrarily arrested Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma, to later send him to Ramo Verde. He joins opposition leader Leopoldo López, among others.

Dozens of officers subjected the elected official to physical and verbal abuse as they dragged him from his office, as if he were a common criminal. Ledezma was kidnapped without a warrant and without ceremony.

El secuestro de Antonio Ledezma, alcalde de Caracas, no es un hecho que sorprenda, sino que responde a lógica del Gobierno de Nicolás Maduro.
The kidnap of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma isn’t surprising: it fits the authoritarian logic of President Nicolás Maduro. (Diario Crítico)

The illegality of Ledezma’s seizure has shocked and angered many, but we should hardly be surprised by the events of last Thursday. Noted opposition figure Fernando Mires, for example, argued that the regime “has now crossed the line.” In reality, it crossed it much earlier.

The capacity of Venezuelans to be surprised at each fresh abuse is remarkable. The time has come to understand at last that this is how the regime acts; these are its tools. Illegal actions and intimidation don’t cause President Nicolás Maduro to lose any sleep.

National Assembly Deputy Carlos Enrique Ramos meanwhile suggested that Ledezma’s detention is a “smoke screen,” while prominent analyst Luis Vicente León, director of consulting firm Datanálisis, argued that the objective is to “distract” attention from the “country’s genuine problems.”

I don’t believe that political persecution is a mere “smoke screen,” and to claim that it is is highly irresponsible. The kidnapping of an elected official shouldn’t be trivialized. Nor are we facing the deeds of a desperate government.

Maduro didn’t act to distract attention from the economic crisis afflicting Venezuela. He acted because he can, because he leads a totalitarian regime. The Venezuelan regime is now so comfortable that it can purge the country of opposition without fear.

The only reason why Maduro can go on national television with ease about the supposed treachery of elected officials — some 33 mayors have now been arrested on dubious charges — is because Venezuelans have allowed it. Every repressive act that goes unanswered by the opposition is a victory for the regime. The answer of the Democratic Unity Roundtable in the face of Ledezma’s arrest? The feeble announcement of primaries for parliamentary elections.

The government eliminates obstacles and threats without consequence. It didn’t even need a pretext to act on this occasion: repression can fall wherever they want it to. Regardless of whether the opposition is peaceful or not, the answer will always be violent; merely thinking differently is a crime.

Where Venezuelans once feared National Security agents, East Germany was cowed by the Stasi, and the Blackshirts and NKVD trampled on Italians and Russians, we now have the SEBIN. The regime’s political police, a symbol of oppression and terror, they’re tasked with carrying out persecution, torture, and other crimes in the name of the Maduro regime. Today they take our freedom from us, but they too will be condemned by history.

Between June 30 and July 2, 1934, the nascent totalitarian regime in Germany perpetrated one of the most notorious political purges in history. This series of political murders would later become known as the Night of the Long Knives. Today in Venezuela, it would be inexact to apply the same name: rather, we could say that we’ve lived through 16 years of long knives.

The Chavista regime has tasked itself with eliminating whoever irritates it, and it will continue to do so as long as it can. Former UN Security Council President Diego Arria has argued that the Venezuelan government “is seeking to liquidate us one by one, we all have a number on our back.” Anyone who now seeks to defend liberty is a target for the regime.

“We’re living through a process of extermination for all dissident voices,” Arria added. In other words, we’re living the Night of the Long Knives every day.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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