This post was contributed by Julia_1984. Many thanks to her for agreeing to share a Venezuelan perspective on the recent political events. Julia_1984 was born in Caracas. She has been blogging about the Venezuelan situation in English since 2007 at “The End of Venezuela as I Know it”. In 2012 she changed her country of residence, but her ties and interests about her home remain the same.
I was born and raised in Venezuela; and lived there all my life (28 years) until a year and half ago when a marriage proposal and career opportunities took me overseas. While I called Caracas, its capital, my home, I saw many things I wish I did not. I saw people making long lines to buy milk when it was available, I heard stories of relatives and friends being kidnapped and If not lucky enough, killed; I hid in a hotel lobby while a demonstration was dispersed by the police and quickly learned how to protect myself of the effect of tear gases. I saw politicians, Human Right defenders and just regular people being prosecuted for political reasons, I saw people losing the only property they had: that where they lived. I attended to many good bye parties feeling my group of friends was shrinking daily, as our system kept pushing young middle-class Venezuelans to find a better life elsewhere. I saw it all but I never saw this. During this month, my country has experienced a scale of political violence that holds no parallel in its recent history.
The repression was especially high on two rather tragic days: February 12th and the night of February 19th. On February 12th three people were killed by gunshots in their heads (the pattern must not be taken as a mere coincidence); after a massive demonstration against the government of president Nicolas Maduro turned into violence. Many more were wounded, illegally detained and tortured. Rocío San Miguel, a Human Rights activist in Venezuela tweeted today: “the indiscriminate attack against civilians in Venezuela is the most serious since the 27F in 1989”, when a social uprising ended up in a massacre killing more than 300 people.
On February 19th; as the president spoke on TV, threatening its dissidents; a whole state was isolated staying for hours without Internet Service, Electricity and even water. This state was Táchira, where everything started.
Earlier this month, students in the Tachira state began demonstrations against an attempted rape case handled badly. Soon the protests were about anything else; being food and basic good shortages, now a routine after years of price controls, currency exchange controls and in general an economy poorly managed; and insecurity the main two topics (at least 24,763 people were killed in the country just in 2013, according to a “conservative count” of an independent NGO: Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). In parallel, a group of opposition leaders presented a proposal to the country called “La Salida” which consisted on street protests as a way to pressure for an electoral solution of the present crisis. “La Salida” leader, Leopoldo López is now in prison.
Not only Tachira suffered an untold repressive violence that dreaded night of February 19th. Those cities that did had Internet service: Valencia, Mérida, Caracas… lost no detail on reporting the horror. People in motorcycles, dressed in black, members of either the National Guard or “colectivos” (paramilitary groups, government supported and armed), chase down protesters testing new limits. They shot tear gas bombs directly at apartment complexes, there are also videos of protesters being shot at the streets without not even an attempt of mediation first.
Many students and journalists hid in buildings, the National Guard and Collectivos entered those buildings damaging vehicles, stealing motorcycles and throwing even more tear gas bombs. It is not your usual tear gas bomb, the one I learned how to handle by smelling a handkerchief impregnated with white vinegar. My friends tell me this gas is different: vinegar is no use, it is actually worse; they now need antacid to protect themselves from the gas effects. Is that even legal? As my mother in law wrote to us about hearing gunshots from her house and we continued to read reports of the events, we prayed for the night to end.
According to the General Prosecutor, 8 people have died and 137 have been wounded since the protests started and spread all over the country. The numbers, given the lack of independence of the Judicial Power, might be conservative. NGOs are still working to provide an accurate account of the victims including those detained which might be over 200. Another demonstration has been called for tomorrow. The opposition will demand the government to disarm the “colectivos” and stop Human Rights Violations but while the government continues to respond with violence and anger grows among protesters; my home will be more and more unrecognizable to me. Venezuela continues to experience political violence in a scale not seen before and this February of horrors does not seem to come to an end.