From February 2, 2014 to date, Venezuela is in the midst of a strong repressive context expressed in conducts of extreme intolerance, criminalization and repression by state forces against peaceful protests, opposition party leaders, human rights defenders and journalists, identified in many cases as targets of war based on the assumption of their involvement in coup attempts directed from foreign countries. These conducts —with a pattern similar to the events of April 20131— occur this time more harshly than in the past, along with measures to censor independent media and calls for “peace” and “dialogue” issued by the Executive, which are not consistent with the excesses and repressive practices in cities across the country, the biased use of information about the causes of social unrest and serious acts of violations of human rights
as a result of such practices. They are joined by repetitive discourses of intolerance, confrontation and threats issued by the highest State authorities through mandatory joint radio and television broadcasts (“cadenas”2) on national television, ignoring, disqualifying or criminalizing the legitimate complaints, claims and demands of protesters.
Protests began peacefully, led by students, opposition leaders and civil society sectors of Venezuela, as a result of the confluence of different reasons to manifest, such as insecurity, shortages and inflation, the severe public health crisis, the implementation of restrictive measures against freedom of expression, and student arrests in connection with protests that occurred on February 4 and 53 . This confluence led to the call for demonstrations in cities across the country by the student movement on February 12, celebrated as Student Day in Venezuela since 1947. This call was joined by the petition to hold street assemblies by groups of citizens to find what opponents Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado called “The Exit” or a way “to change the anti-democratic political system by constitutional means”. This appeal, made at a press conference on January 234 —the anniversary of the fall of the last dictatorship in Venezuela, in 1958—, was subsequently joined the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, along with other opposition party leaders.
Following the announcement of the call for a demonstration on February 12, President Nicolas Maduro coincided with other State authorities in criminalize protests a priori, describing them as part of an agenda to destabilize the Venezuelan government.
On February 10, at a press conference at a meeting of the National Board of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the party and President of the National Assembly, said:
“Those who are behind the protests and student demonstrations that culminated in the attack on public institutions and family members of the Revolutionary Government are the same people who have already decided to mount ‘guarimbas’5 and protests tomorrow aiming at re-editing the scene of violence that preceded the April 2002 coup”.
At this same meeting, Héctor Rodríguez, Minister of Education, said:
“We believe this fascist plan goes against the expressed will of the majority of Venezuelans to live in a country at peace in coexistence”.
On February 11, President Nicolas Maduro during a television program hosted by the President of the National Assembly, said there would be
“an iron fist against the plotters and fascists who try to take the country by a spiral of violence (…) if they (the opposition) have decided to embark on another coup attempt, I call on the people, the Armed Force: everyone ready. I have activated the Anti-coup Command. We have been meeting all of these early mornings. We’re almost ready with maps, area by area, and name by name around the country. We will act, I say to the whole country: ready to defend democracy, the Revolution, the legacy of Comandante Chavez”6.
On Wednesday February 12, thousands of people attended the demonstration in Caracas, beginning with a rally at Plaza Venezuela, from where they marched peacefully to the headquarters of the Public Ministry to deliver a document to the Attorney General. At the same time, there were demonstrations in several cities around the country, such as Barquisimeto, Puerto Ordaz, Valencia, San Cristobal and Merida. Meanwhile, there was a pro-government rally in downtown Caracas, by the Presidential Palace, to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of La Victoria, which occurred on February 12, 1814, giving rise to Student Day.
However, when the demonstrators convened by students were withdrawing from the surroundings of the Public Ministry, there were acts of repression and violence by armed pro-government civilian groups (“colectivos”7) and members of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), which resulted in the death of young Bassil Da Costa, participating in the student protest, and Juan Montoya, leader of “Social Colectivos”, who was in the same area of La Candelaria. Both were killed by headshots8.
In official events celebrating the bicentenary of the Battle of La Victoria, with a military parade on the evening of February 12, President Nicolas Maduro banned unauthorized demonstrations, given the announcement of the continuation of protests by demonstrators:
“I am not going to allow them. I have given very clear instructions to law-enforcement agencies of the State to protect major cities. Whoever tries to use violence without permission to rally, will be arrested. Whoever he or she is, whatever his or her name (…) In this country you need a permit to march, in accordance with the law. It has to be done. Whoever wants to protest, march or mobilize, must comply with the law. Listen to my call military chiefs, governors and mayors, everyone with a responsibility. We will implement these measures respecting our people. Nobody here will turn any public square in the country into a new Plaza Altamira”9.
In light of the events of February 12, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace, General Miguel Rodriguez Torres, said in a press conference on the 13th that after the first investigations, it could be concluded that behind the violence in Caracas:
“there is a foreign hand, which finances and knows the profile of the leaders and their excessive ambitions, manipulating and steering them to lead to such madness (…) the darker side of Venezuelan fascism was seen clearly; those who wreaked havoc here today are the same leaders who did the same in 2002, the same who organized ‘guarimbas’ in eastern Caracas and supported the oil strike. The same who protected the Daktari estate, where 150 paramilitary Colombians arrived with the intention to kill President Chavez, the same fascists who have started these adventures ever since the Bolivarian process began in Venezuela”10.
“…the actions we saw yesterday and those we have seen in Margarita, San Cristobal, Merida and here in Caracas, are not spontaneous actions, nor is this a social protest. It is a protest of a conspiratorial character (…) this is an organization in implementation for quite some time leading the country into an
irrational path, unconstitutional and violent. I think students protesting yesterday were definitely manipulated, used to mobilize students in order to bring in infiltrates, a trained vanguard, trained and prepared to generate chaos and acts of violence (…) this particular organization started between 2010 and 2012″11.
The same day, February 13, Judge Ralenys Tovar of the 16th Control Court, ordered SEBIN —at the request of the Public Ministry—, to arrest Leopoldo López, the National Coordinator of the political party Voluntad Popular, and the search of his residence12. As well, an arrest warrant was issued for Carlos Vecchio, a leader of the same party. On February 17, SEBIN officers broke into the headquarters of Voluntad Popular without a warrant, raiding it violently13. Lopez turned himself in to military personnel on February 18, accompanied by a considerable number of demonstrators, whom he had convened to march with him for his voluntary presentation at the Ministry of Interior and Justice14.
Leopoldo Lopez was imprisoned in Ramo Verde, a military prison, where he still remains, and initially the prosecution requested charging him with the crimes of “intentional homicide executed by ignoble futile motives, frustrated intentional homicide executed by ignoble futile motives, terrorism, serious injury, public property arson, damage to public property, public intimidation offenses, incitement to crime and association to commit crime”. On 19 February, at a hearing within the prison compound considered illegal by his legal counsel, the Judge established four indictable offenses under investigation by the Public Ministry: “public incitement, property damage, being the determiner in the crime of arson (mastermind) and association to commit crime”15.
The systematic pattern of criminalization of protest by various government officials was followed again by the Ombudsman, Gabriela del Mar Ramírez —as she had done during the events of April 2013—, who publicly denied that there had been repression, arbitrary arrests and torture, since her office had not received any formal complaints16. She accused the human rights organization Provea for justifying and being part of the alleged “coup”, when the organization demanded that she fulfill her mandate of acting against the serious events that occurred on February 12. Those included a complaint filed by Provea at the Public Ministry and the Ombudsman Office regarding the kidnapping and physical assault of Mr. Inti Rodriguez, Media Coordinator of the organization, by a paramilitary group, for his work informing about demonstrations and the wounded during that day17:
Twitter text: “I know why @_Provea doesn´t do it (file a complaint) Because in a coup d´Etat, the objective is to attack all institutions, in order to justify it!”
As well, some governors joined the ruling party in fighting the alleged “coup”. Among them, the governor of Carabobo state, Francisco Ameliach, who on February 16 tweeted a call to the “Battle Units Bolívar-Chavez” (UBCH) for a “fulminating counter-attack”, and identified Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly, as the person who would give the order18. On February 18, students reported the attack against them by armed men in motorcycles. The students were demonstrating in the city of Valencia19, where 23-year-old Genesis Carmona was shot in the head, passing away the following day20.
Twitter text: “UBCH, get ready for the fulminating counter-attack. Diosdado will give the order #Respect, Gringos&Fascists”.
From 13 February until the closing date of this note, demonstrations continued in several states and there has been an escalation of violent confrontation between protesters and military and pro-government paramilitary groups, which have also involved families and communities in order to protect the demonstrators, given the increased repression and discourses of intolerance, intransigence and criminalization by national government authorities.
As a result, there are so far 13 deaths, some of them as a consequence of the use of fire arms by law-enforcement and military officials, as well as by paramilitary groups acting with impunity in plain view of those officials21; numerous people wounded, as a result of abuses and the disproportionate use of force by law-enforcement officials22; over 600 people detained, the majority arbitrarily; denunciations by detainees of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment23; over 40 violations of the right to freedom of expression24; the militarization of Tachira state, with military armored vehicles patrolling the streets and war planes flying over the capital city, San Cristobal, while local media was censored, all of which brought Governor Vielma to express his rejection25; as well as the suspension of transportation services26 and threats of interrupting the supply of gasoline in some areas of the country for allegedly being tied to violent acts as part of the supposed coup attempt, regarding which no investigation by the Public Ministry is known27.
Photos The Carabobeño, 24/02/2014.
12 days after the beginning of protests, still President Maduro and other government authorities insist in stating that they are related to a coup attempt and have therefore requested the National Assembly to establish a “Truth Commission” in order to investigate all of the events which, according to the President, “demonstrate the intentions of the Venezuelan right, with foreign support, to stage a coup d´Etat in the country28, (…) and it should investigate all of the fascist crimes. I hope one day there will be justice regarding this fascist siege “29.
Given the serious acts of violation of human rights and the escalation of violence in the Venezuela, which can result in an even more lamentable balance, situation in which the authorities of the Venezuelan State have a responsibility, it is essential to enforce their obligation to guarantee freedom of the protesters in the legitimate exercise of their right to peaceful protest, as well as their rights to life and personal integrity, guaranteeing them likewise to journalists, human rights defenders and communities in which demonstrations are being carried, all in accordance with the provisions of the Venezuelan Constitution and international covenants on human rights signed by the Republic. This includes the proportional and differential use of force in those situations in which protesters engage in acts of verbal or physical violence.
It is also their obligation to put an end to speeches of intolerance and to the systematic criminalization of peaceful protests: instead of framing them in destabilizing agendas as part of a coup, they must address the legitimate grievances and demands of an important part of the Venezuelan population30.
Peaceful demonstrations are one of the ways in which the aspirations of the people in terms of democratic freedoms, social justice and respect for human rights are expressed. The democratic character of a government is manifested, among other conditions, in its ability to meet the demands of its citizens. If the peaceful demonstration is one of the last resources to which citizens resort in order to be heard in their demands and aspirations, it is the obligation of the states to listen to them, as a way to preserve peace and coexistence. In this regard, it is imperative that the Venezuelan government and state institutions as a whole recognize the legitimate right of citizens to the expression of opinions critical of their handling of public affairs and to open channels to attend their claims. Likewise, it is also imperative for demanding rights through protests and demonstrations, that they remain peaceful at all times, as a necessary condition to support the legitimacy of the claims of protesters.
1) Civilis Human Rights: Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela in the context of Presidential elections on April 14, 2013. Published May 14, 2013 in: http://www.civilisac.org/defensores/contexto-abril-2013-en-derechos-humanos y el 25.06.13 en: http://www.civilisac.org/defensores/venezuelas-human-rights-situation-in-the-context-of-the-presidential-elections-april-14-30-2013
2) “Cadenas” (chains) are mandatory broadcast by all national media, public and private.
3) The first student demonstrations began on Tuesday, February 4, after the attempted rape of a female student the night before at the University of Los Andes campus, in the city of San Cristobal, Tachira state. During this first demonstration against insecurity, several youths were arrested and 2 of them remained in custody. In a meeting with Regional Government officials of Tachira, students denounced that during the protest the day before the State Police had violated campus and damaged facilities and buses. On Wednesday, February 5, hundreds of students protested in the cities of San Cristobal and Merida, in which Universidad de Los Andes also operates, to demand the release of their colleagues, one of whom had not participated in the protest the previous day and according to witnesses had been severely beaten. El Universal, Feb 5, 2014: Students arrested for protesting in Tachira are free. In: http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140205/liberaron-a-estudiantes-detenidos-por-protestas-en-tachira . According to the wife of the Governor of Tachira, during this protest a small group threw rocks and trash bags to the official residence. The Governor, José Vielma Mora, was not in the state at the time. The student movement denied involvement in this event; however, five students were arrested, as well as a woman who had offered them water without participating in the protests. The 6 detainees were sent to the Coro Prison Community, in Falcón state, hours from San Cristobal. Statement by Mrs. Karla Jimenez Vielma, Governor Vielma Mora´s wife. In: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1bdaio_primera-dama-del-estado-tachira-denuncia-ataques-contra-la-residencia-del-gobernador_
4) Daily Diario de Caracas, Feb 23, 2014, Video: http://diariodecaracas.com/politica/leopoldo-lopez-maria-corina-machado-haran-anuncios-importantes-hoy-lasalida
5) “Guarimbas” are street barricades, placed in high or low-traffic areas or even in neighborhoods, as a form of protest.
6) Diario Ciudad Caracas, 11.02.2014: Maduro: mano de hierro contra conspiradores y fascistas. En: http://www.ciudadccs.info/?p=532047
7) Diario Últimas Noticias. 19.02.2014. Video / Uniformados y civiles dispararon en Candelaria el 12F. En: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/investigacion/video—uniformados-y-civiles-dispararon-en-candel.aspx#ixzz2uHjVjUAP : Diario Últimas Noticias. 23.02.2014. A Juancho Montoya lo recibieron a tiros. En: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/investigacion/a-juancho-montoya-lo-recibieron-a-tiros.aspx
8) Video de Últimas Noticias. 12.02.2014. Presidente Nicolás Maduro sobre protestas. En: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLi3Yz7e4eI
9) Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Embajada de Venezuela en España, 14/2/2014: Ministro de Interior: actos violentos responden a una conspiración fascista. En: http://embajadadevenezuela.es/noticias/2644-ministerio-de-interior-actos-violentos-responden-a-una-conspiracion-fascista
10) Rueda de prensa realizada por el Ministro del Interior Justicia y Paz, Miguel Rodríguez Torres del 13 de febrero de 2014. En: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY5xQ_WszlE
11) Diario El Universal. 13.02.2014. Ordenan al Sebin capturar a Leopoldo López. http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140213/ordenan-al-sebin-capturar-a-leopoldo-lopez
12) Diario Últimas Noticias. 17.02.2014. Fotos y videos | Allanan sede de Voluntad Popular en Centro Plaza. En: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/politica/fotos-y-video—allanan-sede-de-voluntad-popular-e.aspx#ixzz2uHzPvfnf
13) Diario Últimas Noticias. Video / López se presentará en MIJ este martes. 17.02.2014. En: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/politica/leopoldo-lopez-convoca-a-marcha-para-el-18-de-febr.aspx#ixzz2uHySlssl
14) Diario Últimas Noticias. 19.02.2014. Cuatro delitos se le imputarán a Leopoldo López. En: http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/politica/cuatro-delitos-se-le-imputaran-a-leopoldo-lopez.aspx#ixzz2uI21mFor
15) Entrevista realizada a la Defensora del Pueblo, Gabriela del Mar Ramírez, por el periodista Ernesto Villegas en el canal oficial VTV: Video 1 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1cw5j2_defensora-del-pueblo-esperamos-resultados-del-examen-forense-para-confirmar-violacion-a-joven_news ; Video 2 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1cw679_defensora-del-pueblo-funcionario-que-viole-la-norma-va-a-ser-apartado-e-investigado_news ; Video 3 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1cw84g_defensora-del-pueblo-violencia-en-tachira-ha-dejado-19-personas-heridas_news ; Video 4 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1cw84g_defensora-del-pueblo-violencia-en-tachira-ha-dejado-19-personas-heridas_news
16) Front Line Defenders: Venezuela: Campaña difamatoria en contra del defensor de derechos humanos Sr Humberto Prado Sifontes y detención arbitraria del Sr Inti Rodriguez – Ver más en: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/25019#sthash.uakvLZgL.dpuf
17) Diario el Universal. 17.02.2014. Ameliach llamó a prepararse para el “Contraataque fulminante”. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140217/ameliach-llamo-a-prepararse-para-el-contraataque-fulminante
18) Diario El Carabobeño. 18.02.2014. Motorizados atacaron marcha opositora en la avenida Cedeño. En: http://www.el-carabobeno.com/sucesos/articulo/75909/motorizados-atacaron-marcha-opositora-en-la-avenida-cedeo
19) Diario El Universal. 19.02.2014. Murió Génesis Carmona Miss Turismo Carabobo 2013. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/sucesos/140219/murio-genesis-carmona-miss-turismo-carabobo-2013
20) Testimonios: 20.02.2014. Madre de estudiante herido en Valencia. Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XeeYc2dg-k ; Diario ;El Universal. 20.02.2014. Marcha de Colectivos Armados por el Centro de la Ciudad de Caracas. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/caracas/140220/marcha-de-colectivos-recorre-la-avenida-urdaneta
21) Diario El Universal. 22.02.2014. “Cuando se cayó Geraldine le dispararon en la cara otra vez”. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/140222/cuando-se-cayo-geraldine-le-dispararon-en-la-cara-otra-vez
22) Diario El Nacional. 22.02.2014. “Nos obligaron a desnudarnos y amenazaban con violarnos”. En: http://www.el-nacional.com/politica/obligaron-desnudarnos-amenazaban-violarnos_0_359964248.html
23) Espacio Público, Febrero 2014, Los Trances de la Libertad de Expresión. En: http://espaciopublico.org/index.php/biblioteca/doc_download/492-
24) Entrevista del gobernado del estado Táchira, Vielma Mora, en el circuito Onda, por los periodistas Alba Cecilia Mujica y Sergio Novelli. En: http://ondalasuperestacion.com/categorias-principal/vielma-mora-converso-en-exclusiva-con-alba-y-sergio-sobre-la-situacion-de-protestas-en-tachira/
25) Rueda de Prensa del Ministro de Transporte Haiman el Trouidi. 15.02.2014. En: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l08FvVQHnMk
26) Diario El Universal. 21.02.2014. Ramírez evalúa suspender despacho de combustibles “en zonas en asedio”. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/economia/140221/ramirez-evalua-suspender-despacho-de-combustibles-en-zonas-en-asedio
27) Diario Ciudad Caracas, 23.02.2014: Maduro pedirá a la AN comisión para investigar intento de golpe de estado. En: http://www.ciudadccs.info/?p=536474
28) Diario El Universal, 24.02.14: Maduro pidió a la AN creación de una Comisión de la Verdad. En: http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/protestas-en-venezuela/140224/maduro-pidio-a-la-an-creacion-de-una-comision-de-la-verdad
29) Entre los puntos señalados por el líder opositor Henrique Capriles en una manifestación pacífica realizada el 22 de febrero se encuentra: 1. Libertad de todos los detenidos y amnistía para todos los sometidos a procesos judiciales, 2.Libertad de Leopoldo López, 3. Medida humanitaria para el ExComisario Iván Simonovis; 4. Regreso de todos los venezolanos en el exilio; 5. Justicia para todos los caídos y brutalmente reprimidos; 6. Desarme inmediato de todos los grupos para-militares; 7. Cese a la represión y levantar la militarización del Táchira; 8. Respeto del derecho a la protesta pacífica y 9. Convertir la protesta en movimiento social con los sectores populares.