The Attack By "Peaceful Protestors" on the Venezuelan National Guard on Friday. (Report and Photo Essay)
By Les Blough in Venezuela. Axis of Logic.
Wednesday, Mar 5, 2014
|The Venezuelan opposition tried to cancel Carnival this year, favoring violence over holiday fun. But a vast majority of the people wouldn't hear of it and President Maduro encouraged everyone to enjoy this annual holiday. So millions of Venezuelans enjoyed their 4 day vacation on the beaches, plains and in the mountains like this ...
... while a handful of the opposition were busy in 6 of 335 municipalites attacking police and national guard like this -
Last Friday afternoon and night about 1,000 opposition people gathered a "guarimba" in the Altamira area of Chacao, the wealthiest municipality of Caracas. Throughout Venezuela, there have been only 18 municipalities among 335 where almost all of the violence has been taking place and the Altamira part of Chacao is one of them. These centers of violence are run by opposition mayors and their local police forces. Having received advance notice of their plans, I decided to see what they were up to and take some photos.
National Guard and National Police
Upon my arrival at 1 p.m. the exit ramp for Altamira on the autopista was closed by about 30 Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) who were friendly and helpful, giving me instructions on how to reach my destination. By 3 p.m. their numbers swelled to perhaps 200 GNB and Bolivarian Policia National (PNB) combined, in a front line and another behind in tightly closed ranks behind 6 ft/ plastic shields. During early afternoon I interviewed an officer among them and asked why they are not clearing all the barricades. He said they were preventing the protestors’ from entering the autopista but wanted to avoid any confrontation, “So for now we will wait.” This has been GNB policy since the first violent attacks on February 12 according to government policy. More about their response during and after the attacks later.
There were an estimated 1,000 people in this “protest,” comprised mostly of young people, ages 15-25, about 65 percent of them were male and more than half of them wearing face masks. Many were just up the street in Plaza Altamira, holding parties and waiting for the action to begin. There were also some masked adults scattered among them who appeared to be aged from 30-40 years old. In early-mid afternoon, young men and women were milling about excitedly in small groups, building, reinforcing and guarding their street barriers and preparing weapons for the assault which they planned to launch later in the day against the lines of National Guard and National Police. Upon my arrival at around 1 p.m. they had already set up 16 barriers cutting off all traffic at 7 different intersections in the immediate area. The older men didn’t show up until later when the assault began around the same time many more motorcyclists rolled in. The latter were cause for alarm because armed gangs of bikers were responsible for the wounding and killing of many since February 12 In the afternoon a couple young, masked men told me to stick around if I wanted to see some action. When I asked a few people why they were there they only mumbled a few words about problems with the economy, crime, security, “no future here” and “Maduro has to go.” I suggested to one young man who was giving orders to others that the violence seems to be diminishing and things seem to be calming down in the country. He replied, “Oh, no we’re just getting started. We will build this up until the government resigns.” More about these people later when they began their attacks.
Location for the Attack
Altamira is a sector of the municipality of Chicao, the wealthiest in Venezuela and some say the richest in all of South America. Altamira is a gem in Chacao. Although small, it has 3 entrances to the Metro (subway) with easy access to downtown; has direct access to the autopista; has the finest restaurants with upscale shopping and its pride is Plaza Altamira, a large park with fountains, towering statues, flower gardens, grass and trees throughout – beautiful. It also has Cultural Center La Estancia, another beautiful park with visual art galleries, an amazing variety of flower gardens and trees labeled with their species, extremely well manicured with stone walkways throughout. Concerts are often held on the lawn large enough to entertain hundreds of seated visitors. During the 4th Republic only the wealthy had access to this public park but that all changed with the advent of President Chavez who opened it to everyone. In addition, Altamira is also home to Parque Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda, the largest park in the area, carefully attended like the others.
Ramón Muchacho of Capriles Radonsky’s political party, Primero Justicia, is the mayor of Chacao where he won the December 8 election with 84% of the vote. It is his local police who are responsible for law enforcement in Altamira but instead make it easy for the trouble-makers to block their neighbors in these middle/upper class neighborhoods. I observed several Chacao policemen on their motorcycles mingling among protestors and doing/saying nothing about their illegal barricades. Until about 2 pm on Friday some protestors were opening barricades for some people whom they apparently knew but not permitting others to pass. A friend of mine who lives in the area told me that there’ve been times when even opposition families have not been able to get out to buy food and shop for days and there have been some scuffles among opposition people over their own barricades.
Hopefully, this helps explain why Altamira has been a place for regular protests over the last 3 weeks, but why the attack on the GNB and PNB last Friday? After all, these authorities have been blocking access to the autopista at Altamira on a nightly basis for two weeks as the whole aim of the trouble-makers is to block the autopista which is the main east to west link in the north of the country.
Timing for the Attack
Last Friday was the first full day of Carnival and last week, the opposition leaders declared that Carnival would be cancelled because of the violence in the country. But the vast majority of the population (including many opposition) ignored them and listened to President Maduro who encouraged them to enjoy Carnival, visit the beaches and other tourist attractions and not to worry about the few who are causing violence. Carnival and Semana Santa (Easter) are the two biggest holidays of the year for Venezuelans to travel the Autopista, heading for the beaches and other popular tourist spots. Recently, the opposition blocked the autopista at Altamira causing congestion and long lines of stopped traffic before being dispersed and barricades removed by the National Guard. But blocking the autopista with millions traveling to their vacation spots during Carnival would have been disruptive to the extreme, in a word - disastrous. So they decided to attack those who thwarted a key opposition plan, denying them the ability to block holiday traffic which would have been very dangerous.
We’ve put together a schematic of this part of Altamira, showing the locations of the opposition barricades, the police barriers and the place of the attacks among other details. The map is not to scale but the reader can visualize what took place on Friday, February 28, 2014.
Rocks, Molotovs, Water Cannons and Tear Gas
At about 3:30 p.m. the rioters began hurling molotov bombs and rocks by hand and slingshots, bouncing them off the GNB’s plastic shields. Some molotovs exploded upon impact with police shields and others when landing on the pavement at their feet. I saw one man throw a molotov that went overtop the police shields and landed among them, followed by cheering and applause by the mob. Many others prepared their molotovs a few feet from me and saw one man with what appeared to be a .9mm pistol under his belt when he pulled back his jacket. I decided not to photograph this because of the danger. At about 4 p.m. about 30 men moved forward to within about 15 meters of the police line behind a large corrugated metal shield, while throwing rocks and molotovs from behind (see photos). Their shield was a rooftop that I’d watched them dismantle earlier from a workers’ shed in a nearby construction site. (see map & photos). When the mob closed in, the National Police (PNB) opened up a mobile water cannon (La Ballena or The Whale in English) from behind their lines and forced them back. They continued their attack and the PNB increased the water pressure blowing panels of the metal shield off.
Finally, at about 4:30 pm while the mob continued their attacks, the GNB and PNB fired tear gas and the entire crowd stampeded up the avenue past me. I too took a pretty hard hit of gas but was able to recover within about a half hour. I didn’t see the police fire any rubber bullets or plastic shotgun pellets throughout the day; nor did I see anyone receive any such injuries. If in our antiwar protests in the US we had attacked police like this, protestors would have undoubtedly been shot down in the street but not so in Venezuela. Later, after the tear gas, the rioters returned to the police line again, continuing their attacks.and I returned to my earlier position to observe and take photos.
Compare this with how this attack was described internationally in canned text by writers/publishers who were not there (emphasis mine):
|"At least 41 people,
including foreign reporters, were arrested in Caracas late Friday as
security forces battled protesters angry at the policies of Venezuela's
leftist government. National Guard security forces blasted the
student-led demonstrators with high-pressure water and fired tear gas
canisters into the crowds in an attempt to break up the protest. Hooded
protesters set up barricades and responded by hurling rocks and Molotov
As the sun descended and dusk gathered, the attacks against the GNB were continuing, again by about 1,000 protestors. It was then that GNB opened up their line and about 40 GNB motorcycles, with two guardsmen on each, roared up the avenue and the rioters stampeded again, running toward Plaza Altamira. When the Guard caught up with them they arrested and handcuffed a number of people, sandwiched them between the guardsmen on the motorcycle and sped off, taking them directly to court. Because of the bedlam I was unable to take photos but witnesed 5 or 6 of these arrests as close as a meter or two from where I was standing..
I did not witness a single incident of any GNB or police kicking or striking anyone with their batons or fists – not one. These members serving in the GNB stood behind shields all day in body armor in the sun for 8-10 hours in up to 90 Fahrenheit heat, without moving while being attacked with rocks and molotovs. I think it’s safe to say that their shields must have been hammered a thousand times by rocks and 40-50 times with molotov bombs.
Arturo Rosales put all this into perspective by describing the conditions under which members of the National Guard work::
Guardsmen of the Bolivarian Republic come from the barrios or popular
areas, from small towns or humble dwellings from other parts of the
country. Those protesting are mainly middle or upper middle class from
the four most populated cities in the country. .. Now you can appreciate
the context. Put yourself in the army boots of a 24 year old National
Guardsperson with brown skin coming from a small village in Zulia, from a
peasant farming community in Apure or a fishing village in Sucre... The
victims of this abuse are men and women in the National Guard, people
from humble, often poorer backgrounds, regarded by the perpetrators of
such filthy diatribes as being somehow inferior as human beings."
On Sunday, TeleSur reported that the government arrested 41 subjects in Altamira on Friday night for damaging public and private property and closing streets to block traffic.
GNB Brigadier General Manuel Quevedo Fernandez told TeleSur that they arrested a total of 44 citizens, 10 women and 34 men, two of them minors. Fernandez said “They were all taken to the Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace.” Fernandez explained that those arrested were taken “...right here to the public prosecutor's office and not moved to the Command ... in absolute respect for human rights."
He was obviously emphasizing that they were not taken to a GNB Command and beaten by their captors as some are likely to claim. Fernandez further stated, that 8 of those arrested spoke with foreign accents and thus were delivered to intelligence agencies. Since then, we’ve received that 41 of those detained were released on Sunday. Again, if a mob like this, whether called ‘protestors” or not, attacked police in the US they would be dead, in the hospital or sitting in jail today.
The members of the GNB I’ve witnessed in Venezuela over the last 7 years and last Friday have without exception conducted themselves professionally and with remarkable discipline. In the two cases of GNB assaulting protestors, the guardsmen were arrested and are sitting in prison awaiting trial right now. There were no deaths and no serious injuries to anyone in Altamira. Yet the opposition continues to scream about “police repression” and “police brutality,” lies repeated by the international media.
Throughout the day I interviewed a number of Chavistas, all working in the service industry in restaurants, hotels and street cleaners. There was a lot of head shaking but none of them expressed any bitterness. A cook in a nearby restaurant said, "Many of these people are not students and many don't even know why they are here. She said, I serve these people and the National Guard protects them. They make me ashamed of my country."
Another worker said, "They've been out here for 2 weeks now. These people are vandals, nothing more. Look how they tear down trees and destroy everything. Then we have to clean up the mess. But I don't hate them. They are the ones who hate. The president is leading us to peace and peace will win." Each of these people asked me not to take their photos or give their names for fear of reprisals.
One GNB killed and another wounded in Carabobo on Friday
At the time of the attacks on the GNB in Altamira on Friday, in Valencia, Carabobo State, Giovanny Hernandez Pantoja, a National Guardsman, was shot by sniper fire in the eye, killing him as he was removing a street barricade in the urbanization, El Trigal. This was in the municipality of El Limón which is run by an opposition mayor from “Popular Will” – the political party of Leonardo López, who is in prison awaiting trial for his role as the main leader of the February violence. Another guardsman was wounded twice in the leg on the same day in Valencia. When commenting on the attacks on the GNB in Altamira, President Maduro asked CICPC (Scientific and Criminal Investigative Police Corps) to carry out a full investigation of Pantoja’s murder. Also in Valencia, the residence of Nancy Pérez was attacked on Friday by right wing groups. Pérez is a government minister for Integral Development,
Riots like this will no doubt continue and the US–backed opposition will try to escalate these attacks for destabilization. But the government is systematically gaining control of the violence. When it began 4 weeks ago it was located in only 18 of 335 municipalites across Venezuela. Since then the number of municipalities with violent attacks has been reduced to 8 and this weekend there were street barricades in only 6. There have been many assaults on Venezuela over the last 15 years and the Venezuelan people have defeated them all. President Maduro is using methods learned from Chavez how to contain and defeat these mobs, gradually winning by attrition. Like the GNB and PNB, the vast numbers of chavistas living in the barrios have honored Maduro's request that they not fall into the trap of responding with violence which they know is what the authors of the “protests” want them to do. .
While a relative few hapless private university students were led into violence this madness in Altamira and Carabobo this weekend, millions of Venezuela were at the beaches and tourist resorts enjoying Carnival. So when you see on corporate TV, websites, social networks or print media that “Venezuela is on the verge of collapse,” please consider the source, read as much as you can and most of all, think critically.
Tomorrow President Chavez will be honored throughout the country. March 5 is the anniversary of his untimely death.
 Guarimba: "La guarimba is the insurrectionary strategy that
was applied in Caracas and in pockets within the country between
February 27 and March 4, 2004, and whose purpose was to achieve a
violent and systematic way to disrupt public peace and tranquility,
causing a "repressive" response by the state that could stimulate a
civilian-military uprising, delegitimize the government of President
Chavez and bring about foreign intervention.
The rest of this report follows in the form of our photo essay.
The National Guard and National Police took up these iines around noon on Friday to prevent the mob from blocking the autopista behind them. They were reinforced later with many more in tight formation as can be seen in the photos of the assault
People gather on Friday afternoon while the opposition police look on.
Their signs, denouncing the government and cursing President Maduro
Their Street Barricades.
They tore down the contractor shed in the construction site for street barricades and hand size chunks of cement blocks for the attack on the National Guard. They also used the roof of the structure as a shield against the water cannon.
The mob began attacking the National Guard and Police in late afternoon and continued into the night, hurling rocks by hand and slingshot and molotov cocktails. After a couple of hours, the National Police hit them with a mobile water cannon and when they persisted, the Guard used tear gas.
Chavistas cleaned up the mess made in this "peaceful student protest" on Saturday morning. Other Chavista workers have already begun to repair the damage to public buildings and Plaza Altamira.
Yesterday, March 5, was the anniversary of El Comandante Chávez. Throughout the day he was remembered in a massive gathering at beautiful ceremonies in Los Proceres in Caracas where President Maduro addressed the people along with foreign dignitaries from other countries. At the mountaintop 4-F Cartel, international representatives met at his catafalco paying tribute to him. There, speaking over his bier, President Maduro announced the breaking of relations with Panama after learning that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has been conspiring with Washington against Venezuela. Maduro stated,
|"There are moves by the United States government in accord with a lackey
government of a right-wing president which has been creating the
conditions for the OAS and other bodies to step towards an intervention
in our country."
It was fitting that President Maduro memorialized former President Chávez with this announcement, consistent with Chávez' creation of a powerful anti-imperialist stance for all sovereign Latin American countries. Oliver Stone's new film on the life of his friend was also shown on National Public Television in Venezuela yesterday.We honor President Chávez.
¡CHAVEZ VIVE, LA PATRIA SIGUE!
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