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Translation of “Quick Overview of the Situation in Venezuela for the Curious and Ill-informed” (Rafael Uzcategui, El Libertario)

More from Venezuelan anarchists on the current wave of protest and government repression. I started translating Rafael Uzcategui’s recent, extremely helpful overview Resumen express de la situación venezolana para curioso/as y poco informado/as but I found that a translation had already been done by the author himself, and reposted by volunteers at the anarchist activist blog ROAR.[1] The translation is his work. I have, however: (1) restored some boldface emphasis from the original Spanish that was left out in the translation, (2) made editorial revisions to a few isolated phrases that I thought reflected careless errors or were potentially misleading (with editorial notes where I made any changes), (3) re-added a P.S. at the very end of the article which was omitted from the English translation, and, (4) to fit the usual format at this blog, I’ve added the headline back in. (Any editorial changes I’ve made, after the headline, are explicitly noted.) This one is translated by the author himself, but as with previous translations, if you notice any issues with the translation feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach an editorial note or correction to the text here.

Quick Overview of the Situation in Venezuela for the Curious and Ill-informed.

Rafael Uzcategui

On February 4th, 2014, students from the Universidad Nacional Experimental del Táchira (Experimental University of Táchira), located in the inland state of the country, protested the sexual assault of a fellow female classmate, which took place in the context of the city’s increasing insecurity. The protest was repressed, and several students were detained. The next day, other universities around the country had their own protests requesting the release of these detainees, and these demonstrations were also repressed, with some of the activists incarcerated.

The wave of indignation had as context the economic crisis, the shortage of first necessity items and the crisis of basic public services, as well as the beginnings of the imposition of new economic austerity measures by President Nicolás Maduro. Two opposition politicians, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, tried to capitalize on the wave of discontent rallying for new protests under the slogan “The Way Out” and also tried to press for the resignation of president Maduro. Their message also reflected the rupture and divisions on the inside of opposing politicians and the desire to replace Henrique Capriles’ leadership, who publicly rejected the protests. The Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Table) coalition, didn’t support them either.

When the government suppressed the protests, it made them grow bigger and wider all over the country. On February 12th, 2014, people from 18 cities protested for the release of all of the detainees and in rejection of the government. In some cities of the interior, particularly punished by scarcity and lack of proper public services, the protests were massive. In Caracas, three people were murdered during the protests. The government blames the protesters, but the biggest circulating newspaper in the country, Últimas Noticias, which receives the majority of its advertising budget from the government itself, revealed through photographs that the murderers were police officers. As a response to this, Nicolás Maduro stated on national television and radio broadcast that police enforcement had been “infiltrated by the right wing.”

The repression of the protesters draws not only on police and military enforcement agencies; it also incorporates the participation of militia groups to violently dissolve the protests. A member of PROVEA, a human rights NGO, was kidnapped, beaten and threatened with death by one of them on the west side of Caracas. President Maduro has publicly encouraged these groups, which he calls colectivos (collectives).

The Venezuelan government currently[2] controls all of the major TV stations, and has threatened with sanctions radio stations and newspapers that transmit information about protests. Because of this, the privileged space for the distribution of information have been the social media networks, especially Twitter. The use of personal technological devices has allowed record-keeping through videos and photographs of ample aggressions of the repressive forces. Human rights organizations report detainees all over the country (many of them already released). The number has surpassed 400, and they have suffered torture, including reports of sexual assault, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. As this is being written 5 people have been murdered in the context of the protests.

In his speeches, Nicolás Maduro incites[3] the protesters opposing him to assume even more radical and violent positions. Without any ongoing criminal investigation, he automatically stated that everyone killed has been murdered by the protesters themselves, who he disqualifies with every possible adjective.

However, this belligerence seems not to be shared by all the chavista movement, because a lot of its base is currently withholding its active support, waiting to see what will come next. Maduro has only managed to rally public employees to the street protests he has called. In spite of the situation and due to the grave economic situation he faces, Nicolás Maduro continues to make economic adjustments, the most recent being a tax increase.

The state apparatus reiterates repeatedly that it is facing a “coup”, that what happened in Venezuela on April 2002 will repeat itself. This version has managed to neutralize the international left-wing, which hasn’t even expressed its concern about the abuses and deaths in the protests.

The protests are being carried out in many parts of the country and are lacking in center and direction, having being called through social media networks. Among the protesters themselves, there are many diverse opinions about the opposition political parties, so it’s possible to find many expressions of support and also rejection at the same time.

In the case of Caracas the middle class and college students are the primary actors in the demonstrations. On the other hand, in other states, many popular sectors have joined the protests. In Caracas the majority of the demands are political, including calls for the freedom of the detainees and the resignation of President Maduro, while in other cities social demands are incorporated, with protests against inflation, scarcity and lack of proper public services. Even though some protests have turned violent, and some protesters have fired guns at police and militia groups, the majority of the protests, especially outside of Caracas, remain peaceful.

The independent revolutionary left in Venezuela (anarchists, sections of Trotskyism and Marxist-Leninist-Guevarism) has no involvement in this situation, and we are simple spectators.[4] Some of us are actively denouncing state repression and helping the victims of human rights violations.

Venezuela is a historically oil-driven country. It possesses low levels of political culture among its population, which explains why the opposition protesters have the same “content” problem as those supporting the government. But while the international left-wing continues to turn its back and support — without any criticism — the government’s version of “a coup”, it leaves thousands of protesters at the mercy of the most conservative discourse of the opposition parties, without any reference to anti-capitalists, revolutionaries and true social change that could influence them.

In this sense, Leopoldo López, the detained conservative opposition leader, tries to make himself the center of a dynamic movement that, up to the time of this writing, had gone beyond the political parties of the opposition and the government of Nicolás Maduro.

What will happen in the short term? I think nobody knows exactly, especially the protesters themselves. The events are developing minute by minute.

For more alternative information about Venezuela, we recommend:

P.S. If you want to read about the elements that contradict the possibility that there would be a coup d’etat in Venezuela, I recommend you read: https://rafaeluzcategui.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/las-diferencias-de-abril/[5]

— Resumen express de la situación venezolana para curioso/as y poco informado/as (Feb. 21, 2014). Translated by the author, Rafael Uzcategui, with minor editorial revisions by Charles W. Johnson.

  1. [1] When I first posted this story, I picked up the English translation from ROAR and assumed that it had been done by volunteers there. They helpfully pointed out, in the comments below, that they had re-posted an English translation originally offered by the author himself. I’ve revised the text here to reflect that. —CJ, 22.Feb.2014
  2. [2] actually in author’s translation. Original Spanish: El gobierno venezolano actualmente controla todas las estaciones de televisión.
  3. [3] encourages in author’s translation. Original Spanish: En sus discursos Nicolás Maduro estimula que los manifestantes en su contra asuman posiciones más radicales y violentas.
  4. [4] In author’s translation: The Revolutionary Independent Venezuelan Left (which includes anarchists and sectors that follow Trotsky, Marx, Lenin and Guevara) is not involved in this situation. We are simple spectators. Original Spanish: La izquierda revolucionaria independiente venezolana (anarquistas, sectores del trotsquismo y del marxismo-leninismo-guevarismo) no tiene ninguna incidencia en esta situación y somos simple espectadores.
  5. [5] This paragraph, omitted from the first translation, added by Charles W. Johnson.

State of Siege

There is no such thing as a limited police state

Use of sneak-and-peek secret search warrants in federal investigations 2006-2009.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

— John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans
Reuters news wire, quoted by Matt Welch at Reason (August 5, 2013)

Well of course the NSA’s secret data-gathering, spying and warrantless wiretaps have been used to prosecute American drug cases. Every single fascist National Security monitoring program, secret search and seizure method, surveillance policy, financial regulation, foreign-aid slush fund, paramilitary police program and executive power that has been created over the last 20 years in the name of counter-terrorism — including large sections of Clinton’s AEDPA and large sections of Bush Jr.’s PATRIOT Act — has been utilized, over and over again, by federal prosecutors and the DEA in order to gather evidence and coerce testimony in drug cases. Every single National Security state program, regardless of its alleged purpose, has been used to strengthen the narcs’ hand, and to double down on the federal government’s insane and destructive prosecution of a War on Drugs. This one is just as outrageous; but it’s no different, and no more surprising.

Now, even if there were such a thing as a limited National Security state — even if there were some way to create a counter-terrorism-only police state, which would focus on a single threat without creating a general, all-powerful police state in the process — it would still mean shredding civil liberties, targeting people and activities which ought to be presumed innocent, and it would still be destructive and wrong.

But, in any case, there is no such thing. There is no way to focus a police state on only one group of people or one part of life; there are no partial or limited police states. There is only a police state — one which will come for you sooner, or later.

By the book

In Escambia County, Florida, a gang of unnamed sheriff’s deputies shot an unarmed, 60-year-old black man 15 times while he was standing in his own front yard trying to get a cigarette from his aged mother’s car, sending him to the hospital with a gunshot wound in his leg. The police lit him up because they barged onto his property at a quarter till three in the morning, came up behind him, drew down on him and shouted at him out of nowhere to get his hands up. When he didn’t react the right way, quickly enough, to bellowed commands of these belligerent, heavily armed strangers, they opened fire on him.

[Roy] Middleton, 60, of the 200 block of Shadow Lawn Lane in Warrington, was shot in the leg about 2:42 a.m. Saturday while trying to retrieve a cigarette from his mother’s car in the driveway of their home.

A neighbor saw someone reaching into the car and called 911. While he was looking into the vehicle, deputies arrived in response to the burglary call.

Middleton said he was bent over in the car searching the interior for a loose cigarette when he heard a voice order him to, Get your hands where I can see them.

He said he initially thought it was a neighbor joking with him, but when he turned his head he saw deputies standing halfway down his driveway.

He said he backed out of the vehicle with his hands raised, but when he turned to face the deputies, they immediately opened fire.

It was like a firing squad, he said. Bullets were flying everywhere.

— Kevin Robinson, Deputies shoot man in his front yard
Pensacola News Journal (29 July 2013)

For shooting an unarmed man standing in his front lawn, who posed no threat to them, the unnamed police officers have been given a paid vacation from their government jobs.

Last Thursday, Florida Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan gave an interview with CNN in which he defended the shooting and the deputies responsible for it, and that it is within standard protocols to open fire because Middleton did not comply with their commands.

According to Florida Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan in a CNN interview Thursday, the police officers who fired 15 shots at 60-year-old Roy Middleton in the driveway of his and his mother’s home acted entirely within their limits in response to a 911 call for a suspected car theft… . On Thursday, Morgan defended the officers’ actions as standard procedure because Middleton “did not comply.” Asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo how police could justify 15 shots at a 60-year-old man, Morgan said the officers saw a metallic object in Middleton’s hand as he made a “lunging movement” toward them. Middleton explained this in his account: He turned around because he thought the entire thing was a practical joke played by a neighbor.

“Right now we are comfortable from a training perspective that our officers did follow standard protocols,” Morgan said.

— Rebecca Leber, Florida Sheriff: Officers Who Shot Unarmed Black Man In His Driveway Followed ‘Standard Protocols’
ThinkProgress (August 1, 2013).

Let’s suppose that all that is true, for the moment. (There is actually no reason at all to take the police at their word on this, but let’s assume for the sake of argument.) If this overkill shooting of an unarmed man was something that leaves the police comfortable from a training perspective, then what does that tell you about the training? If this overkill shooting of an unarmed man was strictly by the book, what does that tell you about the book?

Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d)

(Via Thaddeus Russell.)

An 18-year-old skater died yesterday after Miami Beach Police officers caught him tagging a building and then Tasered him.

Details about the death are still murky, but what is clear is that Israel Hernandez died before dawn Tuesday morning after cops caught him spray painting near 71st Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Police have yet to comment on the killing, but an officer near the scene confirmed that cops had fatally Tasered someone. Hernandez’s friends on the Miami Beach skate scene are devastated.

“I just cant believe it,” says best friend Rafael Lynch, on the verge of tears. “I still have his hat and his board. They still smell like him. It’s crazy.”

Update: MBPD has released a statement and incident report confirming that Hernandez died after being Tasered. Police chased Hernandez after catching him tagging a building and used the electronic weapon [sic —RG] when he refused to stop.

— Michael E. Miller, Teenager Israel Hernandez Dies After Miami Beach Cops Catch Him Tagging, Taser Him
Miami New Times (Aug 7, 2013).

From GT 2011-01-28: Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d):

As such, police in general, and police assault forces especially, are trained to enter every encounter with the goal of taking control of the situation, by means of setting up confrontations in situations (no-knock raids, late-night forced-entry raids, etc.) where their chosen targets are most likely to be disoriented and easily terrorized, and by responding with maximal force in the volatile, disorienting confrontations that they create. For the sake of this maximal-force approach, they are equipped with an arsenal of weapons ranging from tasers and clubs to handguns and assault rifles, up to, and including, military helicopters and tanks. Worse, with all these weapons, they have institutionalized a culture of fact-free assertion and lies about highly dangerous weapons that they consider to be categorically non-lethal — and thus to be used as a first resort, in virtually any situation, as long as it might give the cops a tactical advantage over people who they intend to bring under their control (whether or not these people have ever committed any crime at all). These weapons continue to be used with no hesitation and no restraint, and continue to be called non-lethal force, no matter how many people are killed by them. There are, for example, tasers, portable electric torture devices which were originally sold as a less-deadly alternative to using a hand-gun in potentially life-threatening confrontations, but which cops now freely use for as part of pain compliance techniques[1] in everyday confrontations with the public. This would be bad enough on its own, but part of the reason they are used so freely is because they take no real exertion for cops to use, and are consistently billed as non-lethal by police and media, even though there are hundreds of documented cases of people dying after being subjected to repeated taser shocks.

  1. [1] That is, torture.