Posts tagged Caracas

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.

Translation of Message from CDH-UCAB: on torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of the detainees from 12-F (Centro de DDHH de la UCAB, reprinted in EL LIBERTARIO)

Here is another report on the protests and government repression Venezuela, originally published by the Center for Human Rights at UCAB, and re-posted online by the Venezuelan anarchist paper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. The same caveats apply as elsewhere; if you notice any mistakes or mangling please feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here.

Message from CDH-UCAB: On Torture and Cruel and Inhuman Treatment of the Detainees from 12-F.

Human Rights Center at UCAB

In a press notice published by the newspaper Últimas Noticias and reproduced with additional and equally false reports by the Sistema Bolivariano de Información y Comunicación (SIBCI),[1] reference is made to a supposed declaration by the Center for Human Rights at UCAB[2] (CDHUCAB) in order to downplay the importance of the serious accusations by spokespeople of Foro Penal about the torture of people detained in Valencia, in the state of Carabobo.[3]

It’s necessary to clarify concerning:

  1. The CDH-UCAB had no direct contact with those detained in Valencia, Carabobo, so it can neither confirm nor deny these allegations which, because of their severity, require an investigation by the authorities, independently, without intimidation or retaliation against the victims or the accusers, without anyone being disqualified ahead of time,[4] and following international standards that bind Venezuela as a country party to the International Convention against Torture.

  2. Beginning February 12, teams of lawyers from CDH-UCAB have given support to detainees in the capital region, having responded, from the early hours of the 13th, to invitations from many communications media, in which, because they were still in the process of locating detainees, were unable to supply detailed information about the conditions of detention they faced, without having meant, as we stated in many media outlets, that there was or was not torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

  3. The CDH-UCAB did warn, within a few hours of the first detentions, that it was worried about the detainee’s lack of access to their families and lawyers, since under that condition the conditions of detention could not be verified, to which was added the seizure of their cellular phones, preventing any communication.

  4. After visiting various detention centers and having had contact with a considerable number of detainees and their families, the CDH-UCAB has identified a series of unacceptable situations that affect many different rights, including the penalization of protest, the minimum guarantees to the detained, the guarantees of due process and the conditions of detention, among which there have been acts which could qualify as torture or cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment, in accord with the UN Convention against Torture:

    a. In practically every case with a verdict, the judges have included an injunction prohibiting those convicted from demonstrations, a sanction that the law does not expressly provide for, and which violates the constitutionally-protected right to peacefully demonstrate.

    b. In nearly the totality of the cases, the families have been arbitrarily denied from seeing the detainees. This has basically happened in the detention centers of CICPC[5] and those of the National Guard. In all cases in which they banned families from seeing their detained relatives, the authorities have alleged “orders from higher up.”

    c. The conditions of the places that they have used as centers of detention are in some cases absolutely inadequate, this is the case of the National Guard Command located in La Dolorita, in which 18 youths — the majority students — were held for 2 days in the same extremely small room, without a functioning bathroom, without adequate ventilation, without beds or mats, and without These conditions were noted directly by lawyers from CDHUCAB, who also verified the presence of a functionary from the Public Defender’s,[6] who, in spite of these inhuman conditions, had not issued reports on it.

    d. In some cases the families were not even permitted to make telephone contact with the detained for 48 hours or more during the time they were detained, which is not only a violation of the most basic rights of detainees and families, but has even generated some accusations of disappearing prisoners[7] that ceased after some hours, and which could have been avoided with relevant information about the whereabouts of the detainees, as established by international standards.

    e. Many detainees were not brought before a judge, or in the process of being brought before a judge, within the 48 hour limit that the law refers to. Some had spent 56 to 60 hours without being presented to a court, as was the case of Hugo[8] Gerrero, a professor at UCV,[9] who the judge finally freed with apologies, because he was not even participating in the protest.

    f. In the great majority of the cases the lawyers have not been able to have private conversations with the detainees. When they have permitted a lawyer access to see their defendants in the detention centers, at least one official has always been present during the entire conversation, limiting the possibility for the detainees to clearly report the actions and the treatment that they are receiving in detention.

    g. Practically all the detained have made accusations that they have been assaulted psychologically and many physically. The psychological attacks range from threats of being physically assaulted or even threats that they would be raped. The physical attacks range from minor injuries on different parts of the body, up to highly sensitive situations we are in the process of verifying.

    h. In some cases an undue delay is produced in order for the detainees to be brought to the show-cause hearing. That is to say, to the time of detention (which many times exceeds the legal maximum time of 48 hours) in some cases up to 10 or 12 more hours are added to be heard by the judge in the show-cause hearing.

    i. Without a judge’s order, in the majority of the cases security forces reviewed the private information contained in detainees’ cellular phones or electronic devices (their e-mails, text messages, photos, etc.), and, on occasions, have proceeded to offload images that could document excesses by the security forces of the State.

  5. In addition to some deeds which the CDH-UCAB is still investigating, the situations we just described are also contrary to the Convention against Torture, to which Venezuela is a party, and contravene the standards to apply to all detainees under this and under the Special Law to prevent and punish torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,[10] whenever the obstacles presented by those responsible for the custody of the detainees are contrary to the procedures required for the prevention of torture, involving those officials in responsibility for acts that can be investigated and punished and which constitute human rights offenses with no statute of limitations.[11]

  6. Finally, the CDH-UCAB rejects this new attempt by SIBCI to discredit the work of Provea,[12] alleging a supposed source of funding noted for financing groups against government in the country while remaining silent, just like the Public Defender’s office,[13] about the kidnapping and assault of the same organization’s Media Coordinator,[14] acts which, it is worth noting, also form part of the conduct which the State is obligated to investigated and punished due to the commitments assumed by the UN Convention against Torture. This accusation has been lodged at the office of the Attorney General and the Public Defender’s.[15]

Caracas, 18 February 2014

— Translation of Comunicado del CDH-UCAB: Sobre torturas y trato cruel e inhumano de detenidos del 12F. Translated by Charles W. Johnson

  1. [1] A propaganda system established and operated by the Venezuelan government.
  2. [2] Centro de Derechos Humanos, at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, a private university, which is one of the largest universities in Venezuela.
  3. [3] See for example Foro Penal: Hay torturas (Foro Penal: There is torture), 22 Feb. 2014.
  4. [4] Lit. “apriori disqualifications.”
  5. [5] Cuerpo de Invasticaiones Cientificas, Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas, Venezuela’s largest national police force and forensic investigation agency.
  6. [6] Lit. Defensoría del Pueblo, an ombudsman’s office which is tasked with monitoring, promoting and defending human rights under the Venezuelan constitution. The office-holder is appointed for a 7-year term by a committee on the national legislature.
  7. [7] Lit. denuncias de desapariciones fisicas, a reference to the long-standing dirty-war tactic of disappearing enemies of the regime, i.e. imprisoning and murdering them in secret, while officially denying knowledge of their condition or their whereabouts.
  8. [8] Hug in text; this seems to be a typo.
  9. [9] Universidad Central de Venezuela, a public university in Caracas.
  10. [10] Ley Especial para prevenir y sancionar la tortura y otros tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes, a Venezuelan national law.
  11. [11] Lit. delitos imprescriptibles, imprescriptible or inextinguishable offenses, a category in international law applying to, for example, torture, disappearance, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  12. [12] Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos, a prominent Venezuelan human-rights NGO which has repeatedly criticized the Bolivarian government
  13. [13] Again, Defensoría del Pueblo, the government’s human-rights ombudsman.
  14. [14] Inti Rodríguez, the media coordinator of Provea, was allegedly kidnapped on February 12 by about 20 disguised men who interrogated, beat, and threatened to kill him, which he claims to have included pro-government paramilitaries and (from the language they used in the interrogation) possibly also members of police or intelligence agencies.
  15. [15] Again, Defensoría del Pueblo, the government’s human-rights ombudsman.

Que se vayan todos

If you have the time to set aside, I’d strongly encourage you to read Socialism to the Highest Bidder, written by Nachie of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11). I mention the If because the time involved could be considerable; it’s a long and detailed essay, but rewarding if you’re interested in the topic. Here are some of the things that I took away from reading it.

When organized oil workers went on strike in 2003, Chávez and his revolutionary bureaucracy took the opportunity to fire 18,000 workers, to hire scabs and political favorites to cross the picket lines and replace them, and to create a new yellow-dog union federation that would support the official line of the government and the government-owned oil company:

The most important effect of the lockout was that it allowed Chávez to fire 18,000 PDVSA employees for walking off the job, including most of its technical staff of geologists, geophysicists and reservoir engineers, and then refill those posts with political supporters (this is the point at which the new PDVSA became the people’s). In this process all forms of budding worker’s self-management were quickly rolled back under the assurance that PDVSA now belonged to the people. Workers also managed to reoccupy a handful of other small factories, which are now being absorbed by the state and tokenized as symbols of co-management and glorious revolution. … The much-vaunted officialist UNT, (National Union of Workers) which was set up in April of 2003 in response to the collaboration of the old CTV (Confederation of Workers of Venezuela) with the bosses’ lockout, is certainly doing the bulk of the labor organizing in the country, but even their efforts are limited in scope and have stalled over infighting, negotiations dealing with how exactly to make the union as participative as possible, and a lack of follow-through on the militant tactics such as factory occupations that they were supposedly to be advancing.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

This massive campaign of strike-breaking, union scabbing, and union-busting, which would have done Frick or Carnegie proud, is passed off today by compliant State Socialists in the U.S. as if it were a triumph for the working class. Meanwhile, in Argentina and then increasingly throughout South America, workers began to reclaim abandoned factories, and to run them under participatory, rotating worker self-management (autogestión); when Chávez and his revolutionary bureaucracy took notice of the trend, they started to heavily promote their own favored alternative: government expropriation of factories and the institution of co-management (cogestión), in which workers’ associations pay for the government’s help by ceding a substantial share of ownership (often up to 51%) and management (often filled by political appointees) to the Venezuelan government. The excuse for this gutting of worker management in favor of state bossism is that by putting the factory partly under government command, co-management ensures that it will produce in the interests of the public or the nation — as those interests are defined by detached government bureaucrats, rather than by the actual members of the public or the nation who happen to be engaged in doing all the work of making, buying, or using the factory’s products.

When Chávez, former leader of a military coup d’etat, rose to power, he took it upon himself to send out the military in virtually every one of his government welfare projects, and rather than altering, containing, or abolishing the existing military and the state security forces, he and his bureaucracy have taken deliberate efforts to militarize the civilian police forces and integrate paramilitary training and discipline throughout the government schooling system that they have been so assiduously expanding and remaking in their own Bolivarian image:

There has been absolutely no real judicial reform in the Fifth Republic, and as long as Chávez himself refuses to address this issue the rest of the government, for whom politics is merely a balancing act in which you do your best to appear in complete agreement with anything the president says, will continue to do nothing. In fact the Bolivarian Revolution has given the state a softer, friendlier image, which has encouraged an unprecedented rise in urban crime by those who expect to be able to get away with more. This has in turn been used by the government as a justification for the strengthening of the pre-existing repressive apparatus, which in April culminated in the chief of Caracas’ police being replaced with a FAN brigadier general.

For all the talk of tribunals against impunity to investigate state repression, these bodies have been completely stacked with members of the National Guard and political armed forces. On January 30th in Barquisimeto, a committee of the victims and families of police abuse released a communiqué condemning the tribunals; these people guarantee the social peace, generate justice, and therefore the state cannot dismantle its own gang, it will never judge, much less condemn, itself. The continuation of police abuse is one of the most underplayed aspects of the Bolivarian Government, especially considering the lack of responses to it. In March, 21 year old Iván Padilla Alliot was severely beaten by the DISP and told that he was going to be disappeared after he ran in front of a government convoy while crossing through Caracas’ hectic traffic. Only when it was discovered that he was the son of the Vice Minister of Culture was he released. If such a mistake is possible, one can only guess as to what happens when the pigs grab someone who’s father is not a politician.

While Chávez speaks almost endlessly about his plans to benignly integrate the armed forces into society, in practice it is Venezuelan society that is forced to take on the nature of the armed forces. Although Article 61 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, Articles 130 and 134 then declare it obligatory to defend the patria. Among the largest changes we now see the country undergoing is the implementation of obligatory pre-military programs in all schools, which seek to indoctrinate the youth with a bizarre blend of nationalism and socialism (sound familiar?). These programs will of course be complimented by a wide variety of centrally planned — and approved — education initiatives, especially through the new Bolivarian University. This institution, which Chávez claims now hosts more students than all the independent ones put together, is rigorously controlled by the state so that all activism, cultural activities, and studies undertaken by the students fit into the prefabricated mold of Bolivarian Socialism (Alan Woods, for example, being a typical guest speaker). As a result one can expect to see significant deterioration in the quality and autonomy of student struggle, which had previously characterized the universities as traditional points of resistance throughout all of the past regimes. Meanwhile, like so many other vertically-implemented projects of the state, the Bolivarian University has been failing to live up to it’s promise: the professor’s union has publicly said that student desertion is at over 40%, and attendance statistics have been manipulated by the government. The curriculum has also had to be completely redesigned three times in the past four years.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

In summary:

The Bolivarian Revolution and Chávez as a personality are increasingly intolerant of criticism, and even more so of projects that fall outside of their control. The much-lauded and incredibly tiny urban garden projects in Caracas, which were deliberately dressed up with things like premium fertilizer to look more impressive in the run-up to the FSM, actually predate the government but have been turned into clients of the state with the promise of funding. This has happened to untold numbers of community projects and autonomous organizations, with those who refuse to collaborate inevitably being called golpistas. As Humberto Decarli explained to me, Chávez’ interest in Cuba is not so much an ideological common ground as it is an admiration for the raw efficiency of the repressive mechanisms that have allowed Castro to remain in power for so long, and a key part of this is the absorption or dismantling of all institutions and movements outside of the state.

— Nachie, Red & Anarchist Action Network (2006-07-11): Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder

Or, in other words, under the name and banner of a socialist and revolutionary movement, the emerging Boli-bureaucracy has used subsidy, co-optation, conversion, and violent repression to devour any and every independent project or association, whenever, wherever, and however it could get them into its ravenous maw. All too many Potemkin-tour Progressives and authoritarian Leftists have deluded themselves into believing that this process of the endlessly self-aggrandizing State bureaucracy engorging itself on the living remains of industrial and civil society, is something that Leftist, grassroots, and populist tendencies ought for some reason to support; the Libertarian Left — i.e., the real, anarchistic Left, unencumbered by the reactionary apparatus of Authority — knows better than that.

Government! Ah! we shall still have enough of it, and to spare. Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), Reaction Causes Revolution, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century