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Venezuela: The heritage of 2003

Editorial from El Universal

1) 11,530 Cubans

Sound evidence of the massive entry of Cubans to Venezuela was first submitted on November 9. An investigation revealed that between September 26 and October 27, a total of 11,530 Cubans arrived in the country, a figured supported by copies of the forms that each traveler coming to Venezuela has to fill. These special "tourists" -all of them are physicians stating that their residence is the Cuban Embassy- have entered into the country through the privileged military ramp No. 4 of Caracas' International Maiquetía Airport. This exclusive information published by El Universal was the result of a coordinated task performed by congressman Pedro Castillo (opposition MAS party) responding to a series of claims by airport officials, who reported up to three daily flights from Havana.

2) They want to kill me

Following suit of Fidel Castro -his ideological father? - Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez frequently uses rushed, groundless accusations of alleged attempts of assassination against him, all of them aborted by the "intelligence" agents of the State. In fact, the attempts seem to be prepared to insult the intelligence of Venezuelans. At least 30 of these plans supposedly aimed at killing Chávez have been loudly vociferated. But nothing has happened, nobody has been prosecuted, and the fault has been distributed among the "fascist, coup-plotter, terrorist opposition; the wicked CIA; the Yankee imperialism; a worm from the AD party that bit the President; former president Carlos Andrés Pérez; and more recently the demonised deserter military officers that caused a mess in Plaza Altamira, eastern Caracas.

In the paranoid imagination, there are plenty of memorial dates -such as July 5, Venezuela´s Independence Day- as well as plenty of heroes and evils: Pérez is the great capo and Fidel is the savior who alerts Chávez to anything on time and sends his boys to protect the life of his main oil supplier. The manipulation of these outlandish claims - let us just mention the bazooka against the presidential airplane - has permitted to sell a hemispheric image of a new Salvador Allende or, even more, the heir of Colombian leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.

3. The April 11, 2002, battle

Death -riding from Llaguno bridge on glock guns- did not respond to an improvised plan, but to a well-planned strategy, with unmistakable roles and trained gunmen. A group of experts on criminal law, under the coordination of NGO Agenda Nacional de Seguridad, performed a detailed study on the event. The evidence collected shows that most of the 67 gunmen involved in the April 11, 2002, slaughter had links with governmental agencies or activist groups convoked to "defend the revolution."

The most outstanding case is that of a member of the Popular Liberation Army, who was in the pro-government faction and died during the clash on Llaguno bridge. He had a file in Colombia's Administrative Security Department, DAS, and five false identities. He was better known as Luis Alfonso Monsalve Ruiz. He was with pro-Chávez activists on April 11, 2002, when he was shot to death just under the bridge. No relative requested the body and was buried 10 months later without a precise identification.

According to the study, the first shootings began after the Metropolitan Police (PM) lifted its main barrier in front of El Calvario, downtown Caracas, due to threats by Chavista motorcyclists who were shooting into the air. The first clashes were produced at Av. Baralt, four blocks from Llaguno bridge. The first three injured people were rescued by the PM at 50 meters from the bridge. Two gunmen were hidden behind a tree at three blocks to Llaguno bridge; other four joined them from a newspaper stand. The gunmen shot from the bridge exhibiting the training they had received. The Llaguno bridge was the last bastion in the April 11 battle. According to the study, most of the deaths occurred before the shooting from the bridge.

4. A massive attack in cold blood

Sound evidence gathered in an exhaustive study performed by NGO Agenda Nacional de Seguridad (ANS) confirms what has been repeatedly said: what happened on April 11, 2002, was a real ambush against a demonstration called by the opposition. However, the gunmen are free and other people were accused after a smart "turning to the tables" in a court of Aragua state, closely linked to the government.

The report exclusively made public by El Universal on April 13, 2003, shows that out of 67 pro-government gunmen involved, 32 are fully identified thanks to photographs and videos analysed by the independent organization. The access to the evidence collected at the first moment by the Scientific and Criminal Investigation Force (Cicpc) shows that different types of weapons were used: FAL rifles belonging to the Venezuelan Armed Forces, 9 mm guns, 380 automatic guns, MP5 submachine guns and .38-caliber and .357-caliber revolvers, among others. A total of 974 projectiles were collected both in the place and bodies shot. 20 people died and 114 were injured. The fatal victims include 11 Chávez supporters, seven opposition members and two passers-by. The analysis of the case leads ANS to conclude that the attacks were part of a well-planned ambush.

5. An armed revolution

Hugo Chávez is insistently said to be executing a plan to destroy Venezuela's Armed Forces. However, this statement is incomplete. What he is trying to do is to get rid of the sector of the military that does not support him blindly.

More than a thousand military officers were separated from their jobs between 2001 and 2003. Chávez' objective at systematically cleaning up the military is to be able to control all the infantry battalions and centralize all communications.

His strategy to capriciously manipulate the Armed Forces is divided in three parts. The first is to expel the officers that feel some affinity with the pre-Chávez "Fourth Republic" style of democracy. From 2001 to 2003, over a thousand officers and all the infantry battalions have been dispersed and all communications centralized.

The second part of the plan encompasses a profound reshuffle of the Armed Forces, simplifying the command structure and placing loyal officers along the entire command line.

The third part is to eliminate the influence of the United States as the main trainer and arm supplier of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, approaching governments that are less critical of the Chávez regime.

With this strategy, Chávez has created an easily submissive military staff, which he satisfies economically in exchange for gratefulness and loyalty to his revolution.

6. Occupied land

Last year was marked by the frontal attack against the cattle raising industry, especially in the homeland of President Hugo Chávez' family. El Universal traveled to Barinas state and investigated the struggle orchestrated against the region's livestock producers, who have lost considerable investments while institutions fail to protect their rights. However, the "land reform," exclusively applied by the National Land Institute (INTI), has skipped the biggest landowner of the country -the State. Only big lots of private productive lands seem to be subject to reform.

The image of dead cows in the Hato Viejo estate, published on April 27, 2003 is an evidence of the situation. Hidden behind questionable, INTI-issued "agrarian charts," organized groups freely break into private estates, setting fire to plantations, occupying properties, cornering the cattle to reduced spaces, and using violence against the owners. And they do all this protected by uniformed national guardsmen and army officers.

INTI argues that the occupations are valid, but the owners of a hundred estates in Barinas have reported that no legal process has been followed and their documents and legal arguments have been ignored. INTI seems to be free to break the Land Law.

In addition, unscrupulous people are profiting from the legitimate aspiration of true peasants of the area to make money with other people's properties.

7. The Royal Family

Barinas is now an ocean of rumors and unrest. This southwestern state of Venezuela is ruled by Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, father of the President. Last year, the state's Legislative Assembly has denied its approval to Chávez senior's annual report on his stewardship as governor. Our second visit to Barinas was intended to find out about the mountain of comments provoked by the behavior and dealings of the president's family.

The estate of Governor Chávez, the properties of the President's brother Argenis, the wicked moves behind political power, the inner wars for more power are all elements of a story where reality and fiction seem to merge. This is a region lashed by invasions, guerrilla groups, extortion and abduction. All the residents of this land, including those of Sabaneta, Chávez' village, have been able to notice the multiplication of the wealth of the Royal Family, as they call it.

8. Attacks

Street violence against the opposition started in late 2001. A study of the civil association Agenda Nacional de Seguridad revealed that, until mid 2003, there were 243 politically-motivated attacks, with 51 people dead, 792 wounded, 86 slightly injured, and an account of 68 bombs and 115 assaults and bomb threats. These figures, though, do not include the 236 persons that were murdered by hired killers in rural areas and invasion-related violence on productive estates.

The NGO's study on political violence reveals several objectives shown in documents of the Council of the Revolution. The first of them is the elimination of the so-called "land oligarchy" through the implementation of the new Law of Lands. The execution of this plan started in mid 2001, and has resulted in hundreds of dead and injured people and destroyed properties. Murder, extortion and abduction practiced by armed groups have helped a lot complicate the situation.

The other part of the strategy was the confrontation with the most powerful sectors of the country - the Church, independent labor unions, big companies, communication media, and universities. This brought about explosions against the major labor union of the country, the Venezuelan Workers Confederation (CTV); the leading business association, Fedecámaras; and the National Assembly. The M-28 student movement went to the extreme of besieging the office of the rector of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) with C-4 explosive material and tear gas grenades.

9. Violence

Political violence is part of the strategy that Hugo Chávez' has developed in the last five years to keep power. Since he announced in 1998 that he would take power "no matter how," his actions have pointed to creating an armed conflict, even with the participation of untrained civilians. The dangers involved in indiscriminately arming the population are evident in that all government officials have up to six bodyguards.

As part of this violence-generating strategy, the regime has been distributing machine guns, tear gas bombs, paralyzing gases, wallet proof jackets and grenades that it imports from places as Israel and Croatia. Socialist deputy Pedro Castillo has showed evidences of the irregularities committed by pro-Chávez state and municipal officials. He has exposed companies that appear to work in the construction industry but actually import weapons for, as Castillo has put it, "paramilitary groups within the strategic defense plan of the revolution." A border area group named Fuerza Bolivariana de Liberación (Bolivarian Liberation Force, FBL) has ties with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In Castillo's account, this group includes militants from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and the Caracas neighborhood 23 de Enero.

Castillo has also documented the dangerously emblematic case of 65 mini Uzi and 50 micro Uzi machine guns imported by the government of Cojedes state. Of the 115 firearms, 55 disappeared in their way from the port to a customs store in Montesano, Vargas state. The Cojedes administration, with a population of only 300,000 inhabitants, also issued an order to buy 5,000 tear gas projectiles, 5,000 tear gas grenades and 1,600 units of paralyzing gas.

And this is just a short list of the irregularities committed within the political violence plan of the government.

10. Cuban invasion

The Cuban citizens that work for President Hugo Chávez' regime arrive in Venezuela with their own Venezuelan identity documents. In the first quarter of 2003, at least 704 Cubans were naturalized and are working in security activities, as captains or crew members of the state oil firm Pdvsa's ships and refineries or in state institutions.

The Cuban intelligence service is operating in Venezuela under the forms of three Cuban companies with experience in Afghanistan, El Salvador and Guatemala. One of these firms, HCSM, is a drug importer and serves as a center of field intelligence operations. The second is Corporación Holguín, a software company operating in Margarita Island that deals with hospital and school listings. And the third, Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Protección, works in the software industry in Caracas and manages State-related information.

Translated by Teresa León and Edgardo Malaver

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