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Reign of Terror in Venezuela.

by Jorge Juan Olavarría

Even those who suspected this could happen don’t want to believe it is actually happening. But it is and it was written on the walls the very day Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez, an ex-military putschist, albeit believing that he would put an end to political corruption and trim crime rate down. Throughout the last five years, President Chavez’ national socialist government has been spreading its roots and sharpening its claws. Today, the entire legalistic, electoral and constitutional thoroughfares appear blocked. To oppose Chavez through institutional and peaceful means in Venezuela today seems as futile as it was opposing Hitler in Germany in 1937. Venezuela has a Cuban-style unicameral Assembly instead of the traditional bicameral Congress. There isn’t a single public institution left in Venezuela that hasn’t been infiltrated, destabilized, purged and reconditioned. The state-owned oil industry after an unfruitful and costly strike was brutally purged of 18,000 of its workforce. The greatest prey of Chavez’ Stalin-like methods are the Armed Forces. Professional Officers all the way down to the ranks have been thoroughly scrutinized. Anyone who ever voiced dissatisfaction of any kind with the regime has been purged.

Yet, once upon a time, Chavez was so confident of his personal charisma and his astonishing willpower that in his Bolivarian Constitution –which was rewritten to suit Chavez’ personal whims and quench his thirst for power for it would allow him to be reelected ad nauseam—, sets down a novel feature: the possibility of revoking the mandate of any elected official. He expected this section would be used against his political foes –as it has—but he probably never expected it would backfire. So, being a political fox, he set about infiltrating the Electoral System with his cronies and his proven methods. The civilian opposition has had a hard time adapting and finding legal means to fight Chavez. Now they have reached a dead end. On the start line, the newly appointed electoral authorities were given the benefit of the doubt up until a few days ago, because, maybe, given the stakes they would play by the rules. Now the opposition leaders are convinced that fairness and impartiality in the electoral authorities are unfeasible.

For years rumors have emerged that non-conventional repressive organisms, namely that civilian urban guerrillas known as “Bolivarian Circles”, have been armed, trained and equipped in every shantytown in Venezuela. It is common knowledge that Fidel Castro has sent some 14 to 20 thousand Cuban trainers –from medics to insurgency experts. These well-orchestrated phantom Bolivarian groups appear sometimes in the form of armed mobs and sometimes as swarms in motorcycles. They have been sighted and filmed shooting at civilians. These groups, the Government claims, are spontaneous civilians assemblies that express the rage of the common people against those who oppose Chavez.

The scenes are chilling. Dozens of incidents have been filmed of armed men –both Military and masked Political Police, shooting indiscriminately at building, at runaway crowds, at unarmed civilians, ganging up around and beating protesters –men and women—armed with flags and whistles, and attacking civilian neighborhoods with military wrath. For every scene shot by home cameras and professional TV crews there are dozens that go unrecorded. For every testimonial, there are dozens of cases that remain untold. The accounts of those who dare talk are almost unbelievable. Military vehicles filled with military gangs roam middle class neighborhoods selecting whom to pick up –mostly men, but not exclusively.

The victims are selected bordering the locations where protests or barricades have erupted are handcuffed and driven to a secluded location. No accusation or charges are filed. The victims are beaten to a pulp while they are insulted. And after two or three hours of beatings, the victim is thrown out of the Military vehicle in the middle of the highway. Before that, they are warned that if the go public, they will return and finish them off.

One of them explains that he was picked up while leaving a friend’s house with his wife. They had no cause to arrest him and he claims he was selected because he was a white, middle class man. At first he thought he was being arrested and awaited some explanation, some charge. But without any reason or excuse they stopped the vehicle, pushed him out and began insulting and beating him up. This went on for almost three hours. Some thirty men had a go at him. When they had had their fun, he was pushed back in the vehicle and warned to keep quiet, that they knew his name and address. Then he was thrown out of the vehicle. He was lucky and not only because he’s was freed but because other victims have been tortured for up to two days before being released. Some claim to have been tortured with electricity, others with “pica-pica” a skin-irritating agent made of grinded fiberglass. The Military Guardia picked up Father Dorindo and as the beating was just starting the priest opened his arms and told his captors that what he was about to undergo was for their soul’s sake and for their families’. Surprised, they relented. One of the guards recognized he was a priest, and he was spared further punishment. Another kid was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets. A musician was arrested for no apparent reason. He claims he was just standing, doing nothing just looking. He was taken away and locked inside a military personnel carrier, a tank-like vehicle. Suddenly, two Military Guadias entered the vehicle, placed their teargas-masks and pulled the safety cotter pin from a teargas canister. While the musician jumped, coughing, convulsing and yelping for air, the Guards, sitting down, took aim to kick him over and over again. Another victim, a 23-year-old law student, suffering the Stockholm syndrome, excused the Military Guardia explaining that they beat him with their riffle butts and kicked him while he was on the floor because, as they had claimed, they were fed up, very tired and hadn’t seen their family in weeks.

This terror methodology seems to be working. In fact, as far as I have witnessed, these victims were willing to tell me, their friends and neighbors what had occurred to them and show their bruises and bloody marks, but they dare not appear in front of a camera. No argument will convince them. I can’t blame them. One allowed his bruises to be photographed, but not his face.

At night, an ambulance passes unsuspected near the barricade. Suddenly it stops and four armed men pop out the back doors, attack a camera crew, steal their equipment and leave.

Basically, the overall message seems to be the same. While the beatings are taking place, the soldiers repeat over and over again; “We’re going to teach you to respect the Bolivarian Government, respect the Armed Forces, respect the President.” Oddly, this morning General Garcia Carneiro, the Minister of Defense, on TV warned a well-known opinion maker to- respect and stop badmouthing the Armed Forces who are just doing their duty.

The unofficial figures speak of at least 8 dead, including several street executions, untold numbers of people kidnapped, tortured and released –from 17 year-old school kids to women and aged men, and nearly 300 arrested, tortured and sent to prisons with common criminals.. And in the midst of this one seeks council in the words, sufferings and procedures of people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and— one bears witness to what is happening here. What else can we do?

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