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Venezuela: Hugo and the Wolf or when a government loses all credibility

By Sol Maria Castro,

Venezuelans awoke on Mother’s Day to an unbelievable piece of news: 56 alleged Colombian paramilitary members in Army fatigues had been caught near a ranch in El Hatillo, a small town in the hills south from Caracas. A couple of hours later, the President transmitted part of his Sunday radio and television show, Aló Presidente, in a mandatory nationwide broadcast for the first time ever. He justified this new “cadena” (simultaneous mandatory broadcast) because, according to him, the media were not covering the news with a few exceptions. He forgot there are no news shows on Sunday and it was Mother’s Day.

For the next three days the President’s men showed outrage and frustration because no one took them seriously. The Ministers of Defense said it was a sign of treason not to believe the government’s truth. The Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice, and Communications and Information, and the Vice-President, among others insisted it was not a hoax and people should believe them. Instead, they should have wondered how anyone could believe an administration who has specialized in lies and hoaxes, most of them acknowledged publicly.

First, how can anyone seriously believe a government that has repeated ad infinitum that our borders are tight and secure, that there are no guerrilla camps in our territory when farmers, ranchers, former Commanders of Theaters of Operation and even common people who have suffered the extortion and kidnapping rampant in those areas, have all attested to the presence of irregulars in the states of Táchira, Barinas, Zulia, Apure, Guárico, and Portuguesa?

How can anyone seriously believe the Minister of Internal Affairs, former Armed Forces General Inspector and Minister of Defense, General-in-chief Lucas Rincón when it was him who said in another simultaneous mandatory broadcast on April 12, 2002 that President Chávez had been asked to resign and had accepted to do so. We all saw that and yet, they later told us it was just a hoax used to unveil a conspiracy. How can we believe the words of the Minister of Communication, Lieutenant Jesse Chacón who presented an irrevocable letter of resignation when he allegedly misinformed the President of the seriousness of the burns of the group of eight soldiers from Fuerte Mara, but continued in his post when the following week the President said he did not accept it during another television show? How to believe what Vice-president José Vicente Rangel says when he swore during President Chávez’s campaign that he would never, under no circumstance, accept a government post, and since then has been Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, and Vice-President? Who can believe a Minister of Defense, who during the events of April 11, 2002, took it upon himself to move the Army tanks of the Third Division to repel the peaceful demonstration marching towards Miraflores, then begged to be photographed next to the Army Commander to have his life spared, and since then, has vowed he did this only as a hoax to fool his comrades in arms. What credibility can be left of an administration that had his mandates swore Peruvian Intelligence Chief Vladimiro Montesinos and Colombian ELN guerilla José María Ballestas were not and had never been in our territory only to later admit they had been here after all?

And how to believe the master of all lies, President Hugo Chávez, himself? President Chávez has publicly announced nine (9) assassination attempts since the year 2001, but despite promises in simultaneous mandatory broadcasts, has failed to present one single piece of evidence or one suspect. The latest, before this, had involved a bazooka and a cell phone found along with his photograph near the international airport in Vargas State. Who can believe a president who promised to change his name if he could not end the problem of street children in one year, to live in a small apartment with his military pension and have only one bodyguard, to turn the presidential palace and other residences into universities and nursing homes, to turn military or police areas into parks and orphanages, and to donate the old presidential plane to tourism plans for the poor? How will someone believe a president who just three weeks ago commented the unsolved burning incident at a military fort was similar to a domestic accident where some soldiers had been slightly burnt when two of those soldiers have died as a result of their burns, and one remains in a critical state? How can Venezuelans believe a president who admitted during his latest address to the National Assembly that the whole episode that resulted in the events of April 2002 and the firing and dismantling of our first industry, PDVSA, was provoked so that the “revolution” could take control of the industry? How can a people believe a president who promised a peaceful revolution and later threatened with non-existent cannons and war planes and tanks, and stringently defends the armed men of Puente Llaguno, Joao de Gouveia, and Lina Ron who have all confessed to having guns and using them to defend the “process”. President Chávez’s lies could fill an unlimited number of pages of this article if we were to remember his words about his economic and social policies, his promises or his offers.

In a desperate attempt to quash the dissenting voices, hush the many questions, and amalgamate patriotic support, the government resorts to the typical recipe of all totalitarian regimes: creating a foreign enemy that threatens the mere survival of the Republic. To achieve this, the President decided, with a five year delay, to finally install the Defense Council of the Nation, CODENA, established in the Constitution (Article 323). He did so in a mandatory simultaneous broadcast, in which he tried to convince Venezuelans the alleged paramilitary members are evidence of the invasion executed by oligarch and military sectors of Colombia and the United States allied to the stateless, coup-mongering opposition in the country, leaving an open window to the assistance of other countries. In a more vehement and disorderly address than the ones he usually inflicts on Venezuelans, he took two hours to explain to viewers or convince the Council (one has to wonder) of the clear and imminent danger against the Republic, the administration, and his person, and to chastise all sectors for not embracing with patriotism this crusade against the foreign invader. At the same time, Venezuelan Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Jorge Valero, also revealed the “sinister” plan during a session of the Permanent Council.

What President Chávez and Ambassador Valero failed to address is the many questions that cast a shadow over the whole so-called invasion beginning with the lack of preparation that could have aborted the operation. If there had been the slightest desire or intelligence to do so, the paramilitary could have been caught earlier since it was nothing but the “chronicle of an announced invasion”. On April 7 this year, the daughter of the late Colombian candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Gloria Gaitán, announced a group of peasants armed and trained with money from the United States intended to invade Venezuela following orders by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Such an accusation should have triggered the immediate installation of the Defense Council, a warning to all military posts and Theaters of Operation, an investigation on the number of young people who had crossed the borders recently and a more thorough border control after this. Yet, none of this was done. Journalists from the small local paper in Cúcuta, from where the paramilitary are presumed to come, found out 24 hours after the first were caught, that 300 had come through San Antonio del Táchira, with legal papers. One has to wonder how that could happen in a border state that has a pro-government governor who happens to also be a retired military officer. From Cúcuta to El Hatillo, the 300 peasants would have to travel through at least six military check controls, and five states (Mérida or Barinas, Trujillo or Portuguesa, Lara or Cojedes, Guárico, Aragua) all with pro-government governors, including President Chávez’s father in his homeland state.

The authorities’ statements as well as President Chávez’s and Ambassador Valero’s all have referred to the unmerciful, blood-thirsty, and brutal criminals caught since Sunday. We are to believe these dangerous criminals were to “assassinate the president, capture Air Force planes, bomb military and police installations, seize oil, and energy installations, food depots, and roads, spread the bloodshed to Yaracuy, Carabobo, Miranda and Monagas States, help in the aero-naval blockade against Venezuela and impair the Repairs procedure scheduled for the next two weeks” (summarized from Ambassador Valero’s address). Yet, there was only one handgun in the buses, and the State television station, VTV, no one in the government can accuse of manipulating the news, broadcast one of the so-called paramilitary crying during the interview in which he affirmed he had been contacted to come work in a farm, and “get an identity card to vote for Chávez.” Ruthless paramilitaries who cry on camera and surrender without even firing a shot or offering resistance. Some paramilitaries those are!

Questions, contradictions and suspicions abound besides the already stated:

· Why were they wearing recently pressed and new uniforms, and polished boots, sporting crew-cuts if they had been training in the ranches nearby for over a month in our rainy season?

· Why did this captain, who identified himself as Carlos Hernández Ayala, and hired the two buses to transport players to Carabobo State, not allow the wife and child and girlfriend of the drivers to come along?

· Why did the “captain” insist the buses had to go by the houses or ranches of Robert Alonso (Cuban-Venezuelan opposition figure and of La Guarimba, a resistance strategy consisting of massive protests in the vicinity of the people’s home which allows them to safely retreat when the security forces attack), television mogul Gustavo Cisneros and former president Carlos Andrés Pérez according to the reports of the bus drivers?

· Why have the men been allowed to appear on television with their faces covered and why have they consented to do so when they should have stated who they were for their own protection?

· Why have they identified themselves as paramilitaries when they do not call themselves anything but “autodefensas unidas” (United Self-defense units)?

· How is it possible than less than five hours after the alleged paramilitaries were caught when they had not even been identified yet, President Chávez, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and the security police chief, already had identified all those connected with the “invasion”, claiming they had had intelligence on the operation for over a month?

· In that case, how is it possible that they were outsmarted by two Metropolitan Police patrol cars and the administrative police of El Hatillo, who are the ones who captured the uniformed men and handed them over to the security police?

· What kind of stake-out operation did the government have that allowed 60 uniformed men to be mobilized in the middle of the night?

· If there had been intelligence on the operation, how is it that President Chávez claimed in his nationwide televised and radioed address that Robert Alonso was a prominent leader of the Democratic Coordinator, CD, when a simple visit to his webpage or the reception of one of his email messages would have been enough to identify him with the Democratic Block, a group which has had great differences with the methods of the CD?

· If there was a stake-out operation, how come 70 other men were allowed to escape through neighboring ranches after the two buses are intercepted?

· If they were paramilitaries on the move to attack a military post, how is it that they hired two buses, used a main road, and drove past homes, instead of going through the hills in the area?

· Is the information provided by neighbors in the area that they saw arrows in green fluorescent paint indicating the route to Alonso’s ranch the day before, true?

· If the operation was to take place on Wednesday, why were they all in the buses sporting Army uniforms late at night, driving around neighborhoods?

· If what the director of the State security police, DISIP, said, echoed by the Ministers of Defense and Internal Affairs is true and there was a well-known and prominent leader of the Cúcuta paramilitaries among the ones caught, why wasn’t this the man questioned by the State station journalist instead of the one in the ski-mask that was?

· Why did this masked man and others that have been questioned say they are former Colombian privates or reservists, paramilitaries with experience in “sicariato” (paid assassination), and yet, they affirmed they were brought here to Caracas to plant yucca and plantains?

· Why did they contradict themselves when they said they were peasants, but admitted they had been training for over a month with weapons and tactics to assault homes and posts?

· Why would these uniformed men train at the ranch of a person who has been in hiding since the events of February 27 for fear the government was following him to blame him for such events?

· How is it possible that to confront a group of men presumed dangerous and armed, the director of the DISIP, a former Army colonel, and the Minister of Defense arrived to the site wearing casual clothes?

· How come the body found in Ranch Daktari and the new uniform unearthed nearby were dry when it had rained 24 hours earlier, and the days before?

Given the record this administration has and the confusing events, only a serious investigation that answers those questions on the minds of Venezuelans and the international community may allow the government to take actions that cannot be seen as a desperate attempt to quash the opposition in the military ranks or in the civic society, to distract from the serious events that occurred in Zulia State (the deaths of Privates Pedreáńez, and Bustamente in Fuerte Mara, Aguilar in Casigua, opposition leader Evangelina Carrizo and Juan Carlos Zambrano) and other human rights violations, and to stop the imminent next step in the electoral agenda: the repairs beginning on May 20 followed by those on May 28 that could activate the recall referendum against his mandate.

Those that advise the President would do well to remind him that as in the fable, the wolf may finally come one day, and no one will heed or believe the cry for help.

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