Posts Tagged ‘#SOSVenezuela’

Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez to remain jailed while on trial UPDATED

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

After three days of closed hearings, Judge Adriana Lopez decided that Leopoldo López will be tried on charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations, and must remain jailed for the duration of the trial. She said

Mr Lopez would face charges of damaging property, arson and instigating violence.

No date for the trial was announced.

The decision comes as no surprise, even when the WaPo refers to López as a “Venezuelan hardliner.” Were he a Colombian member of the FARC, would the WaPo refer to him as a “Colombian activist”?

But I digress.

Juan Cristobal Nagel examines the decision,

The whole document is a masterpiece of Dadaist chavismo.

The government’s entire case rests on the analysis of the speeches made by Leopoldo, speeches in which he dared question the legitimacy of the authorities, and told people to march and stay on the streets to demand democracy. The Prosecutors then weave a legal theory that, taken to its logical conclusion, makes Leopoldo responsible for everything that has happened since the Venezuelan protest movement began in February.

To say that the accusation makes no sense does a disservice to the nonsensical.

López has been in jail since February 18, when he handed himself over to the authorities during a huge demonstration.

UPDATE:
The WSJ reports Jailed Venezuela Opposition Leader to Face Trial in August


Venezuela: Armed civilians fight protesters

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Maduro unleashes the colectivos of war.
(Colectivos is one of the names for the marauding motorcycle gangs I’ve written about in the past.)

Armed Civilians Fight Venezuela Protesters
Government Goads Self-Appointed Guardians of Revolution to Counter Unrest

Mobs of civilians on motorcycles have swarmed antigovernment demonstrations, sometimes firing weapons, sometimes swinging bats, and have stormed a university and burst into apartment blocks in search of adversaries, witnesses and rights groups said. Created under late President Hugo Chávez’s government, these so-called colectivos—or collectives—are the self-appointed guardians of Venezuela’s socialist “revolution.”

But the recent protests under President Nicolás Maduro have thrust them into a far more prominent role, say human-rights groups and opposition members. Among their concerns is that the civilian groups, while loyal to the government, aren’t explicitly under its command, and can largely act as they please.

No colectivo leaders have been arrested.

Maduro uses the colectivos not only to attack Venezuelans, he also uses them for propaganda purposes: “If the gringos invade us, the colectivos will swallow them live.” So much for the Obama administration’s smart diplomacy.

The colectivos attacked nearly a third of the protests staged in March, and of their leaders, José Pinto, head of the Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement, was at the “peace negotiations” last month at Maduro’s invitation:

Tracing their origins to the urban leftist guerillas of the 1960s, armed civilian groups faithful to Venezuela’s populist government grew in power under Mr. Chávez, who was accused by opposition leaders of arming civilian groups in his 14 years in power.

There are now in Venezuela roughly a dozen major armed civilian groups, with 2,000 to 3,000 members, said Javier Ciurlizza, Latin America director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that does in-depth reports on conflicts world-wide, including here.

They also act as Chavismo enforcers:

the society of motorbikes is a creation of chavismo who has subsidized them heavily in the early years because they were their storm troopers to quickly go around town to crush any anti Chavez protest. Remember Lina Ron? Now they are out of control, a threat to regime itself. One shudders at the idea that suddenly 300 bikes could appear in a neighborhood and start looting while the cops look helpless. Because they are armed, you know, the bikers, better than the cops probably.

Juan Nagel writes about Human Rights Watch’s finding of “systematic” human rights violations in Venezuela:

Pay close attention to the language in which their main conclusions are presented (emphasis is mine):

  • “What we found during our in-country investigation and subsequent research is a pattern of serious abuse.” (Page 1)

  • “Judges often confirmed charges against detainees based on dubious evidence presented by prosecutors … Prosecutors and judges routinelyturned a blind eye to evidence suggesting that detainees had been subject to abuses while in detention…” (P. 2)

  • “(O)ur research leads us to conclude that the abuses were not isolated cases or excesses by rogue security force members, but rather part of a broader pattern, which senior officers and officials must or should have known about, and seem at a minimum to have tolerated. The fact that the abuses by members of security forces were carried out repeatedly, by multiple security forces, in multiple locations across three states and the capital (including in controlled environments such as military installations and other state institutions), and over the six-week period covered in this report, supports the conclusion that the abuses were part of a systematicpractice by the Venezuelan security forces.” (P. 3 and 4)

  • “Security forces routinely used unlawful force against unarmed protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations.” (P. 8)

  • “In the scores of cases of detentions documented by Human Rights Watch, the majority of the detainees were participating in protests at the time of their arrests. However, the government routinely failed to present credible evidence that these protesters were committing crimes at the time they were arrested, which is a requirement under Venezuelan law when detaining someone without an arrest warrant.” (P. 10)

  • “In every case in which individuals were detained on private property, security forces entered buildings without search orders, often forcing their way in by breaking down doors.” (P. 10)

  • “Security forces repeatedly allowed armed pro-government gangs to attack protesters … ” (P. 12)

  • “The detainees were routinely held incommunicado for extended periods of time, usually up to 48 hours, and sometimes longer. While, in a few exceptional cases documented by Human Rights Watch, detainees were released before being brought before a judge, in the overwhelmingmajority of cases prosecutors charged them with several crimes, regardless of whether there was any evidence the accused had committed a crime.” (P. 19)

  • “In virtually all of the cases we investigated, detainees were not permitted to contact their families during the initial 48 hours of their detention despite repeated requests to do so.” (P. 19)

  • Virtually all detainees were not allowed to meet with their defense lawyers until minutes before their initial hearing before a judge.” (P. 20)

  • “Hearings were routinely and inexplicably held in the middle of the night, a practice that lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had not experienced in other types of cases.” (P. 21)

  • “While most of those charged were granted conditional liberty in the cases we investigated, judges repeatedly placed conditions (medidas cautelares) on detainees’ freedom that prevented them from exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression, such as prohibiting them from participating in demonstrations or talking to the media.” (P. 21)

  • “Never before, (defense attorneys) said, had they encountered such acomprehensive battery of obstacles affecting so many cases.” (P. 22)

  • “(I)n many of these cases, the investigative police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the judiciary are themselves implicated in serious due process violations, as well as in failing to intervene to address abuses by security forces against detainees.” (P. 26)

Read the HRW report, Punished for Protesting
Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System
.


Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez’s jail birthday

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Opposition leader Leopoldo López turned 43 years old on Tuesday. He’s still in solitary confinement without a trial and his wife was told that he is not allowed visitors for the next 15 days at Ramo Verde military prison. His attorney considers him a political prisoner.

Emiliana Duarte describes,

His cell, where he spends 22 hours a day, is a minuscule 9 square meter space containing a bed and a sink. Ever since he was jailed, López has been kept in a maximum security area known to prison wardens as “the annex, ” on the second floor of the building. When he was first interned in his cell, “the annex” seemed to have suffered a small fire: the walls were covered in soot, the lamps were melted, and there was very little light. His legal team says some maintenance has been performed since then to improve at least that aspect.

When Leopoldo was sent to the annex, the authorities at Ramo Verde immediately set about increasing security there. A series of fences were added between each stairwell, as well as several additional cells, since assigned to mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, as well as San Diego municipal police chief Salvatore Lucchese.

Leopoldo remains in solitary confinement with no end in sight. He can only receive visits from close family members and his lawyers. Access has been denied to his priest for confession, and he has not been allowed to attend mass. It’s worth noting that the Committee Against Torture, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have made it clear that solitary confinement should be an exceptional measure of limited duration that is subject to strict judicial review when applied and prolonged.

Leopoldo’s legal team has had repeated problems with correspondence, since he is forbidden from sending written messages to the outside. All letters sent to him are extensively scrutinized and in several instances, have been retained altogether.

His legal team has also had problems with legal documents, which are also subject to extensive review by the prison guard, an issue which violates client-attorney privilege and professional standards of privacy. These revisions have been carried out to such an extent that sometimes legal council has been strip searched on their way out of meetings with their client, in order to make sure that no information is being leaked.

The prison authorities restrict access to any material deemed “politically sensitive.” He may not receive books, flyers and other documents that may be considered forms of political proselytism [sic].

Journalist Ludmila Vinogradoff for Spanish newspaper ABC reports that she and a photographer, along with Lopez’s were detained for three hours and López is now denied visitors for two weeks as punishment for the journalists’ visit.

So, has Leopoldo Lopez self sacrifice been worth something?

Of course the regime want Lopez, and many other, to rot forever in jail, or dead if they could get away with it. The main reason for that hatred with Lopez is that represents all that they are not, educated individuals, rational, sensible, not seeking revenge for real or imaginary hurts, even good looking. That in addition he made it clear to the world that the regime is a dictatorship managed by thugs is, of course, unforgivable.

What is more troubling is that some in the opposition are not running over each other to make a grand stand and demand Lopez freedom or else. This, in a way, is harder to forgive. But the reason is also simple to understand: the revolt that Lopez represents is the one from a group of Venezuelans who think that they have no future, nothing to lose anymore. But inside the MUD there are people that have something to lose, little perhaps, but something nevertheless. As such people like Ramos Allup, leader of the fading AD old party, are ready to do anything to lower social tensions. Not because it is good to lower social tensions, something we can almost all of of us agree on, but because social tensions are bad for him since he will never lead them.

The opposition is dealing with Venezuela’s Security Forces: A Killer Elite Beyond the Law
As violent protests return, the death toll is down, but families are struggling hopelessly to find justice for their loved ones killed in demonstrations earlier this year.

At the height of the protests an engineer was beaten to death by National Guard troops on the road to a hospital. A crazy firefight started by a bodyguard of the “peace” minister ended with a bullet in a student’s head. A 20-year-old cook was detained for threatening national security, but no proofs whatsoever were presented in court. Four guys were tortured with electricity applied to their testicles. In one jail where people were detained illegally the wakeup call was made with teargas bombs.

The human rights abuses in the increasingly despotic dictatorship continue as Protesters Point to Their Scars.

In CNN interview, Bolivarian National Guard Captain calls on Cuba-backed dictatorship to step down

Maduro’s trying to lock up internet access but a New online project seeks to leverage social media in coverage of Venezuelan crisis

Venezuela Decoded gathers information found on Twitter, groups it by source (either from government or opposition sources) and separates them by language (Spanish and English). It also features a timeline created with the online tool Timeline JS that shows the most important events of each day.

You can find the timeline here.

Elsewhere in the country, the agricultural industry’s dying: Chavez’s Farming Utopia Withers as Pet Projects Abandoned, which is hardly surprising, considering their origin,

Chavez’s plans for agricultural communes began with a visit to Belarus in 2007, when his counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko took him on a tour of projects dating from the Soviet Union’s 1930s collectivization, said Perez, who now advises the president of Venezuela’s state agriculture fund.

Capital flight in Venezuela 103% of GDP as Venezuelans have syphoned $405.8 billion away from the country.

Maduro’s latest populist ploy for fixing systemic economic woes: Raising the minimum wage.

In the past few weeks particularly the regime has been trying to tamp down on the unrest, and last week, the country’s Supreme Court imposed new regulations limiting citizens’ right to protest with some trumped-up permitting process

Critics say that while the new minimum salary amounts to $675 at the government-set exchange rate, it adds up to little over $67 at the black market rate.

Related: El plan detrás del caos en Venezuela


Vargas Llosa: Venezuela a “pathetic failure”

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Mario Vargas Llosa, visiting Caracas for the Cedice conference:

On his last visit to Venezuela in 2009, he was held for several hours at the airport and criticized by Chavez for coming to “offend” and “provoke” Venezuelans.

Again, Vargas Llosa did not hold back, saying 15 years of socialism in Venezuela was a “pathetic failure” akin to Cuba and North Korea, evidenced by the highest inflation in the Americas and other weak economic indicators.

“What’s happening in Venezuela is a radical anachronism,” he said. “Venezuela has gone ever more backwards in the last 15 years and is approaching the most pathetic examples of economic, political and social failures like Cuba and North Korea, the last real exponents of socialism in the world.”

He added, however, that he had no wish to provoke anyone in Venezuela, and was grateful to the country for giving him his first international award, the Romulo Gallegos prize, in 1967.

Vargas Llosa offered his support to students who have been protesting against Maduro since early February.

“I hope the dialogue is genuine and authentic, and enables the pacification of the country,” he said of talks between the government and moderate opposition leaders intended to stem violence that has killed 41 people in the last two-and-a-half months.

As the Venezuelan Supreme Court Outlaws Spontaneous Protests as “Not an Absolute Right” and demands express authorization from the mayor or the governor of the jurisdiction where they are carried out, repression has intensified since the opening of the “dialogue” (link in Spanish).

Musician Willie Colón, who has close ties with Venezuela:

Video here:

And, as repression intensifies, RATION CARDS, BLOCK LONG FOOD LINES AS INFLATION RATE IN VENEZUELA HITS 60%

And now for a Venezuela roundup

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Late on Thursday night, Nicolas Maduro held a televised “crisis talk” with members of the opposition. The Beeb says

Mr Maduro met his bitter rival, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, for six hours. More talks are scheduled for Tuesday.

The meeting was brokered by foreign ministers from South American nations.

The spokesperson of the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, noted he had “nothing to say” about the invitation sent on Wednesday by the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Pope Francis for the Vatican to act as a mediator in talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

No matter the foreign ministers or the Vatican, the farce went on as expected: a guarimbalogue.

Francisco Toro calls it A Night of Epistemic Closure (emphasis added)

Fifteen years of sitting in front of a VTV screen have taken their toll. Chavismo has zero interest in reality outside the deep, cozy grooves of its ideological comfort zone. We’re talking about a movement that, when faced with a prominent figure claiming that Jews were using newspaper crossword puzzle clues to send each other coded messages, actually promotes the guy.

These people have all the power, all the money, all the rents, and all the guns. It’s going to take a lot more than having the Papal Nuncio sit through a six-hour meeting to get them to step outside that bubble.

In a way, chavismo doesn’t have an epistemic bubble – it is an epistemic bubble. The obdurate refusal to confront a reality it cannot control, to honor opposing points of view without necessarily sharing them, to treat others’ points of view as basically legitimate even if possibly wrong…these things aren’t features of chavismo as a belief system, they’re its essence.

Which is why, all told, there was just one figure who came out of last night looking relatively good: Maria Corina Machado, who called bullshit on the whole sad charade before it even started.

Miguel Octavio is more optimistic,

Short term, this is largely irrelevant, clearly Chavismo is stuck in its own imaginary world, trapped in its slogans and has no intention of yielding on anything, despite the scheduling of another session on the 15th., right in the middle of a nationwide vacation.

But the fact that this was shown on nationwide TV and the opposition had some very good interventions, is very important long term.

The Chavista militias known as “colectivos” are continuing their rampage.

Maduro’s latest slogan is “Venezuela is a country where the rich protest and the poor celebrate their social well-being,” which he stated to a Guardian reporter but was echoed by a chavista woman on the street.

While the protests are a recent development, the chavista disinformation war continues,

A chavista mouthpiece, infamous Minister of Housing Ricardo Molina, said, from Cuba of course, that there were two Venezuelas. In that, he is absolutely right. Indeed there are two Venezuelas: the imaginary one that exists only in chavismo’s ethereal world, and the other one. There’s no doubt, or disagreement about that. Maduro “lives” in a Venezuela where everything is rosy. So do his henchmen and cronies. Every other one of the 29 million Venezuelans, lives in a Venezuela of scarcity, uncontrolled crime, unemployment, abuse, corruption, uncontrolled inflation, crumbling infrastructure, and a long list of etceteras. I think one example will suffice to illustrate this point: in chavismo’s world, Hugo Chavez was “infected with a brutal and aggressive cancer in 2011​“; in the real world, well, you get the point.

I’ve been reading Casto Ocando’s new book, Chavistas en el Imperio: Secretos, Tácticas y Escándalos de la Revolución Bolivariana en Estados Unidos (Chavistas in the Empire: Secrets, Tactics, and Scandals of the Bolivarian Revolution in the United States). The depth and breath of the chavista disinformation war is beyond what I even imagined. Ocando reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars Chavez spent in the propaganda war.

Out on the street, the police mark people waiting in line to buy milk,

UPDATE:
Linked to by the Pirate’s Cove. Thank you!


Venezuela; about that Maduro op-ed in the NYT, UPDATED

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The NYT published an article by Nicolas Maduro’s ghost writers, Venezuela: A Call for Peace on April 1.

Assuming it was not an April Fool’s joke, Maduro states

According to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We havereduced poverty enormously — to 25.4 percent in 2012, on the World Bank’s data, from 49 percent in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics, extreme poverty diminished to 6 percent from 21 percent.

And where did the UN’s numbers come from? The Venezuelan government – which has not allowed its own numbers to be verified for almost a decade. Not only has Venezuela not held an held an Article IV consultation with the IMF in 100 months, it also stopped reporting a number of standard indicators several years ago.

Daniel Wiser does a Nicolas Maduro Fact Check:
On inequality:

Chavez’s family now reportedly owns 17 country estates totaling more than 100,000 acres in the western state of Barinas, as well as assets of $550 million stored in various international bank accounts. Residents in the same region wait as long as three hours for basic provisions at grocery stores.

National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello, a close confidant of Chavez and member of Maduro’s United Socialist Party, has allegedly amassed “a private fortune” through corruption and ties to regional drug traffickers. TheMiami Herald reported accusations last week that Cabello received at least $50 million in bribes to overlook lucrative public contracts that were overpriced, according to a recent lawsuit.

On healthcare (I posted about it last year):

The Associated Press reported in November that Venezuela’s health care system “is collapsing after years of deterioration.”

About 90 percent of the country’s public hospitals lack vital supplies due to government-imposed dollar shortages and price caps. The government was forced to suspend organ donations, transplants, and non-emergency surgeries.

On “extending a hand to the opposition” (and keep in mind Maduro’s been threatening to bomb the state of Táchira),

Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado has been expelled from the legislature and faces imprisonment. Protest leader Leopoldo Lopez remainsconfined at a military facility.

Two opposition mayors elected by large majorities have also been sentenced to several months in prison, according to the Human Rights Foundation.

Maduro posits that “claims that . . . current protests represent mainstream sentiment are belied by the facts.” Here’s an aerial video of “sentiment” taken on the March 22 demonstration

Francisco Toro writes about The Most Outrageous Lie in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s New York Times Op-Ed

Fact-checking the entire piece would be enough to cause an aneurysm. Instead, to give a sense of the depth of historical falsification involved, let’s focus on one particular line: Maduro claims that the Bolivarian revolution “created flagship universal health care and education programs, free to our citizens nationwide.”

This is roughly equivalent to President Barack Obama claiming that he created Social Security. Venezuela first established free universal primary education (for both boys and girls) back in the nineteenth century. It was 1870, in fact, when President Antonio Guzmán Blanco—the visionary military dictator who dominated politics at the time—created a mandate for the state to teach all children “morals, reading and writing the national language, practical arithmetic, the metric system and the constitution.”

Granted, universal education remained more an aspiration than an on-the-ground reality for several decades, but by 1946 Venezuela’s first elected, social democratic government rode to power partly due to a commitment to enact that vision. Free education, including at the university level, was an ideological cornerstone of successive governments beginning in 1958. Under the leadership of the great educational reformer Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa, the government created one of Latin America’s first adult education institutions, INCE, in 1959, and in the 1960s pushed to increase adult literacy through the famous ACUDE program.

Maduro’s mentor, Hugo Chávez, might have told him a thing or two about that: As a teenager in the ’60s, Chávez volunteered as an adult literacy coach at ACUDE—one of the flagship education programs that Maduro claims didn’t exist until Chávez created them.

It’s much the same story with health: Already in 1938, still in the era of dictatorships,landmark public hospitals were being built and treating patients free of charge. The 1961 constitution—the one chavismo insisted on replacing, seeing it as a vehicle for neo-imperial domination—guaranteed free public health care in article 76. Even today, virtually every major hospital in the country was built before the Bolivarian revolution, whose contribution was limited to a secondary network of outpatient clinics staffed by Cuban medics and located inside poorer areas that, in the view of many, ended up largely diverting resources that would have been better spent upgrading theincreasingly ramshackle legacy hospital network.

Yes, both the school system and the hospital network were overstretched, underperforming, and in need of reform by the time Chávez came to power in 1998, and yes, chavismo‘s reforms of both systems have been broadly popular. There’s an interesting conversation to be had about the successes and failures of those reforms.

But that conversation can’t happen when the government insists on a wholesale falsification of history, simply erasing the long, rich history of health and education reforms that in 1999 bequeathed Chávez the large and ambitious, albeit flawed, health and education systems that Maduro oversees today.

Maduro also mentions the “new market-based foreign exchange system, which is designed to reduce the black market exchange rate.” That ended up getting lost in translation:

See if you can spot the difference in MINCI’s official translation of the same OpEd. It describes SICAD II as ”un nuevo sistema de cambio de divisas que ya ha reducido la inflación durante las últimas semanas.” [Fausta’s note: “a new foreign exchange system which has already reduced inflation over the past few weeks“]

Did you catch that? Either SICAD II is somehow more market-based in English than it is en español, or the system’s market-basedness is locked in quantum indeterminacy, cycling in and out of existence over time.

Continuing to assume the NYT article was not an April Fool’s joke, The real question isn’t “what” Maduro is saying, but “why?”(emphasis added),

Why does Maduro display such concern about international public opinion, while putting on a show about being so above caring about his domestic popularity?

Chávez battled external demons fictional or not – usually fictional – to give himself ammo for his political battle back home. With Maduro, it’s the battles on the home front that are being submitted to the court of international public opinion for international validation.

It’s like he doesn’t actually grasp that, in accepting Venezuelans’ discontent only in a foreign tongue to a foreign newspaper and then blatantly ignoring those complaints in his actions, then pleading with gringo readers to be spared from the consequences, Nicolás Maduro is only incriminating himself.

All the same, expect the usual apologists to endlessly repeat Maduro’s talking points. The joke’s on the Venezuelan people.

UPDATE: Alek Boyd takes a jackhammer to the NYT piece, 

According to unaudited figures we provide to the United Nations, Venezuela has consistently reduced inequality: It now has the lowest income inequality in the region. We have reduced poverty enormously — to 25.4 percent in 2012, the World Bank’s data (again which no independent auditor has checked in the last 98 months), from 49 percent in 1998; in the same period, according to government statistics, extreme povertydiminished to 6 percent from 21 percent. This incredible reduction was achieved overnight, after our commander in chief called the National Statistics Office to order lowering the figures.

And that’s just the warm-up. Go read the whole thing.

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#SOSVenezuela: Testing Venezuela’s sincerity

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Yesterday’s Miami Herald editorial:
Testing Venezuela’s sincerity
OUR OPINION: Government’s actions undermine calls for mediation

If his stated interest in reconciliation were sincere, the first thing President Nicolás Maduro would do is call off the dogs — the pro-government militants who have sown terror on the streets by intimidating, beating and shooting protesters.

Instead of putting them on a leash, though, Mr. Maduro has publicly praised these thugs as defenders of the “Bolivarian revolution.” Resorting to brute force to silence critics hardly sets the stage for mediation. Targeting high-profile government adversaries, including elected officials, only makes matters worse.

Shortly after the wave of protests began, the government ordered the arrest of outspoken government critic Leopoldo Lopez for allegedly inciting violence. On Friday, an appeals court rejected his plea for bail. Far from discouraging opponents, Mr. Lopez’s imprisonment has served only to raise his profile as a leader of the hard-line opposition and fueled further protest.

Apparently unable to learn from its mistakes, the government doubled down on its dubious tactic. On March 21, authorities jailed the mayors of two cities that have seen some of the most intense unrest — Daniel Ceballos of San Cristóbal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego. They were arrested, tried and sentenced within a matter of hours on trumped-up charges of failing to prevent violence.

Then, last week, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that a prominent opposition deputy, Maria Corina Machado, had lost her seat and parliamentary immunity and could be arrested at any time. She courageously defied the government by leading a street protest days later and remains free as of this writing. But for how long?

While Maduro says he’s open to having a “facilitator” create a dialogue with the opposition, last month he was threatening to bomb the state of Táchira:

“If I have to decree a state of exception especially for the state of Táchira, I am ready to do so. I am ready to decree it, and I will send in the tanks, the troops, the Air Force, the entire armed forces of the fatherland, because we will preserve Táchira as Venezuelan territory, as belonging to Venezuela. I am ready to do it now! I have the constitutional authority to do it, I have the clear strategic vision for it, and ultimately, I have the Enabling Law. I have the Enabling Law. I am willing to do anything for Táchira, anything.”

That was in February; this is what Táchira looked like yesterday,

A top Venezuelan military commander says the security forces have retaken control of the streets in the western city of San Cristobal in Táchira,

The current wave of unrest started in San Cristobal on 4 February, when students took to the streets to protest against the alleged attempted rape of a university student.

Students Set Up Long Term Protest Camp In Front Of UN’s Office in Caracas

When you first talk to them,there are a number of surprises. First, they are not all from Caracas. Second, they are not middle class. Finally, they are not all students, as many of them are part of radical, left wing groups 8yes! [sic], real left wing not imitation Chavistas!) which oppose the Government. So, for fools that claim that these protests are somehow motivated by the US, driven my middle class students, please come down and talk to them. You will be surprised, really surprised.

Today Maria Corina Machado will attempt to attend the scheduled National Assembly meeting, after NA president Diosdado Cabello divested her of her elected position. The Venezuelan Supreme Court rubber-stamped Cabello’s decision.

Now the question is what the opposition will do. Is it still trying to pretend dialogue is possible? Will it make a show of force and try to enter with Maria Corina Machado in Parliament even if all may risk arrest? When are we going to start calling the regime a dictatorship and deal with it accordingly?

There’s a demonstration scheduled at noon to show her support.

We’ll see how it evolves.

Elsewhere, in “one of the most democratic nations on Earth”, the government announced it will begin fingerprinting customers who use state-run grocery stores. Supposedly to prevent hoarding,

Patrons will register with their fingerprints, and the new ID card will be linked to a computer system that monitors purchases. Food Minister Felix Osorio says it will sound an alarm when it detects suspicious purchasing patterns, barring people from buying the same goods every day.

Considering the precedent of the Tascón List and the Maisanta program, this does not bode well.

Update:
Re: the new ID cards for food purchases, it’s worth keeping in mind that just 2 days ago ABC.es was reporting that Cubans manage Venezuela’s ID system, its identity cards and passports.

What could possibly go wrong?

This just in,
Venezuelan president orders landlords to sell homes in 60 days or face fine of £24,000 in wild bid to plug housing shortage
Owners leasing for 20 years ‘must sell’, evicted if don’t pay fine in five days
Law dictates they must sell for ‘fair price’ to prevent dip in the market
Landlords must submit prospective sale prices to the government
Comes as ‘grocery ID’ scheme launched to monitor amount people buy


#SOSVenezuela: Marco Rubio’s speech

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Rubio Delivers Floor Speech On Crisis In Venezuela (emphasis added)

In fact, it is now known that the Interior Ministry of Venezuela authorized snipers to travel to Táchira state and fire on demonstrators. Here is a picture of a government official, of a law enforcement or army or National Guard individual, or Interior Ministry individual, on a rooftop with a rifle and a scope aiming into a crowd. Here is a picture of a sniper. It doesn’t end there. Those aren’t the only pictures we have. Here are more pictures of more snipers on rooftops. Here is another sniper aiming into the crowd, with a spotter next to them. Here is another picture of the same sniper blown up.

These are government-sponsored individuals. What civilized [country] on Earth sends the National Guard and the Interior Ministry of their own government, of their own country, with snipers to fire on their own people who are demonstrating because of the lack of freedoms and opportunity and economic degradation that exists in a country? They cannot deny this. Here are pictures taken by demonstrators themselves of the snipers ready to shoot down people. In fact, 36 people have lost their lives.

But it doesn’t end just with the government snipers. Because what the government is trying to do here to hide their involvement is they have organized these pro-government militia groups, basically, these militant groups that they hide behind. These groups don’t wear uniforms. They’re called ‘colectivos.’ They drive around the city in motorcycles, and they assault protesters, they break in and vandalize their homes, they have weapons that they use to shoot into the crowds and kill or harm people.

There are three main groups. By the way, these groups began under Hugo Chavez’s reign, and these groups are actually organized around a concept that has existed for years in Cuba — these committees to defend the Revolution. These are neighborhood groups, so they know your family, they know who you are, they’re always watching, and they organize themselves into armed militias. The government’s claim is, ‘Well, these groups are on their own, we’re not coordinating with them,’ but in fact, there have been multiple reports that these groups coordinate with the National Guard to take down barricades set up by protesters, to break into the homes of protesters, to vandalize homes, to terrorize people, and to kill.

There are three main groups that I want to point out, these ‘colectivos.’ La Piedrita is one of them, it’s based in a working class neighborhood of Caracas. It has a far-left ideology, it is armed, it is comprised of radicals, who claim to be willing to die for their revolutionary ideals, whatever those are. In January, this group, by the way, tweeted that Henrique Capriles, the opposition party’s nominee for president in the last elections, is a racist and a fascist and accused him of intending to launch attacks on the poor and on impoverished neighborhoods.

Read the whole thing.


Venezuela: Leopoldo López, Hun School alumnus

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Nearly everybody goes through Princeton, and Leopoldo López is no exception.

The Daily Princetonian reports that López graduated from The Hun School in 1989.

López is still in the custody of the Venezuelan government, though protests have continued in his absence. The Hun School continues to show their support for him by posting updates on the length of his internment on Twitter and exhorting community and school members to keep him in their thoughts.

#SOSVenezuela: Yesterday’s #22M march

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

[Update] Better yet view from a done, via Daniel,

3 More Deaths in Venezuela as Both Sides March

Related:
Venezuela’s protests
Inside the barrios
Support among the poor for the government of Nicolás Maduro is conditional

Armed civilian gangs, loyal to the “revolution” and known euphemistically as colectivos, act as community enforcers. “The majority are criminals,” says José Quintero, an opposition activist from ProCatia, a non-governmental organisation, “and they are armed to the teeth.”

Since the conflict turned violent in mid-February, alleged members of the colectivos have been filmed and photographed using firearms against protesters. Acting in concert with security forces, they are accused by the opposition of several deaths (which they deny). Their tight grip on poorer communities is one reason the barrios, or shanty towns, have stayed quiet.

Another is the widespread fear of losing benefits such as housing allocations, employment or subsidised food, which are contingent on political loyalty. The oil boom that began in 2002 allowed Chávez to mount a plethora of clientelistic welfare programmes, known as “the missions”. Health and education were the main focus of these initiatives, which made up in quantity for what they lacked in quality. Poverty was greatly reduced. When the oil price stalled, so did social gains. The leadership of the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance has so far failed to take full advantage of ensuing discontent. Critics say it has yet to convince disaffected chavistas that it has their best interests at heart.

In western Caracas, its task is made harder by the threat of chavista violence. Lest that prove insufficient, Nicolás Maduro, the president, recently banned opposition marches in this part of the city, which is where the most vital government institutions—including his office—are located.

A recent survey by Datos, a polling firm, found discontent with the government right across the social spectrum. Only 27.1% of respondents described themselves as pro-government; 43.7% favoured the opposition. More than seven out of ten had a negative view of the situation today and over half thought it would be even worse in six months.