On the weekend civilians marched with National Bolivarian Guard (GNB) soldiers, and today the government declared part of Caracas “free” from violent protests. The march came as private media heightened its false statements about GNB actions.
On Saturday in Caracas there was a large civic-military march in support of “peace and life” and the GNB soldiers.
In his speech to those present President Nicolas Maduro accused the “government of the United States” of trying to “implement a plan to assassinate [him]”. He said in such a case, “the people should stay in the streets, making the revolution, united with the armed forces”.
Since 12 February, he said, over 20,000 GNB soldiers have been in the street, carrying out “some 16,000 operations to re-establish order and avoid confrontations, on average almost 500 operations per day. However, of the 29 deaths [since 12 February], there is only one under investigation attributed to a GNB soldier, [but] the opposition has carried out a campaign…writing them [the GNB] off as killers”.
The majority of deaths have been caused by violent barricades, two of them were allegedly caused by SEBIN (the national intelligence service) agents, and one by the Chacao police. Chacao police take orders from the opposition Chacao mayor.
Maduro himself is Commander in Chief of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. He stressed that there had never been any orders to repress. “If the national guard or the national police had gone out in a repressive blind rage or with a an order to repress, in the face of [almost 500] violent actions per day [by the opposition], the death statistics would be different,” he said.
According to a recent survey by private firm, Hinterlaces, of 1200 Venezuelans, 87% reject the violent barricades “as an instrument of protest”, and 11% support their continuation. 79% express “doubt” that the violence could improve the situation in the country.
GNB death, Chacao operation
Sunday night, Aragua governor Tareck El Aissami reported that a GNB captain was injured in Maracay by “criminal groups”. El Aissami said the captain was shot in the head. He explained that when a “violent group” tried to close Avenue Jose Casanova Godoy and the GNB arrived, the GNB were shot at.
Yesterday Maracay also held a Peace Conference, as part of a national government initiative being held in various states around the country.
This morning El Aissami reported that Captain Jose Guillen Araque had died from the injury. This is the second GNB captain killed in less than a week. Captain Ramzor Bracho, was killed last Wednesday in Valencia, allegedly by opposition groups.
Meanwhile, the government announced today that the upper class area of Chacao had been made a “peace zone”. Over the last five weeks the area has been one of many zones around the country subject to constant road blockades, rubbish burning, destruction of public property, harassment, aggression, and vandalism, by violent groups calling for Maduro’s resignation.
Last Monday GNB soldiers dismantled a clandestine storage area in Chacao used by the violent groups. They confiscated guns, knives, C4 explosives, drugs, and fuel.
In his speech on Saturday, Maduro said the government was willing to use “force” to “restore peace” to Chacao. “We’ll capture all the violent people, the terrorists, the murderers, we’ll do it…respecting all human rights. The first human right we’ll respect is the right to free transit, the right of the children to go to school,” he said.
That night, VTV reported that the violent groups “voluntarily withdrew” from Altamira plaza in Chacao.
Early this morning the minister for internal affairs, Miguel Rodriguez Torres announced the “liberation and pacifying” of the area, a few hours after 661 GNB soldiers were deployed there. He said the guards will patrol 24 hours a day “in order to guarantee citizen safety”.
Rodriguez Torres said that authorities were waiting on the mayor of the area, Ramon Muchacho, in order to “hand over control and that he take charge of maintaining the area”.
Resident of Chacao, Susana Saavedra told Correo del Orinoco that she congratulated the GNB, “for taking this initiative, because it was lawless here”. She accused local opposition authorities of “collaborating with the barricaders… we couldn’t leave our houses or send our children to school”.
While the number of violent barricades around the country has been reduced, both voluntarily and because of the GNB, in Merida this morning the science museum was attacked for a second time, high school Fray Juan Ramos de Lora was attacked, and a main city intersection was blocked by a burning truck.
Manipulation by Venezuelan private media
Venezuelan private media however, have blamed much of the violence on the GNB. El Nacional headlined on 15 March, “GNB and collectives attack universities around the country”. Though colectivos is a term used in Venezuela for a range of social and productive organisations, the private media in February began using it to denote supposedly armed, pro-government groups. The El Nacional article accused the GNB and “collectives” of “repressing student protests”.
In Carora, Lara state on Friday, the media reported “repression by GNB and collectives”. Opposition state governor, Henri Falcon said “anarchic groups supported by the GNB caused damage, panic, and commotion” in the National Poli-technical Experimental University (Unexpo).
Video footage of the event however shows the violence by the opposition groups, the GNB cleaning up the area, verbal abuse by groups towards the GNB, and the GNB responding politely. The GNB then sat the groups down and gave them a workshop on human rights, then let them all go, the footage shows.
Further, today El Nacional quoted opposition leader Maria Corina Machado accusing the GNB of “creating the chaos in Altamira to justify militarisation”.
Machado also called for a march against so called “Cuban interference” on Sunday. According to AFP, only “hundreds” turned up to the march. The AFP article stated that “protests…against the government of Nicolas Maduro… have seen a total of 28 deaths”, implying that the deaths were all opposition “protestors”.
La Patilla and social networks have also circulated a photo, which they claim was GNB soldiers “repressing, beating, and arresting a special youth”. However, on Saturday, Alejandro Cegarra, an AP photographer who has been critical of the government claimed to have taken the photo and stated the “GN official was helping the protestor to breathe…the guy started to faint and was choking”.
Further, the AP caption for the photo described the National Guard helping the man to breathe, but according to Cegarra, those who reposted the photo “decided to ignore the caption”. A video by photographer, Cristian Dubo also makes it clear the GNB were trying to help the man. While he was not beaten, it does appear he was taken to hospital, and also detained and is awaiting trial, after being involved in confrontations in Altamira.
Other press went further, using a different photo to claim the man had Down syndrome, and he was “brutally beaten by the GNB”. However the man in this second photo, according to RT, was beaten by Miami police last year. The man photographed by Dubo did not have Down syndrome.
The GNB forms part of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. It is responsible for public order. President Hugo Chavez, over his three terms, aimed to transform the GNB from what was previously a repressive institution into one geared towards promoting development. He increased the role of the GNB in civil affairs, including involving soldiers in implementing social programs such as the Mercal food program. The majority of GNB soldiers come from the poorer sectors of Venezuela, and Chavez often referred to the Armed Forces as “the people in arms”.