As a revolutionary, I regret very much the death of people on both sides in the events of the last few days. Geraldine Moreno spent a number of days in a clinic, holding out, after, according to the press, a National Guard shot at her with rubber bullets in the face at close range, making her lose an eye and causing brain damage. The event occurred in the Tazajal sector, Naguanagua municipality, on Wednesday 19 of February. After three days fighting for her life, Geraldine regrettably died on Saturday 22.
If things happened as the press reported, it is an offensive and detestable fact. And the person responsible for the point blank firing, whoever they are, will have to be judged and sentenced to prison for many years, no excuses. And, if the information is false, it’s a shame that nobody has come out to refute it over the last three days. But there are various things about the issue of the National Guard that I’ve been direct witness too, and I have things that I’ve wanted to say for days, maybe this is the best time to say them.
The main channel of the state, Venezuelan Television (VTV), is nestled in the middle of a middle class residential zone, in Los Ruices (east of Caracas), where thousands of people live in buildings 12 to 18 stories high. The majority of those who live there are not very well off, but rightwing parties such as Copei, First Justice (Henrique Capriles’ party) and Popular Will (Leopoldo Lopez’s party) have done important political work in the sector and a certain amount of militant opposition people are very aggressive and violent.
This television channel has been strongly besieged since the night of 12 February by these aggressive members of the opposition, something which forced the government to set up Bolivarian National Guard squads in the area to watch over it permanently.
I have been able to see how people of Los Ruices stop 3 or 4 metres from the squads who watch over VTV and start to shout insults that no one would in their right mind would accept. I’ve been witness to how man of 35 or 40 years of age stopped in front of the GNB soldiers in complete day light, 3 or 4 metres away, at times when there aren’t any protests and everyone is walking about the street and working, and they yell things like: “Asshole sons of bitches, pieces of shit Cubans, get out of my country”, “Asshole Chavistas of shit, we’ll kill you all!”, “Murderers, Cowards, Maduro ass kissers!” Other people in their cars or from their balconies yell similar things. Many of these expressions I heard as I wrote this article, and by people who passed by in cars or on foot by the guards after coming from an opposition march in the El Marques Unicentro.
What do you think is the reaction of these guards? Nothing. They stay there, behaving as if they don’t hear anything. This may be difficult to believe for a Spanish, Chilean, or US person, but it’s the truth. The Venezuelan National Guard is trained and has strict orders to ignore any verbal attacks by civilians, as unpleasant as they may be. They will only respond if something physical is done to them (punches, rocks thrown, fireworks, etc). And, when they do react, they only use non lethal weapons (batons, tear gas, and plastic bullets), although the case of Geraldine sadly shows that these types of weapons can be lethal sometimes.
I’ve been able to see on the streaming how the opposition laid barricades in street B of Los Ruices, in front of Channel 8, and when the GNB soldiers approached in order to put out the barricades [either fire, or to remove them], the opposition threw bottles and cups at them from the buildings along street B while shouting “assholes” and “murderers”. The very kid who narrated the streaming on street B, despite being opposition, admitted the aggressions against the GNB and criticised them.
I could also see for myself how guarimberos [barricaders or violent street protestors] in balaclavas provoked the guards, throwing fireworks and rockets at moments when the guards were just watching over the channel’s buildings.
I’ve also seen how the locals who tried to chat with the guards, to be friendly to them, to offer them a drink or ask them for information, how their own neighbours yelled at them “toad”(informer), “ass kisser” and “piece of shit Chavista” from the buildings.
As far as I know, the Spanish Civil Guard, the Chilean Carabineros, the New York police, and Scotland Yard in London [sic] or any other security body that is well respected in the world wouldn’t allow their guards to be treated like that. It seems to me that there is a legal failure in our laws that we hope the Venezuelan parliamentarians will solve some day. It’s worth highlighting that no one has died in Los Ruices in over ten days of harassment and protests in the streets around VTV.
In this area there are numerous Chavistas, we’re not a majority, but perhaps 20 or 30 percent of the population, and important amount. However, we are scared for our lives and our safety because of some of our neighbours. We don’t identify ourselves with Chavista symbols for fear that we will be attacked or our families will be, as has already happen in various specific cases. We are the ones who don’t have the freedom that others are protesting for.
Those who live overseas should take into account the social composition of those who are protesting, and of those who are trying to maintain control. The majority of Bolivarian National Guards come from the barrios, from the popular sectors, from small towns and humble zones and other parts of the country.
Those who protest are, in their majority, from the middle and middle-upper classes of the four most populated cities. No, they aren’t “petty bourgeoisie”, and much less are they owners of the means of production. They are mostly university graduates who work for a wage, or professionals who work on their own, or university students, or small business owners. Sometimes, they earn the same salary as someone who lives in a barrio. But someone made them believe that they are a ‘higher class’, just because they live in the buildings in the east of Caracas and they have European lineage, while the others live in a little humble house.
I write this especially for our readers in countries like Chile, who live in totally different circumstances, so that they can understand us. Hugo Chavez talked constantly about the Bolivarian Armed Forces as “the people in arms”, and he said it quite literally.
From there you have to put yourselves in the boots of the dark skinned GNB, 24 years old, with slanted eyes, who comes from a humble barrio like Zulia, from a campesino (rural) area of Apure or a fishing town in Sucre, who has to tolerate the insults of a Caracas youth, 28 years old, Spanish or Italian or Portuguese heritage, who shouts from a fairly new car things like “Asshole piece of shit Cuban, murderer, ass kisser of Maduro!” Is this a class struggle? I leave that for discussion.
But what is happening in our streets is a coordinated effort: while an opposition person utters these insults, others are recording the scene with their phones or cameras from buildings. They communicate through messages, Whatsapp, Blackberry or Zello. All are waiting for the GNB to lose control, pull out a baton and hit a protestor or fire their rubber bullet rifle. If the guard makes a mistake and represses someone who is insulting him, in just minutes the video is doing the rounds of Youtube, it will be seen by millions of people and will form part of multimedia material that arrives at international chains such as CNN, NTN24 Caracol and others, in order to say that in Venezuela there is repression and to help to justify an intervention.
Why do I tell you all this? Because the opposition is playing with fire and they know it. There are thousands of National Guards in various cities of Venezuela, particularly those with violence such as the east of Caracas and the wealthier areas of Valencia, Maracaibo, and Tachira, all of them submitted to this harassment, this wave of insults, verbal attacks, lack of respect, and violent attacks.
To insult and treat hundreds of GNBs in this way every night, to throw blunt objects at them, and cause serious injuries to some, its statistically inevitable that some of these soldiers will lose their temper and commit outrages, sometimes, against innocent people like Geraldine. Even if you tell me that 999 of every 1000 national guards are well trained, the number 1000 guard could commit outrages that could be used to justify anything against the country. Outrages so loathsome, outrages that we will never defend or support. But in a context that no one explains, and a single purpose: to cause violent acts that justify the exit of president Nicolas Maduro.
This situation of wearing down has lasted 11 days [the article was published on 22/2] across the country, against thousands of National Guards. It’s true that the GNB are professionals, they are trained to withstand these insults, they rotate every few hours and they have responsibility when they have a weapon, lethal or not. But it’s also true that none of these youths who insult the guards would cope with someone saying to them, “Asshole Italian peice of shit, go back to your country!”, they’d all respond to the verbal attack with violence and punches.
It’s something that must be written in the coup manuals of the US government: what is happening right now is an operation of wearing down, exhaustion, against the Armed Forces, using the civilian population, very likely supported by people trained overseas, in order to cause them to commit mistakes that, on being recorded and disseminated, justify interventions. And the opposition leaders know it. Do the fathers or mothers who allow their 18 year old sons and daughters to provoke the GNB, to throw rockets and bottles from their houses know it?
Be aware that in 1989, on doing something like that, they would have caused the Guard to enter their apartments, forcefully drag them out of their houses, beat them and disappear them, like what effectively happened in 23 de Enero and El Valle in February that year.
Do these guys know that in El Valle and 23 de Enero the marks of the shots that the soldiers fired against the walls of the buildings, using war weapons and real bullets, are still there? The government would do well to remember this on Thursday when it will be 25 years since such terrible events.
The strict orders of President Maduro is to not give in to violence, and all the guards have to be clear on that. They have to rate the guards constantly in the most conflictive zones. They have to warn the guards that, from the buildings, everyone has cameras, and mobile phones that will record any error they make, they’ll upload it to the internet and when that happens, such guards will have to be arrested and go to court. Even more, they shouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to remove the phone or the camera from someone, because it’s a violation of rights that will also be recorded by others and the consequences will be worse for them and for our country. The commanders of the Guard shouldn’t reject the use of psychologists and relaxation mechanisms for these guys, who are resisting and tolerating aggressions that none of us would. Under no circumstance can we allow that what happened to Geraldine Moreno to be repeated (assuming it’s the GNB who was responsible).
They have to explain to them everything that is at stake at this time: all the advances that the revolutionary process has achieved. We’re in a coup attempt, in very similar circumstances to December 2002, but now they have more money, experience, and foreign advice. It’s a battle that might last a very long time, and we have to be prepared to resist.
Luigino Bracci is a collaborator with the editorial team of Aporrea, a defender of freeware and freedom of expression.
Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com