On Sunday six people were injured during violent and armed attacks by opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski’s bodyguards as he led a campaign march in one of Caracas’ poorer areas, Cotiza. The government and Cotiza community members have said the incident is part of the opposition’s strategy, whereas the opposition blamed pro-Chavez forces for it.
Capriles lead a small march and car parade into Cotiza on Sunday morning at the same time as United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) members in the area were conducting a door knocking campaign.
Witnesses say there were verbal attacks by both sides, but then a man in a red shirt, as well as Capriles’ body guards, fired shots, causing minor injuries.
One resident, who in talking to local press asked to remain anonymous, said his son went out into the street to see what was happening and was hit by a bullet in the arm. PSUV members took him to a Mission Barrio Adentro hospital.
Opposition legislator Ismael Gracia’s adult son was also slightly injured, and he is accusing PSUV members of shooting at him.
Many community members shot videos and photos of the situation and through them it has become clear that the bodyguards, who were riding motorbikes without number plates, were Miranda state police.
Capriles is the governor of Miranda state, which covers the eastern part of greater Caracas. Cotiza, however, is in the centre is in the centre-north of Caracas, in the Capital District, also known as the Libertador municipality, which is a federal entity. The mayor of Libertador is a member of the PSUV.
According to the minister for internal affairs, Tareck El Aissami, Miranda state police entered Libertador without authorisation, and wielding firearms. He accused them of going into the area with a “violent agenda” and the intention to “create a show… create news”.
One of the police at Capriles’ march was Humberto Duque Cardenas, intelligence chief of the Miranda police, according to journalist Mario Silva. AVN reports that Duque participated in illegally detaining the minister for justice and internal affairs during the 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez.
“We’re investigating and identifying [those responsible], those with guns have to be taken to court,” El Aissami said. He explained that the constitution guarantees the right for public and private meetings, but not with weapons, and that the Police Service Law says that police should only carry out their functions within their specified territory.
El Aissami also encouraged the legislator’s injured son to go to court with proof of who was responsible.
One Cotiza community member, Dominga Ramos, told press she saw men who were accompanying Capriles change their shirts from yellow to red just before their march neared the area where PSUV activists were.
Journalist Oswaldo Rivero, who was covering the PSUV campaign in the area and was witness to the events, said Capriles’ men “infiltrated” the area by wearing the red t-shirts. Various videos have captured the man in the red t-shirt firing into the air.
The PSUV house visits are done by members of those communities, yet witnesses say they hadn’t seen the people in red t-shirts before.
According to other PSUV activists, Capriles’ security attacked various activists in an attempt to provoke a reaction, before the main incident occurred.
Video footage also shows one of Capriles’ body guards with a handmade grenade, which he later stored in one of the cars in Capriles campaign car parade.
Rivero also criticised the opposition’s coverage of the event for only mentioning Garcia’s son, and not the five local residents who were injured “by his agents”.
“The neighbourhood was calm until [Capriles and his crew] arrived,” said Rivero.
One resident, Madeleine Ortiz, told Ciudad Caracas, “They tried to repeat what happened on Llaguno bridge [during the 2002 coup], making Chavez supporters look like the criminals, like the violent ones. Nothing happened though because no one in Cotiza fell for their games”.
PSUV member and community leader Ismenia Coronado also argued that the event was premeditated, “Look, Capriles’ people came armed, it’s not true what they [the opposition] are saying, that it was us. They came here firing into the air and the people reacted”.
After the events Capriles claimed that, “Some PSUV men used shots to try to stop the visit to Cotiza. Even so, the people came out to welcome us”. Video footage however shows the man in the red t-shirt aiming towards community members, not towards Radonski’s team, and many community members have told various press agencies that the “violence came from Capriles’ body guards” and “they were dressed in red to confuse us”.
Garcia also went to the public prosecutor’s office yesterday to request an investigation into the national government, accusing it of “financing” “violent groups”.
Some private Venezuelan press have portrayed the event as an attack against Capriles. Most have quoted Garcia, who told press that “the bullet that hurt my son … was close to killing the presidential candidate who will confront Chavez in October”. El Nacional headlined today with “Capriles is the first presidential candidate attacked since 1978” and argued that the events were designed to stop the “free movement” of Capriles so he could “present his proposals”.
Tal Cual said the “political criminals in red t-shirts “attacked Capriles’ march and said Chavez’s supporters are “aggressive” and the situation was “probably arranged by the PSUV leadership” without explaining how such violence could help its campaign.