A la UNASUR: What are Venezuelan "Guarimbas"? (sobre violación de DD HH por parte de los guarimberos)
Alí Rodríguez Araque
Secretary General UNASUR
Dear Secretary General:
Please receive our respectful, Bolivarian, revolutionary, patriotic and anti-imperialist greeting. Please make this greeting extensive to people working together with you in your important assignment in benefit of peace and the sovereignty of the South-American nations.
Currently in Venezuela, ultra-right-wing groups have developed an extreme and way to protest against the State and the Venezuelan people called “guarimba”. A guarimba is a lock-down sector of the city or neighbourhood. “Guarimba-people” or “guarimberos” block roads using different kinds of materials (barricades) and then proceed to control access of people and vehicles to such neighborhoods.
As part of the control they exercise, they proceed to charge a fee (in Bolivares), every time someone attempts to enter or exit the guarimba area. They not only control access, they specially target people using red-colour clothing, and even red-colour cars assuming they are Chavez's sympathizer (chavista). “Guarimbas” are a display of a dangerous lack of tolerance in Venezuela.
Under slogans such like “It is not a crime to think differently” they verbally and physically attack anyone they think may be a “chavista.” Their ideology is radically anti-socialist, anti-communist, and pro-USA. They demand “freedom” by denying freedom to others. They shout they are hungry but they burn-down trucks delivering food and food-storage places. They manifest not to have “freedom of expression” while being close-minded to other ways of thinking. They lay claim to not having security while committing criminal acts, including assassinations, and violent aggressions against civilians and security forces.
“Guarimberos” enjoy international support, including mainstream mass-media. Well-known artists, and politicians have expressed their support to the “guarimberos” in a very well organized international campaign of propaganda against the constitutional authorities of the country. This campaign has achieved such unbelievable distortions that they call “dictators” to free-elected authorities, who are exercising important restraints in dealing with guarimbas.
Current Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, is not only a convinced democrat, and a recently elected President with less than a year in power. Former President Jimmy Carter called the Venezuelan electoral system “the most perfect of the world.” Additionally, the Venezuelan constitution opens the possibility to a middle term referendum on his presidency. It seems crazy to think that some people around the world are supporting the deposition of an elected president, and in fact subjecting the Venezuelan people to a so called soft coup, to assassinations, and other types of human rights violations because Venezuela is practicing elevated forms of participatory democracy, which can set a bad example for other subjected countries.
In spite of a strong propaganda campaign talking about human-rights violations, it is the Venezuelan police force and civilians opposed to guarimbas who have suffered most of the deaths and injuries.
“Guarimberos” enjoy the services of a powerful buffet of lawyers. They also take advantage of weaknesses in the legal system where opposition judges can grant them freedom with ease should police capture them.
“Guarimberos” receive daily payments and armed protection from Colombian mercenaries. But they receive more than money, they have been subjected to a psychological campaign, which makes them believe that Cuba is damnation for the continent, and that to be subjected to USA's power is the only way to development and happiness. They march with the US flag and with an upside-down Venezuelan flag.
The propaganda campaign states that “guarimberos” are students. It is true, students do participate in protests, including pacific marches in support of guarimbas and demanding a change of government. Instead, “guarimberos” are criminals, period. They use the term “student” as a way of softening criminal acts, for public opinion sake. They attempt to present criminal acts as acts of revelry carried out by crazy youth to make their crimes more palatable. They have in fact among other crimes burned-down fifteen universities; several libraries; and natural forests. They have cut more than five thousand trees that they use to barricade neighbourhoods; and with no mercy they burn and kill cats and dogs in bonfires.
Do the international community know these facts?
They developed the following action plan:
- In December 2012, President Chavez, sick with cancer, had to travel to Cuba for a new surgery. This was a key element that triggered the plan. As soon as January 2013, the Economic sabotage started. President Maduro would call it “Economic War.” During the first three months of 2013, prices of goods and services skyrocketed. Massive smuggling of basic goods out to Colombia, and other countries caused scarcity of things like cooking oil, toilet paper, sugar, rice, milk, and other daily-consumed goods. The government was slow to react due to several reasons:
- Chavez was in a serious condition, in fact, passing away on March 5th.
- There was a dependency on Chavez's guidance for policy-making.
- Chavez's illness did not allow him to return to the country until a few days before his death.
- For weeks, the opposition was challenging the constitutional right of Chavez to continue to be President while sick. Then they started challenging the constitutional right of the then Vice-President, Nicolas Maduro, to replace Chavez as a temporary President.
- After Chavez's death, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council called for a new presidential election on April 14th. A month-long electoral campaign ensued.
- In spite of the Economic War, Nicolás Maduro, from the government “Patriotic Pole”, defeated Henrique Capriles Radonski, the candidate of the opposition coalition “MUD” by 1.49% difference.
- Capriles Radonski called out a fraud and ordered his people to take the streets “to drain their anger”. After three days of guarimbas, 10 chavistas and one child were killed and terror shook the country. After the third day of violence, sporadic violence continued unabated.
- At the same time and with protests on the streets, Capriles started an international campaign to try to demonstrate the electoral fraud. Opposition leaders realized that they could count with enough forces, nationally and internationally, to bring down the government.
- The Economic War reached unconceivable levels. Merchants were gouging prices for basic goods with up to a 1000% overprice. A campaign started blaming government for price increases, for the scarcity of goods, and for the long lines in front of public and private markets to purchase some goods. “We do not have toilet paper, but we have Fatherland,” people were told to say to make fun of the Chavez's legacy.
- As part of the Economic War, the business sector and, simply, some mafia people were able to penetrate CADIVI—the government entity in charge of controlling access to US dollars—to obtain millions of US dollars at preferential rates for fake business deals. A part of these dollars was taken out of the country, and another part was sold in the black market pushing the exchange price of the US dollar to never seen levels in the country. The lack of control on the part of the government was a key element causing both the outflow of currency mainly to the USA, and to the internal black market. While the government official exchange rate was 6.3 BsF per US dollar, the black market exchange rate reached up to 42 BsF per US dollar by june 2013. By April 2014 it reached 92 BsF per US dollar.
- The non-collection of the garbage combined with the cyclic sabotage to the electrical grid and to the telecommunications fibre-optic system served as additional measures to, according to their plans, make people angry and willing to rise up against the government.
- A psychological and propaganda war through national and international mass media; through social networks such as twitter, facebook, phone messaging, and others; contributed to create a neurotic environment against both members of the government and its supporters.
The idea was to create a chaotic situation of violence and intolerance providing the scenario for a civil war and therefore, military intervention in Venezuela. Guarimbas are not a way to overthrow the government, they are just a bait to get the government to use repression; once repression takes place they will use mass-media outlets to blame the government for human-rights violations, opening the door for a foreign intervention. According to their plans, once foreign-forces have massacred most chavistas leaders and supporters or have sent them to exile—and we must remember that the PSUV (Socialist United Party of Venezuela) has more than 6 million members—a new US-friendly government will be imposed to Venezuelans. We may say, to what is left of the country.
The first scenario to launch the guarimbas took place during the municipal elections in December 8, 2013. According to Capriles Radonsky, the vote was going to be a plebiscite on the government of Maduro. Should the opposition obtain more votes than the government, that would proof that the Venezuelan government was illegitimate and therefore it was OK to sack President Maduro from office. That sort of “logic” is absurd, because in Venezuela municipal elections do not invalidate a Presidential, this was going to be the excuse for the soft-coup.
It did not work out. Maduro's party, PSUV, obtained more than 75% of the municipal councils, with over 56% of the vote.
The call was to increase the gouging of prices and the hoarding of goods—40% of Venezuelan subsidized-goods were smuggled out to Colombia—because it appeared that people had not been punished enough as to make them revolt against the government.
Everything was marching according to plans until the government approved a new law called the Rightful-Price Law, establishing a 30% top margin for profits and new punishments for gouging prices and hoarding goods. This new law could open the path to defeat the Economic War, and to destroy the psychological campaign blaming the government for the Economic situation of the country, meaning inflation and scarcity of certain goods.
Within days after the approval of the Rightful-Price Law, guarimbas started demanding the ouster of Nicolas Maduro. It was 2004, when guarimbas were first implemented. At that time against the then President Hugo Chavez who defeated them in a short time. In this opportunity, guarimbas came with new force and techniques; the backing of millions of dollars—some probably coming from the CADIVI system itself; and the support and full-force of the international mass media.
- Under direct orders from Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Machado—top guarimba leaders, and the covert and sometimes not so covert support of opposition mayors—this time, guarimberos created huge barricades. They cut several thousand trees in total to make barricades, in fact committing an environmental crime; they spilled motor-oil on roads leading to guarimbas; they threw “Miguelitos” or multi-nail devices to punch tires; and in some cases built concrete walls. All this while mass media and social networks would present them as pacific protester in struggle against an oppressive regime. As part of the propaganda campaign they used images of other countries to make the world believe that the repression shown in those images was really taking place in Venezuela.
- Events took place mostly in opposition-controlled municipalities. In some cities violent events started early, but the order was for never-ending guarimbas to start on February 12th with the goal of overthrowing Maduro. “Whoever gets tired loses.”
- The plan included daily marches, taking over “plazas” and parks, public religious ceremonies and other types of “pacific” protests in support of guarimbas. These actions were combined with the blocking of roads and burning of vehicle-tires and non-collected garbage—mayors are in charge of collecting garbage in cities- to provoke police action against “pacific” citizens using their right to protest.
- As it is customary with opposition politicians in Venezuela, the main opposition coalition group “Mesa de la Unidad” (MUD) has made calls of support to protests against the government, but deny they have anything to do with guarimbas. They never criticize any guarimberos action whatsoever.
- Maria Machado and Leopoldo Lopez, both of them members of the opposition, call themselves the leaders of the revolt. Nevertheless, neither Machado nor Lopez would take responsibility for their calls to violent protests. Lopez was publicly recorded not only calling up for protests to start and increase, but also stating that violent protests were not going to stop until the ouster of Maduro, the Venezulan president. Machado on the other hand was also recorded calling for non electoral, non dialogue-type solution to the country problems and her public speeches and international trips are full of calls to put an end to Maduro's “regime”. Machado, a former member of the National Assembly, lost her post after accepting a diplomatic position as an alternate Panama Ambassador to the OAS.
- It is, then, common to see guarimberos unwilling to take responsibility for deaths, injuries, and kidnappings, for charging people ransom money, environmental crimes, and other types of crime they have committed during their violent actions. More so, guarimberos and their leaders blame the government for each and every one of the crimes they commit and mass media (nationally and internationally) make sure to echo their statements blaming the Venezuelan government for the violence. Additionally, mass media accuse the government of human rights violations against pacific protesters when police forces try to clean up barricades. This happens even though it is a well-known fact that anti-riot police forces do not use lethal weapons during their actions, and it has been opposition bullets that have caused most of the injuries and deaths, including the assassination of six National Guards.
- Accusing the government of human rights violations is not only an easy way out of assuming any responsibility for their actions. It is also a way to open the road to a humanitarian military intervention. It allows the State Department to engage other countries, artists and famous people into supporting the international campaign against Venezuela. It also opens the path for a “just-cause” leading to a military intervention or for an understanding and supportive reaction to an eventual deposition of Maduro.
- The propaganda war against Venezuela has been brutal. CNN and other media outlets have a non-stop propaganda campaign against Maduro's government. Governor Rick Scott from Florida, recently asked Congress to approve and additional 15 million dollars aid to Venezuelan opposition; a number of Democrat and Republican senators and congress people have been in a heavy campaign of support to guarimbas in Venezuela, calling them pacific protests; several Cuban-exile organizations and people, including Robert Alonso, are also behind the guarimbas; former Colombian President Uribe Velez, the Panama government and artists, some of them who have never put a foot on Venezuelan soil or may not even know where it is located have voiced their support to the fascists trying to overthrow a democratic government.
- Even though guarimbas are located in a few municipalities of the country, propaganda makes people believe that the country is in state of war. Two of the municipalities where the opposition enjoy more support and where guarimbas have remained are the cities of Merida and San Cristobal in the Andean region. Colombian paramilitary forces have, even before the guarimbas, been penetrating Merida, Zulia, Apure, Barinas and Tachira States because of their geographical location. The fact that the Colombia border is a few miles away, makes them vulnerable to different types of crime including contract killing, drug trafficking, and hoarding of goods. Colombian paramilitary forces and military conflict have provided guarimbas with experienced armed-combatants willing to take arms against the Venezuelan government for money.
10.Joint Venezuela-Colombia Paramilitary forces use sophisticated means of communications as recommended by US advisers, and in some cases as recommended by CNN technology-news anchor Samuel Burke (ver @samuelcnn February 2014 tweets); use night-vision goggles; weapons with telescopic sight among; bomb-making training; among other sophisticated devices.
Guarimberos keep a strict control over the population inside every guarimba and they have established what can be called a “communal dictatorship.” They have imposed a toll of up to 500 BsF to people wanting to enter or leave the guarimba; they restrict movement within the guarimba; and they do not allow people to return home after dark.
Guarimbas are practically “disaster zones”. There are neither gas nor garbage-collection services, since they do not allow trucks to enter the area. Mobility is restricted because people can leave or enter only on foot. People cannot use their private cars. Masked armed men manage barricades formed by huge amounts of garbage; tree-trunks; light-poles; stoplights; metal fences; pieces of brick walls; rocks; desks; and furniture. Liquid coming from garbage bags mix up with used car-oil, while clouds of flies can be seen flying all over the place. At night, guarimberos practice their shooting skills with rats that venture into the barricade.
It is like a fetid prison affecting children and everyone in the guarimba.
Police forces have made several attempts to dislodge barricades and in most cases they have succeeded to permanently remove them. Sometimes, the problem becomes persistent when hours later, guarimberos return to build a bigger, stronger barricades.
Sometimes it is civilians inside guarimbas or in surrounding neighbourhoods who lose their fear to guarimberos or get desperate and try to dislodge guarimbas by themselves in a peaceful manner. The result has not been always positive. Guarimberos holding sniper-rifles have shot at them and have killed or badly injured innocent civilians who were just trying to recover their freedom of movement and their regular lives.
It is important to mention that public offices and government buildings located in or nearby guarimbas have been burned down, damaged or looted. More than fifty government vehicles have also been burned down and destroyed. A few private vehicles have suffered the same fate.
Guarimberos, not only negatively impact the life of people inside guarimbas. Guarimberos force all citizens in the city to change their usual routes and hangouts to try to avoid danger; they cause traffic jams all day long by restricting traffic on some roads; they disrupt people's sleep with their bombs and shootings. In short, they create chaos at all times in the whole city affecting people's lives in more than one way.
Dear Secretary General of UNASUR, we apologize for this long story, which is only an initial tale of all the suffering that the opposition coalition MUD has brought to the country. MUD's guarimbas have violated basic human and citizen rights. We would like to ask for your kind support by introducing the following petition to the consideration of UNASUR members:
1.- UNASUR will establish a diplomatic fact-finding mission in the cities of Merida and San Cristobal (Venezuela). This diplomatic mission would write a report of their findings as a way to tell the real story of the Venezuelan people to the rest of the region. This report will also help other Latin American nations to not suffer these brutal attacks.
2.- This UNASUR mission will recommend short and long term courses of action to the Venezuelan government in regards to the situation affecting the above mentioned cities.
3.- The mission would document, in all their ways and shapes, human rights violations that have taken place in those cities. We strongly believe that universities and other educational institutes of the region, and people in general, can benefit from the study of the mission's report.
We really appreciate your understanding on the urgency of this matter. Venezuelan democracy and stability are at stake.
Merida, March 31, 2014.
We support: “Carta al Sec. Gen. Unasur denouncing the attrocities committed by extreme right-wing groups (guarimbas)”. 31-03-2014.