There were not few in the Opposition who considered Capriles attitude as cowardly and it became a cause of friction among the MUD. There was an increasing sentiment among a more radical segment of the Opposition that Capriles‘ behavior was leading to some sort of recognition of Maduro‘s victory at the polls. It also got mixed with the discussion surrounding Maduro‘s allegedly Colombian citizenship (that if true would forbid him from exercising the presidency). It became increasingly challenging for Capriles to please both sides, very antagonistic and amid the not very silent struggle for power custody agendas.
The game was called after the December polls. All were ready for a fight that promised not few casualties, the most expected was the one that would dispute Capriles leadership, whose non-belligerant style was harshly criticized when he accepted to take part in talks with the government in the occasion of the dreadful assassination of a former beauty queen and her husband in a highway (January the 6th of 2014) that sparked anger all over the country, forcing the Government to address the escalation in violent crimes, that was not making any distinctions in the affected targets.
One month later, another episode of insecurity in our universities, an attempted rape in the University of Los Andes in San Cristobal (western part of the country, a border state with Colombia), sparked the outrage of the Students leading them to a protest at the Governors’ Residence, and were later detained provoking more Student protests, quickly spreading to the main cities of the country: Maracaibo, Caracas, Mérida, and Valencia. The protests rapidly took a broader perspective when Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado proposed The Exit (La Salida) as an alternative to the MUD and Capriles policy towards the shaky situation of the country. The reasons were not only insecurity, but as they proposed it, the need for way out of Maduro‘s government. Obviously this was what a segment of the Opposition was expecting and with the Students as a moral background for the cause, thousands rallied in support for The Exit. On the anniversary of the Battle of the Victory, the Day of Youth is celebrated with a traditional rally in Caracas, and on this occasion the motives were plenty: inflation rate mounting 56% last year; scarcity in the 22%, an exchange rate that in the black market is ten times the official one, power shortages and the consuming struggle of anything done to solve these issues.
That day, February 12th three people lost their lives in separate events: two were protesters, the other one was a police officer, and also a member of a paramilitary gang known as “Colectivos“. All of them shot in the head, and according to the criminal investigation, members of the intelligence agency SEBIN are the responsible for those deaths. No need to say that the atmosphere escalated into more anger, Students detained protesting in Caracas, San Cristóbal, Valencia, Mérida. There were concerning allegations of police abuse, some of the detainees claimed tortures, but every single day there were evening clashes between protesters and riot police, which increased the number of cases.
With a balance of more than 500 detainees and 18 cases of rape and torture denounced by the NGO Foro Penal (Criminal Forum) who is representing the victims of this systematic repression by the military, National Guard and government supported paramilitary gangs “Colectivos“, the protests as for February 24th register a death toll of 8 fatalities linked to security forces or gang abuse. Most of the victims were shot in the head (Bassil Da Costa, Juan Montoya, Roberto Redman and Genesis Carmona) another one with pellets to her face (Geraldine Moreno) at a close range, by the hands of a National Guard and the other, Alejandro Márquez, beaten so bad -presumably by the National Guards that took him- leaving him brain dead because of the injuries. Other casualties were added: Jimmy Vargas in San Cristóbal was shot in the face by the National Guard and an unidentified man in Cagua (state of Aragua, an hour from Caracas) that was shot in the head, presumably by paramilitary gangs.
The protests have been responded with raids to residential buildings and houses that are known to demonstrate banging cooking pots, the notorious “cacerolas“. This has become subject of a great deal of criticism, Government has failed to address the most severe demands from the people: violent crimes, inflation, scarcity, and power shortages. How is it possible that Government can‘t control crime but uses all of its resources to subdue people pacifically protesting remains unanswered. But one thing is for sure, not all of the Opposition supports the radical’s usual tactic, the well-known Guarimba, which consists in blocking streets, creating chaos, trying (naively) to threaten the Government. President Maduro has not only ignored people’s claims, but also the right to protest and to be protected from the violence of the paramilitary groups, supported by his government. Media reports that these groups act in support not only of the Government‘s own party (PSUV) but for them as security forces against the Opposition. This is an image very far away from the one of a democratic government, even with the support of countries like Argentina, Bolivia, among others, it seems President Maduro is not only loosing grips of power, as he recognized SEBIN (government intelligence agency) did not follow his orders, but he is diminishing one of the most important values chavismo has had during fifteen years: the image of democracy. That does not seem to worry this administration; repression against the people has spiraled and there are no ways or measures to stop it because it is state driven, it means citizens have no official support to protect themselves from this violence that does not make any distinction between pro government and pro opposition. There are growing concerns that this violence was expected, since the answer has been more repression and no intention of recognizing any of people’s demands.
* I wish to thank Omar Zambrano for reading and giving his opinion, much appreciated