Sunday, March 2, 2014

Venezuela: Thus Far, 17 Killed, 261 Injured During Anti-Government Protest, See Security Tips Below

According to The Latin American Tribune, more than two weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela have left 17 people dead, the country’s attorney general said Friday (February 28).

Thus far, 17 fatalities and 261 injured have been reported resulting in the summoning of 59 defendants to court, an event marking the 25th anniversary of the popular revolt known as the “Caracazo.”

The Caracazo or sacudón is the name given to the wave of protests, riots, looting, shootings and massacres began on February 27, 1989, in Carcacas and surrounding towns. The week-long clashes resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, most at the hands of security forces. The riots and protests began mainly in response to the government's economic reforms and the resulting increase in the price of gasoline and transportation.

The word Caracazo is the name of the city plus the suffix "azo," which implies a blow and/or magnitude. It could therefore be translated as something like "the Caracas smash" or "the big one in Caracas." The name was inspired by the Bogotazo, a massive riot in neighboring Colombia in 1948 that played a pivotal role in the country's history. Sacudón is from sacudir "to shake," and therefore means something along the lines of "the day that shook the country."

COMMENT: One of the latest fatalities took place Thursday (February 27) in the central state of Carabobo, where a young man, who was “removing the barricades that a group of Venezuelans placed in the streets to block traffic, was [shot and killed].

Eight agents of the Sebin intelligence service have reportedly been arrested.  

Venezuela has been immersed in a wave of protests since a political demonstration on February 12, 2014 ended in violence, with two opposition demonstrators and one government supporter slain. 

For those of our readers who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, please keep in mind that the late Hugo Chávaz, who served as President of Venezuela from February 2, 1999 until his death on March 5, 2013, was a leading figure in at least one coup attempt prior for which he was imprisoned.

Chávaz' legacy is that he will go down as turning one of South America's strongest historical democracies and economies into a mirror image of Castro's Cuba.

As a further backgrounder, in 1989, Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922-2010), the candidate of the centrist Democratic Action Party, was elected President after promising to oppose the US' government IMF plan. Instead Pérez followed neoliberal economic policies.  In an attempt to stop the widespread protests and looting that followed his social spending cuts, Pérez ordered the violent repression and massacre of protesters, known as El Caracasazo. The end result was that 276 Venezuelans were killed.

Chávez began preparing for a military coup d'état, known as Operation Zamora.  Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of February 4, 1992. On that date, five army units under Chávez' command moved into urban Caracas with the mission of overwhelming key military and communications installations, including the Miraflores Presidential Palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport and the Military Museum. 

Realizing that the coup had failed, Chávez surrendered himself to the Pérez government. Even though Chávez was arrested and imprisoned his efforts promptly catapulted into the national spotlight and gave him a charismatic appeal to the poor.

In 1994, Rafáel Caldera (1916-2009) of the centrist National Convergence Party was elected to the presidency, and soon after taking power, freed Chávez and the other imprisoned MBR-200 members as per his pre-election pledge. 

Following his being released from prison, Chávaz traveled throughout Latin America eventually ending up in Havana where he met with Fidel Castro one-on-one. After spending several days in each other's company, Chávez and Castro became friends with the former describing the Cuban leader as being like a father to him. 

As a part of his condemnation of the ruling class, Chávez became critical of President Caldera, whose neo-liberal economic policies had caused inflation and who had both suspended constitutional guarantees and arrested a number of Chávez's supporters. 

According to the United Nations, by 1997 the per capita income for Venezuelan citizens had fallen to US$ 2,858 from US$ 5,192 in 1990, while poverty levels had increased by 17.65% since 1980, and homicide and other crime rates had more than doubled since 1986, particularly in Caracas.

Coupled with this drop in the standard of living, widespread dissatisfaction with the representative democratic system in Venezuela had "led to gaps emerging between rulers and ruled which favored the emergence of a populist leader, which ultimately became Hugo Chávez.  

In time, Chávez and his supporters in the Bolivarian movement decided to found their own political party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR--Movimiento Quinta República) in July 1997 in order to support Chávez's candidacy in the Venezuelan presidential election in 1998. 

The charismatic Chávez went on to serve as Venezuela's longest serving head of state of state, albeit a proverbial dictator.

Even with Chávez gone, his hand-picked successor, incumbent President Nicolás Maduro, has continued with socialist philosophies to the detriment of Venezuela.

Sadly, unchecked violent crime, a bankrupt government, on-going food shortages, corruption, disinformation, street protests and expulsion of journalists is what most Venezuelans must endure each day.

I discourage all foreigners from traveling to Venezuela for tourism on the basis of the foregoing paragraph.

Those who must travel to Venezuela on business or government affairs should keep in mind that to avoid becoming a victim of violent crime, they should:

1. AVOID all protests, demonstrations and civil unrest as gunfire often is exchanged between police and protesters.

2. Speak Spanish or be in the company of those that do;

3. Register your itinerary with your appropriate foreign affairs agency;

4. Subscribe to international medical treatment and evacuation insurance before leaving home.  See;

5. Seek accommodations at an upscale "all-inclusive" resort, if possible;

6. Avoid contact with local police;

7. AVOID the use of ATMs installed at street level;

8. Remain in Venezuela as few days as possible to conduct business;

9. Take reputable taxis to ALL meetings/activities;

10. Insure all electronic devices through; See;

11. Carry no more than $100 when going out and only ONE credit card;

12. Don't use hotel business centers; your communications may be at risk;

13. If traveling by car, ensure that your vehicle going to break down, as armed robbery and even homicide befall those who have broken down on the roadway;

14.  Use hotel bars only; Avoid all others where you may be victimized;

15. Depending on your nationality, Venezuela should be viewed as hostile; and

16. If your brain tells you that you're about to engage in "high-risk" behavior, listen to your mind and...don't.