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Anatomy of (yet another) downtown riot …

(sigh…these are getting predictable…)

At first, people weren’t sure what to make of the protests at the Metropolitan Police. A pretty good number of PMs (as the cops are known) started protesting about back-pay, which seemed reasonable. The Greater Caracas Mayor answered that he sympathized, but that the money to pay them had not been handed down to him by the National Government, where all of the Mayor’s money originates. That seemed reasonable too. But as the protests got more drawn out and militant, people started to get suspicious. There was a definite whiff of the political about this protest – the Metropolitan Mayor is a fierce Chávez critic, after all, and the Metropolitan Police has been a key to the big anti-government protests over the last 10-months. Without a big PM presence, a lot of opposition activists would’ve been too scared to protest in public. So the idea that the protest was a ploy to undermine, maybe even destroy the PM began to take shape. And those suspicions were born out when Channel 8, the doctrinally chavista State-run channel, started devoting more and more air time to the protests.

So today, when the dispute finally got out of hand, when the dissident cops tried to set fire to the Metropolitan Mayor’s Offices, when other PMs had to disperse them with tear gas, when groups of masked trouble-makers joined them and fired gunshots at the PM lines, and when no one in the National Government lifted a finger to stop the whole sorry exercise in Avenida Urdaneta, we weren’t surprised. We’ve come to expect this madness from the government. Time and time again they’ve shown that this is how they deal with opponents: round up some street thugs, set them on your enemies. Preserves plausible deniability.

Frankly, we’re scared. We’re scared that when they manage to provoke an incident that gives the government an excuse to take over the Metropolitan Police our right to protest in the streets will be truly in peril. Without a well-armed PM presence standing guard, marching would just be too scary. And these days, marching is one of the last means of protest we have left.

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Known to friend and foe alike as Quico, Francisco Toro is Executive Editor at Caracas Chronicles.

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