Camera-shy monsters

The use of flash photography while we shoot you is strictly forbidden
The use of flash photography while we shoot you is strictly forbidden

One of the things that jumps out of the Human Rights Watch report is how our human rights violators seem to be fearful of appearing on video. As the report states:

  • “In 13 of the cases we investigated, security forces targeted individuals who had been taking photographs or filming security force confrontations with protesters.” (P. 3)
  • “In these cases—as well as others involving the detention of protesters and bystanders—national guardsmen and police routinely confiscated the cell phones and cameras of the detainees. In the rare instances when detainees had these devices returned to them, they routinely found that their photographs or video had been deleted.” (P. 12)
  • “As the guardsmen fired teargas and rubber bullets, journalists Méndez and Rodríguez took shelter in the entranceway to an apartment building. Shortly thereafter, three National Guard motorcycles stopped in front of them. Méndez and Rodríguez were both wearing gas masks; Méndez was wearing a bulletproof vest that said, “PRESS,” in large, white letters; and Rodríguez was carrying a professional camera. They yelled that they were journalists and raised their hands above their heads. One of the guardsmen yelled, “You’re taking photos of me! You’re the ones that send the photos saying ‘SOS Venezuela.’ You cause problems for the National Guard.” (P. 41)
  • “After firing on them, a guardsman approached Méndez and asked why she was wearing a bulletproof vest. When she responded that it was because she was a journalist, the guardsman said, “You’re not a journalist, you’re a bitch made of shit.” (No eres una periodista, eres una perra de mierda.) The guardsman pulled off her gas mask and then Rodríguez’s. He pointed a rifle at Rodríguez’s face, saying, “Give me everything you have.”
    The guardsman took Rodríguez’s backpack, containing his IDs and press credentials, demanded the memory card of his camera, and left. Within minutes, a third wave of guardsmen arrived on motorcycle, firing teargas towards the doorway where Méndez and Rodríguez were still trapped, now without gas masks. A guardsman took Méndez’s cell phone and her bulletproof vest, and detained the two journalists.” (P. 42)
  • “Holdack was filming civilians beating demonstrators when approximately four men—whom he told Human Rights Watch were officers—grabbed him by his hair, beat him, and detained him. When he arrived at the CICPC headquarters, he was thrown to the floor, where officials kicked him. One of them said: “We don’t want those videos circulating in social networks.”” (P. 54)
  • “The guardsmen grabbed Osorio by the arms, picked him up, and one of them hit him with the back of a firearm in his head. Osorio fell to the ground again, and felt another blow on his head, while six guardsmen, all of them with their faces covered, surrounded him and started kicking his head, body, and testicles. He told them again that he was a journalist and one of the guardsmen simply responded: “The camera!” and attempted to take it away from him. One of the guardsmen then pulled his backpack to try to take it away and could not do so—because Osorio had tied two of the strings across his stomach—so he started pulling Osorio backwards on the street, while the rest continued to kick him.” (P. 69)
  • “On February 20, 2014, Óscar Tellechea, a 27-year-old communications student who works for a news agency, was taking pictures and covering a peaceful demonstration in Valencia that turned violent after security forces used force to disperse it, Tellechea told Human Rights Watch. Tellechea, who said that at the time he was wearing a hat with the name of the agency he works for and had his press credentials visible, told Human Rights Watch that a member of the National Guard stopped him, pointed a shotgun at his head, and ordered him to delete all pictures he had in his camera.” (P. 72)
  • “On February 24, 2014, Marvinia Jiménez, a 36-year old seamstress, was attacked by a member of the Guard of the People after she filmed officials using her cell phone as they shot teargas canisters at protesters.” (P. 72)
  • “González was taken to a police car nearby, where officers threatened to kill him, saying, “So you are going to throw stones? You’re going to be sorry.” Police took his cell phone, wallet, keys, and backpack and held him incommunicado in the Helicoide jail until the following day, during which time he was handcuffed together with two other individuals.” (P. 75)
  • “According to Montilla, who is a Rastafarian and had dreadlocks that reached his waist, a guardsman pulled his hair, threw him to the ground, and took away his bag. Despite the fact that he said he was a journalist, the guardsman took away his camera and detained him. He was driven in an official vehicle to a military installation. When he arrived, Montilla was taken, handcuffed, to a kitchen, where a guardsman told him they would cut his hair “so he becomes a man” (para que seas un hombre). The guardsman cut off his hair, while
    the others laughed, even though he explained to them the dreadlocks were closely associated with his religious beliefs as a member of the Rastafari movement.” (P. 76)

This strikes me as very odd behavior. From what we know, human rights violators love to be filmed doing their deeds. There are thousands of pictures of Holocaust atrocities (Godwin alert!), as well as proud pictures of FARC guerrilla fighters. Without going too far from home, the colectivos are many things, but camera shy ain’t one of them.

The attitude of the National Guard and the National Police is baffling. If their intent is to scare protesters, then why not pose for tons of pictures? The more viral the repression, the likelier the chance they will deter future protests, right?

There may be several things at play here. One is that the government does not really want to deter the protests, and that is why they repress in hiding, away from the cameras. But the more likely explanation is that, deep down, these men (and some women) are embarassed of what they are doing. As much glee as they show toward abusing their fellow countrymen, deep down there has to be an element of shame involved. Something deep inside (a conscience? an escuálida grandmother?) is telling them that what they are doing is wrong … so much so, that they don’t want video proof of it.

It’s a strange phenomenon: the henchmen (and women) of the revolution as tropical Greta Garbos, hiding the proof of their attacks on civilians. Your explanation for this is as good as mine.

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