When in Doubt… Shoot to Kill

Making decisions can be tough, especially if you’re expected to solve the worst economic crisis in our petrostate’s memory on a 22% approval rating, and don’t have the first clue what you’re doing.

Leave it to a psychopath like our Defense Minister to show you how it’s done.

While Maduro dithers like a paralyzed hamster at the mere thought of announcing an economic reform, General Vladimir Padrino López is a proponent of the shock-and-awe approach to violating Human Rights.

Case in point: Resolution 8610, sanctioned on Jan. 27, through which the Ministry of Defense authorizes the use of “potentially lethal force, be it with a firearm or with another potentially lethal weapon” as a last recourse […], “to avoid public disorder, to support the legitimate authority, and to immediately reject aggression using any necessary means.”

Naturally, this innovation in military protocol is meant to “regulate the Armed Forces when guaranteeing public order, social peace, civil coexistence during public meetings and demonstrations, within the context of a Democratic State, the Rule of Law and the Protection of Human Rights.”

So basically, the military can now shoot protesters. How’s that for short and sweet?

Let´s first get all the legal and ethical what-have-you’s out of the way. Yes, this resolution is unconstitutional: it violates Art. 68 which explicitly prohibits the use of firearms and toxic substances as a means of containing public protests. Yes, it is also procedurally unsound since the Ministry cannot, um… legislate. Yes, it violates Human Rights by establishing rules of engagement against civilians. And yes, it recklessly endangers the public by entrusting civilian safety to untrained military officers. But worry not: in a cute afterthought, the resolution mandates the Ministry to develop some guidelines to ensure soldiers don’t go too far with that sort of thing. You know, eventually.

So why would such an objectionable, Mubarakesque measure be rolled out so casually, and so much more quickly, than the economic reforms we so urgently need to stave off total collapse? ¿Is the government not the least bit concerned about how Human Rights organizations, regional bodies and…gasp…how the international community will perceive this? ¿Why, unlike the hike in gas prices, is there no cadena speech to justify Res. 8610, no accompanying radio ad to render it palatable, no PR campaign to blame it on the opposition?

Because they just don’t give a shit anymore, that’s why.

And this should hardly come as a surprise. It´s not as if the authorization to use deadly force weren’t already in place. As Quico put it, the doctrine seems to be “shoot first, work out your human rights trainings later.”

You might be tempted to imagine Res. 8610 as a device formulated for covering the government’s ass in the event of a tragedy (“I was just following orders, sir.”). But that would presume that this government fears international condemnation, or worse yet, reprisal, over its acts of brutality. Far from obscuring them, the regime relishes in its Human Rights violations.

A few days ago, former Presidents Pastrana, Piñera and Calderón attempted to visit Leopoldo López in his military prison. After denying them entry to the facility, Vice President Jorge Arreaza helpfully explained that they had not requested the proper authorization for visiting “political prisoners.” Yep, he used those words. Three days later, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) cheerfully reaffirmed Venezuela’s commitment to respecting Human Rights.

The Venezuelan government’s legalization of lethal repression is both an admission of failure and a preemptive declaration of war. Faced with a crisis of their own making, and unwilling to take the necessary steps to fix it, they’ll use all the firepower at their disposal to delay what they know is inevitable. It’s much easier to make decisions that you don’t have to, in order to postpone making the ones you don’t want to.

Last year, mass protests were shamelessly quashed by fierce repression, tear gas, beatings, jailings and torture pretty much out in the open, for the whole world to see. This year, they’ll be repressed before they even happen.

There’s a grim kind of tradeoff at play here: the government’s relaxed brutality when it comes to Human Rights affords them the time to hesitate over the economic shitstorm that’s creating the protests they will need to repress in the first place.

And, really, who’s to argue against expediency for the sake of peace?

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.