The Brazilian Senators: What Actually Happened

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0012848905This account is adapted from an eyewitness report by Vente Venezuela activist Pedro Urruchurtu (@Urruchurtu). His original piece in Spanish is available at GuayoyoEnLetras.

June 18, 11:30 a.m.. A Brazilian Air Force plane transporting eight Brazilian Senators is scheduled to land shortly on Rampa 4, the tarmac reserved at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Venezuela for government officials and foreign dignitaries.

A few days earlier, this group of Brazilian legislators had confirmed a State-sanctioned visit to Venezuela, which had been approved by the Brazilian Senate back in February – hardly the fly-by-night operation Dilma Roussef would later claim.

Their mission: to validate our country’s observance of Human Rights, to promote the announcement of an election date, and to give humanitarian support to the Venezuelan people.

Hundreds of reporters and camera crews, mostly Brazilian, had gathered and were buzzing around the airport since the early hours of the morning, hoping to cover what had already become a controversial story.

This media frenzy was quickly eclipsed by an all-out deployment of Venezuelan officials: the Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace, flanked by dozens of high-ranking Criminal Investigation (CICPC) and INTERPOL agents, a bevy of government bureaucrats and Venezuelan media outlets gathered chaotically around the tarmac.

They were waiting for someone else.

Yonny Bolívar, the alleged killer of Adriana Urquiola and her unborn child, murdered last year during the political protests, will also be landing on Rampa 4 today. Bolívar had been captured a few days earlier to much fanfare in Colombia and was being extradited to face trial in Venezuela.

Sporadic rain and nervous expectation in the arrivals hall give way to hushed murmurs, as a military-cargo plane, a Hercules, suddenly lands unannounced on the exclusive presidential runway.

False alarm: it’s a Venezuelan plane carrying Cuban nationals.

More waiting ensues, as ousted Venezuelan legislator María Corina Machado, the wives and mother of political prisoners Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo López, and opposition legislator Richard Blanco join the welcome committee of opposition activists and press waiting for the Brazilians.

Finally, at around 12:15, a small Brazilian military aircraft lands in Maiquetía, after having been ordered into a drawn-out holding pattern before being granted permission to land.

Confusion and chaos follow: conflicting announcements of where the Senators will exit the terminal result in the welcoming committee and reporters scuttling about frantically, running outside, back inside, and all around the airport, panicked at the thought of losing track of the Brazilian legislators. No official information is available, even the Brazilian Embassy representatives are rightly baffled by the lack of protocol. Everyone is eventually forced to the outside curb and made to wait.

An hour after they land, Senators Aécio Neves , Aloysio Nunes, Ricardo Ferraço, Sergio Petecão, Ronaldo Caiado, José Agripino, Cassio Cunha and José Medeiros finally exit the aircraft and are shuttled by a Brazilian Embassy van to the outside area of the arrivals terminal. A politically diverse mission, the group of eight boasts a former opposition Presidential Candidate, social democrats, conservatives and even an ally of Dilma Rouseff’s Workers’ Party.

When they finally spot the van, blindsided members of the press and opposition leaders sprint across the arrivals terminal exterior and finally engage the Senators for the first time. Senator Neves gives a brief, yet surprisingly jovial statement about the democratic and humanitarian nature of this visit. Effusive greetings and welcomes are exchanged between Venezuelan hostesses and their guests, and everyone boards their respective vans, tired, annoyed, and blissfully unaware of what is to come.

The motorcade sets off for the 30 minute drive to Caracas, flanked by a detail of National Police Diplomatic Service escorts, already late for what was to bee a jam-packed schedule for this short stay: a visit to Leopoldo López in Ramo Verde military prison and to Antonio Ledezma under house arrest, a meeting with victims of repression and Human Rights violations in Caracas, and a working supper with representatives of the opposition coalition, the Mesa de Unidad (MUD).

As if on cue, smartphones start blowing up, flooded with reports and rumors about traffic conditions in and around the capital. A wreck involving a cargo truck has blocked off transit exits from Caracas. Incoming traffic was paralyzed due to unscheduled cleaning being performed on two tunnels that lead to the city. (Who’s ever heard of Boquerón getting cleaned at noon on a weekday? That’s some Chris Christie stuff right there.)

Meanwhile, the Panamerican Highway leading to Ramo Verde prison, and all alternative routes to access Caracas and Los Teques are completely obstructed by pro-government demonstration. The Senators insist on carrying on with their plans, undeterred.

While in a gridlocked traffic jam, and before the watchful eyes of the National Police escorts, the motorcade is accosted by a violent group of protesters, who throw trash, stones and blunt objects at the van amidst insults and shouts of “go away!” The police detail does little to dissuade the protestors or to part the traffic, as is usually the case when government officials must travel by road.

Another hour transpires while Machado tries to negotiate with the authorities; the vans parked by the side of the highway, senators sitting patiently inside. Requests to be escorted through the carretera vieja, an alternate, poorly maintained road into Caracas, were denied by policemen who argued they were unprepared to accompany the motorcade on such a dangerous route.

In the press van, whispers of “this is a dictatorship,” “Maduro is a dictator,” could be heard from Brazilian journalists.

Realizing little can be done, and with Senators in need of bathroom breaks and electrical outlets for phone charging, the entire motorcade returns to the airport.

Back in Maiquetía, permission to park is denied. Access to the auxiliary terminal that had been designated for the purpose of this visit was now restricted. State Intelligence (SEBIN) agents close off the premises and begin to film the proceedings, without as much as a word.

Two more hours go by, curbside under the metallic La Guaira sun. Experiencing a dose of the humiliation that Venezuelans must endure every day at the hands of the State, the Brazilian Senators and their hostesses enter and exit the vans by the side of the closed-off terminal, confer with each other, evaluate safety concerns, logistics, and where to pee.

Calls are made to the Brazilian Senate, to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The Brazilian Congress suspends its plenary session in solidarity. Itamaraty is silent.

An opportunistic buhonero with an improvised food cart hits pay dirt: his entire stock of chucherías, bottled water and plantain chips is ravaged by the hungry crowd. An old man on a bike shows up with empanadas, arepas, and papelón con limón, thankful to the Brazilians for stimulating our informal economy. He also sells out his entire inventory.

Meanwhile, a gathering of opposition activists and political leaders have been waiting outside Ramo Verde for hours. Victims of repression had traveled from all around the country to meet the Senators in Caracas. Many interviews and press encounters have been scheduled. A Venezuela-Perú soccer match is about to begin. This may alleviate traffic conditions. Reports come in about a partial opening of the throughway. The plane must leave at 8 pm. There is still time.

The Senators take a cue from the informality of their surroundings and throw protocol out the window. Their commitment to this agenda is genuine and their concern ever mounting. Optimism and resolve set in.

“Let’s go to Ramo Verde,” is the unanimous rallying cry.

But their enthusiasm is quashed by the view from the on-ramp. The highway remains at a standstill, a parking lot of bumper-to-bumper traffic as far as the eye can see.

At 6:00 pm the motorcade makes its final return to the Airport. Out of options and out of time, the group of Senators must board their plane, and end their visit to Venezuela before it even begins. In a matter of hours, and confining them to a 10 km. stretch of asphalt and air conditioning, the Venezuelan government facilitated these men a more profound understanding of our political situation than miles of road travel and hours of interviews could ever have.

Before being shoved along regular immigration queues, passports in hand, the Brazilian Senators have one last statement to make: “We came on a humanitarian mission, and what we found is a dictatorship,” declared Neves on behalf of his colleagues.

At some point between the hurling-of-sticks-at-the-van and the search-for proper-drinking-water, Venezuelan government party (PSUV) member of parliament Saúl Ortega weighed in on the situation.

“These individuals come to Venezuela to promote impunity […] to provoke and defy […] they are anti-Venezuelan […] They are partisan agents, not representatives of the Brazilian State […] Why should our government guarantee their safety? Whenever I travel no one guarantees mine […] I respect the laws and institutions of the countries I travel to, these people violate ours.

I’m sure the tens of thousands of drivers who were forced to wait in traffic for up to six hours that day felt exactly the same.

1 COMMENT

    • Emiliana’s link is from February. Here is a more recent link, from June 19: Congreso de Brasil exige a Rousseff protesta formal a Venezuela por ataque a senadores

      La Cámara de Diputados de Brasil aprobó el jueves un comunicado de condena contra el gobierno venezolano por el ataque orquestado por piquetes contra una delegación de Senadores que pretendía visitar a prisioneros políticos en dicho país, y exigieron al presidenta Dilma Rousseff que presenté una protesta formal ante el presidente Nicolás Maduro.

      Marc, our Brazilian commenter, has pointed out that the original decision to send a delegation to Venezuela was a bipartisan effort. I wonder to what degree this recent resolution from the Chamber of Deputies was a bipartisan or a party-line vote. Can Marc find this out for us? My Portuguese skills are not there.

      • Hi, BT!

        All parties approved the resolution, even the most far-left. I now it looks schizophrenic after Dilma’s words, but even her party approved it. In this link below you can read at the first paragraph:

        “The motion has been approved by unanimity.”

        http://politica.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,camara-aprova-mocao-de-repudio-a-venezuela-apos-episodio-com-senadores,1709153

        The same thing happened at the Senate. This one above is coming from the “Cámara de Diputados”, mind you.

        • Unanimous: which shows that in her Saturday “shame for Brazil…meddling ” statement, Dilma is not a very astute politician. Not too bright to make a statement in support of a foreign dictatorship when your own legislature has unanimously condemned said foreign dictatorship, Especially when you have 10% approval rating in the polls.

          • You are right, she went against her own ilk just to please Maduro. Either plain stupidity or fear of having Maduro and Cabello as enemies — imagine the secrets that these two know about her.

            Anyway, we like to say around here that she won’t be elected even to be a condominium manager
            after her term ends. She’s done. And will go straight to the hall of the worst presidents in the country’s history.

          • Anyway, we like to say around here that she won’t be elected even to be a condominium manager

            Except that finding a competent condo manager isn’t all that easy. In the 12 years I have owned a condo, we have had a competent condo manager only in the last 12 months. A similar phrase in the US is wouldn’t be able to manage a Dairy Queen.Again, not as easy to manage a DQ as one may think. I never worked in a DQ, but I had enough youthful experience washing dishes or working the counter in Ma and Pa-owned restaurants to have developed much more respect for those who manage restaurants than before I started working in one.

          • I think that the DQ reference is regional. A more generalized saying you might hear anywhere in the U.S. is “…couldn’t manage a popsicle stand.”

          • Marc,

            I was recently in Argentina. My sense from there was that Argentina will also see a significant shift to the center in their upcoming elections. The shift away from radical socialism is occurring all over the continent and I think this may be in part due to melt-down and negative example of Venezuela.

          • Roy,

            I think Venezuela is being used as cautionary tale as the long running governments in Argentina and Brazil naturally decay and are clobbered by a rising opposition. In fact, even the recent Spanish interest is just to use Venezuela to take on Podemos.

            This decay is two fold. First the natural corruption that begets long running governments. Second the bunk socialist / populist ideas which they have run the country with. They were lucky because they rode an incredible commodity boom during their tenure.

            Chavez certainly was a loud mouth on the ascent, dropping petrodollars in the most vulgar tabarato way. But because of his egomania and his authoritarian tendencies his successors are a bunch of saps, thieves and bullies.

            So now, Venezuela plumbs the depths of its own chosen hell while the rest of the region and the world watches the ghastly show.

          • I’ve been noticing this too; that the tide has turned. When taxi drivers, doorman, waiters etc. become more right-wing than you do, it’s clear that the outlook for the insane Latin-American left is not that good. That’s actually a good legacy these Bolivarians left, they traumatized the people toward the left. (Sorry, Quico).

          • renacuajo,

            The vast majority of the public outside Venezuela does not really understand how “ghastly” the “show” is. In the trip to Argentina I mentioned, I was trying to explain how things are here. The most common response was, “Si, lo mismo que tenemos aquí.” When I tried to explain the quantum difference between what they have and what Venezuela is experiencing, I could tell that they simply had no point of reference to understand. Consider the reactions of the Brazilian Senators. These are well informed people, and yet they were unprepared and shocked by the reality they faced.

  1. It would have been a very easy coup for the Venezuelan government to let this happen without any problem at all, and just answer “see? This is a democracy, nothing to see. Yep, they are jailed but well, there is a legal process going on, but you can see everything is ok, and nobody made any move to stop you…”

    But guess they need the internal propaganda of hate more than the external propaganda.

    • Jesus,

      I make an effort to understand the brain of the Chavista in the vein of a criminal profiler aficionado.

      What I see is of clumsy arrechito (bully) trying to intimidate anyone and everyone, no matter who it is. Something of hostage taker who points his gun at any hostage that sneezes.

      So if they are Brazillian senators, or any opposition figure, they just growl and bark in a reflexive matter without much thought of the long term consequences. All they care is for you to fear them now.

      The prototypical Chavista is Godgiven Hair.

      • Chavistas know they can get away with murder, again and again in Brazil. Dates back to Huge, Enormous, Galactic Mega-Guisos with Luladron and the difunto himself, to the earliest mega scandals. We’re talking Billions and Billions. Thieves on either side, including Dilma now, cannot sing on other Thieves.

        Remember, when trying to “make an effort to understand the brain of the Chavista” just look at 2 things:

        1/ Multidimensional Galactic Corruption
        2/ Embarrassing Under-education, (ignorance, ineptitude, and of course, errors and stupidity) .

        You’ll never have to scratch your head in disbelief again.

      • That is the problem with government regimes born of populist idealism. The thugs rise to the top and the honest idealists get tossed aside.

  2. Excellent reporting. I understand the old mountainous road to Caracas was also blocked by Govt. protestors. Rousseff called the visit, “una intromision en los asuntos internos de Venezuela”, and un “episodio de verguenza para su pais.” Barbarianism at its finest, all around….

  3. “Back in Maiquetía, permission to park is denied. Access to the auxiliary terminal that had been designated for the purpose of this visit was now restricted. State Intelligence (SEBIN) agents close off the premises and begin to film the proceedings, without as much as a word.”

    At this point senators in the Congress started to frantically state that their colleagues in the official mission were being held hostage at Maiquetia, because they weren’t being allowed to enter the terminal to return to Brazil. It was surreal.

    “And even an ally of Dilma Rouseff’s Workers’ Party.”

    Actually, two allies. Sergio Petecao (PSD) and Ricardo Ferraço (PMDB).

    Dilma’s coalition has got the following parties:
    (PT / PMDB / PSD / PP / PR / PROS / PDT / PC do B / PRB)

    The vice-president of Brazil is from PMDB, for example.
    There are ministers from PSD.

    Source: http://www.eleicoes2014.com.br/dilma/

    Saul Ortega is crazy.

  4. I think it was pretty positive, let me explain:. The senators could have been transported by a helicopter (courtesy of Polar or whomever that has one that is in the opposition, believe there must be a least one flyable). The could have attempted to go through the Avila via 4×4 (done it several times) or they could just attempt to land in La Carlota (done it too, doubt they will ever get a permit to land but you can always try). But the political homo sapiens elected to play hard ball blowing the whole thing to a larger proportion that it could have been. Result: a lot of press, condemnation and even better: childish attempt to divert the public opinion by annoying Colombia on the maritime limits of the gulf and Dilma’s pathetic declarations.

    I think it got well played. Now the question is what is next…

  5. “What about Leopoldo? I have no doubt that chavistas want him dead, so please brother, eat!”

    Na’guara, pues. I hope so.

    What this episode shows is that Maduro and company are not even making any effort to appear legitimate to the outside world. Dictator indeed.

    And what about the alleged tunnel maintainance? Please… That kind of work stopped in 2012. There is no infrastructure left to even do basic road work. It’s all crumbling down.

    JL

  6. Very nice article Emi. You did a nice job of bringing the experience of the Brazilian Senators to life.

    My sense is that they were truly shocked by what they encountered. For that matter, even I am surprised by the brutal clumsiness of how the Chavista regime handled this.

  7. From Quico’s How Low Can You Go?:

    Their president, Dilma Rousseff – a one time political prisoner herself – shat all over her whatever vestigial trace of moral authority she might have still had with this bafflingly tone-deaf attack on her own country’s senators over, saying “the intention of the senators to visit the imprisoned opposition figures put the [Venezuelan] government in a type of trap, and represents a shame for Brazil; this is meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”

    Dilma made this statement on Saturday.

    What is odd about Dilma’s above statement is not only that had the Brazilian Senate and Chamber of Deputies unanimously censured Maduro’s government on Thursday [see thread above], but that Dilma’s government, in response to the the unanimous censure, had sent a note on Friday to the GOV. The tone of the Friday note to the GOV was very discordant with Dilma’s statement on Saturday. For what Dilma’s government said on Friday to the GOV, refer to Gobierno de Dilma pide explicaciones a Venezuela por ataques a senadores brasileños en Caracas.

    En la nota, el Gobierno de Dilma Rousseff aseguró que la misión parlamentaria tuvo apoyo oficial, al punto de que se trasladó a Venezuela en un avión de la Fuerza Aérea Brasileña, así como fue asistida en forma permanente por la embajada del país en Caracas.”

    Dilma’s government informs us on Friday that on one hand, the trip to Venezuela had official Government of Dilma support, being made in a FAB plane, and on the other hand Dilma informs us on Saturday that the trip to Venezuela “represents a shame for Brazil; this is meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela.” Bit of a contradiction there.

    The above article also stated that the Government of Dilma stated to the GOV in an official note :

    El gobierno de Brasil lamentó el viernes pasado por medio de una nota oficial los incidentes ocurridos el jueves durante una visita de senadores del país a Venezuela y afirmó que “son inaceptables los actos hostiles contra parlamentarios brasileños”.Brasileña, así como fue asistida en forma permanente por la embajada del país en Caracas.”

    Looks like Dilma’s position on something changes with the wind. Yes, politicians do change their minds and contradict themselves from time to time, but these recent utterances from Dilma appear to be master examples of the genre.

    Or perhaps we see a politician slowly committing political suicide. What is also odd about these statements is that the normal path for a politician in making a candid and a more political statement is to first make the candid statement and then correct it with a more politically acceptable statement. Here Dilma – or at least her government- first made the politically acceptable statement and then made the candid statement. Certainly her Saturday statement is more of an indication of how she feels in her heart of hearts: that there are no enemies on the left.

    Perhaps, as Marc suggests, Dilma has reversed the normal course of events because Godgiven and/or Maduro have some damaging inside information on her.

    • It is difficult to understand all the inside political maneuvering that is going on at the moment. But, it is clear to me that the leftists of the continent are in turmoil. The conflicting messages coming from Dilma are indicative of a political policy that is in disarray. Long gone are the days when the leftists of the continent marched in lockstep with Chavez. Now they are paying the price for “dancing with the Devil”. The failure of the Bolivarian Revolution is already having consequences beyond the borders of Venezuela. When this is over, I think we will see the entire political landscape of Latin America dramatically altered.

    • BT, for the sake of being accurate, let me correct a statement I provided above.

      Although the resolution coming from the Chamber of Deputies has been approved unanimously, the same thing didn’t happen at the Senate, unfortunately. There has been no agreement among the 81 senators and the resolution read doesn’t represent the opinion of the Senate as a whole.

      http://www12.senado.gov.br/noticias/noticias/materias/2015/06/18/ana-amelia-apresenta-mocao-de-repudio-a-venezuela

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