Repression in Caracas on Wednesday was probably the worst in three weeks of protests. While usually satisfied with choking us but allowing us some margin of movement, this time they used enough tear gas to make us reconsider coming back, or prevent a gathering altogether.
Yesterday, Juan Pablo Pernalete Llovera, a 20-year old student, was murdered. A tear gas canister hit him in the chest as he protested in Altamira and, sadly, he arrived at Salud Chacao with no vital signs. The PNB and the National Guard, once again, shot canisters at close range, against health care centers, schools and residential buildings, without saying a single word, with no prior attempt at dissuasion. The Prosecutor’s Office appointed the 81st prosecutor for the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, William Rojas, to investigate Juan Pablo’s death.
Meanwhile, in Valencia, Christian Ochoa (22) was shot dead by a state policeman on Monday. If you check on NGO Espacio Público’s figures, you’ll find evidence that it was also a horrible day for journalists.
Bye bye, OAS
Without due authorization from the Legislative Power, as the Constitution demands, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez announced that Venezuela is leaving the OAS, after a Permanent Council meeting on Wednesday where the call for a discussion on Venezuela’s crisis was approved with 19 votes in favor. The countries in favor included five Petrocaribe beneficiaries. With a poorly located teleprompter, making her look even more cockeyed, and fairly erratic gestures —laughter amidst insults, sarcastic winks, blinking and lying— Delcy claimed in Miraflores that she’ll start this procedure “for dignity, for independence, for sovereignty, for peace and the future of our country.” But actually, Nicolás just doesn’t want anyone to hold him to account for his dictatorial practices and excesses. He’d rather go radical than negotiate.
Venezuela is dramatically reducing the chances of reaching an understanding with the continent. Now, the government must deliver formal communication of its decision to the General Secretariat –in charge of remitting it to member countries– and, in two years, the OAS Charter would cease to be binding. The political cost for the government reaches a whole new level: Venezuela will be the first country to voluntarily abandon the OAS. As Samuel Moncada himself once said: “the cost of leaving will be greater than the cost of fighting from within.”
Celac and UNASUR lack relevance and the OAS’s method, so international pressure must be transferred to the bilateral level, with each government in the region reviewing their options (calling their ambassadors for consultation, not recognising Nicolás’ legitimacy or breaking diplomatic relations entirely.) All of those reduce the international community’s range of influence and, thus, Venezuela’s isolation will grow.
Censorship and attacks
The UN Special Rapporteur on rights of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the IACHR Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, Edison Lanza, condemned the government’s censorship, the closing down of spaces for information; the arrests, attacks and criminalization of journalists and media employees covering protests in the country, and urged the government to release all those arrested for exercising journalism and their rights of opinion and expression.
Both Rapporteurs released a complete list of journalists attacked and media harassed by the government, where the Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) has a predominant role in establishing censorship.
The National Assembly’s ordinary session will take place today at 11:00 a.m. in Parque Miranda. As the representatives of the sovereign people, lawmakers will release the Parliament’s Manifesto for the restitution of democracy in Venezuela, a document that establishes the opposition’s demands and also sets a clear route for restoring the Constitution in the country.
On Friday, lawmakers will march to the prisons where political prisoners are held, to demand their release and respect for their human rights. The next massive street protest will be on Monday, May 1st, although they didn’t give much detail about that.
What does the world say?
The government of El Salvador asked for measured discussions at the OAS and Celac about Venezuela’s severe situation, in order to find a solution through dialogue: “As diplomats, our mission is to find solutions to any difference or conflicts, no matter how hard it is,” said Foreign minister Hugo Martínez.
Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy proposed in Montevideo a political agreement to hold elections in Venezuela, expressing their regret for recent deaths and hoping the conflict won’t radicalize further. In Spain, the Senate approved a motion urging the Venezuelan government release all political prisoners and restore the National Assembly’s authority. The document was approved with a majority of 218 votes in favor.
Meanwhile, our Oil minister, Nelson Martínez, arrived in Algiers to meet his counterpart Nureddín Butarfa. The visit seeks to analyze the issues they’ll discuss in the next OPEC meeting, scheduled for May 25th in Vienna. It also opens a multinational tour that includes Russia, where Defense minister Vladimir Padrino López has already arrived to buy anti-riot equipment and other weapons. Those are the government’s priorities, while the cost of family basic expenses hit 1,068,643.25 bolivars in March, a 146,017.86 bolivars increase (15.8%) compared to February.
Once again, Nicolás said that in the next few days, he’ll announce “relevant historic measures.” Someone should explain to him what history means, especially if he’s to meet students in Miraflores. He treated them like cattle, leaving them out in the harsh, beating sun to wait for an empty speech. He qualified the opposition’s actions as “A surge in violence through hate,” even though such expression is more suitable to describe his administration. The only reason he even had an audience was populism: he handed over a bunch of scholarships that he’ll hopefully pay at least until December. The remainder of his speech was packed with stupidity. As Nicolás was dancing in Miraflores, Juan Pablo was being murdered in Altamira, by his orders and with his consent.
I had to go to the protest on my own yesterday. I talked to a group of people who couldn’t get to their jobs after the government completely shut down the Metro de Caracas, so they decided to stick around to protest, sleeves rolled up, in rising anger. What defines this political moment is the diverse mixture of protesters, but particularly their common fury. All of the arguments I gathered during my conversations agree on freedom: of choice, of decision and even freedom to live.