Sensational Miami Herald Story Misses its Own Point

A blockbuster Miami Herald story claims the National Guard is getting ready to gun down protesters. Listen closely to the secret recording it’s based on, and the conclusion is the exact opposite.

Yesterday, the Miami Herald had what looked like a big scoop: a secretly recorded meeting at the ZODI (regional military headquarters) in Lara State showed active preparation to use sharpshooters against civilians in protests. The regime preparing to gun down protesters! Sensational stuff, right?

Well, unless you listen to the actual tape of the call, in which case a different — and much more interesting story begins to appear.

We hear a group of Guardia Nacional officials discussing security arrangements semi-formally. The conversation takes place against the backdrop of real alarm about the increasing use of firearms by demonstrators to shoot back at security personnel. This is not made up. We’ve reported several instances in Mérida and elsewhere where people have shot at the security forces from the ranks of protesters.

It isn’t even really that surprising: in a country awash with guns and in the superheated atmosphere of conflict Venezuela is now living through, what would be strange is if not one single idiot turned up at an opposition march with a gun and a hero complex.

The generals are discussing what you do about this. But what’s interesting is that, if you listen closely, the room is deeply apprehensive about using snipers for force defence in this kind of situation. One person at the meeting notes, “it’s just against the constitution, that’s that.” Others discuss the bureaucracy of making sure anybody you empower to act as a sniper in a protest has a complete dossier, is fully trained and has psychological assessments up to date.

This isn’t a matter of scruples. It’s not that these guys have suddenly grown a conscience. It’s that they’re scared. Several of them say it, outright, at various points in the conversation. With the Fiscal General out on the loose, any misstep could land them in jail, and they know it. And then the elephant in the room they don’t quite dare name — what if the protests succeed? Who wants to be left holding the bag in front of a post-transition judge when he was in command of a squad that shot civilian protesters dead?

Towards the end of the tape, at minute 24, you get this view laid out in some detail:

I want to solve this mess, just like you do, sir. And I’m uncomfortable with us failing to take action. And if you order me to go out and do such and such I will do it. I will accomplish the mission. But I know tomorrow, we’re not going to have the backing, maybe, for any mistake that is made, and that’s what we’re worried about. Because now, with what we’re living through, the legal part, with the Prosecutor General who maybe won’t listen to us, or who will want to bring us to task or blame us for this situation. So I’m saying that if we make use [of snipers] we have to study it closely, General, we have to study this situation. Because otherwise the day may come when any of us could find ourselves in jail just because… What I mean is, we have to do it right.

The real story here isn’t some #cafetalero nightmare of evil Guardias getting their kicks from picking off protesters. Just the opposite. The story here is the sustained pushback the ZODI commander gets from his own men: bureaucrats in ass-covering mode who’ve done the math and realized shooting protesters is just not in their interest. They keep hemming and hawing, making up excuses and setting up hurdles in order to not do it. Listen carefully and it’s plain what they’re thinking: “ni de vaina am I going to risk jail to protect this no-hoper government.”

It just shows the wisdom of the Pedro Strategy: hold out Amnesty…but not to people who abuse human rights. Give them a good reason not to. Break their unity that way.

And that…that is much, much more significant than the Herald’s scaremongering.