Original art by @modográfico
What Óscar Pérez never managed in life – becoming a true threat to the regime –, he is now doing in death. The government’s unseemly rush to destroy the evidence, its wanton abuse of the remains, the whole saga of a mother humiliated when she sought nothing more than to bury her son, have given Pérez a resonance he never really achieved alive. His death, and particularly the way the government managed its aftermath, turned Óscar Pérez into a symbol that won’t be easily forgotten in a country that took all the outrage in a rather personal way.
Starting last June, when he shook Venezuela’s public opinion by commandeering a police helicopter and shooting at the Supreme Tribunal headquarters in Caracas, Óscar Pérez was subject of deep interest and not little derision.
To the government, he was always a terrorist; to the rest of public opinion, a riddle, a prócer, a madman or a joke. Even after Pérez breached a GNB outpost, stealing high caliber guns and grenade launchers, his movement seemed comically outmatched by a totalitarian regime awash with guns and petrodollars. He wanted to build a David & Goliath narrative, but to it looked like Bambi & Godzilla.
Operation Gideon – the government’s name for the murderous raid – was stained by abuse since its start; Pérez’s videos surrendering, Lisbeth Ramírez’s audio asking her family to pray for her, the open participation of pro-government paramilitary groups with police IDs and even the video of a GNB officer using an RPG-7 against Pérez’ hideout quickly made it through Venezuelan social networks, making the official version of the killings being the result of the official forces’ self-defense, hard to believe.
To the government, he was always a terrorist; to the rest of public opinion, a riddle, a prócer, a madman or a joke.
But it was the government’s ruthlessness in handling his death that gave Pérez the relevance he had been seeking since his famous helicopter escapade.
After a 24 hours delay, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, revealed the identities of the seven rebels killed – after accusing the opposition delegates in the Dominican Republic of revealing their whereabouts, indefinitely halting the already fragile negotiations. The Bello Monte morgue, where the bodies were kept was militarized on Monday night. Their relatives reported not being allowed to see or retrieve the bodies for burial and National Assembly lawmaker, Winston Flores, also said that bodies were allegedly wrapped in plastic to accelerate decomposition, as a way to force the families to sign an illegal cremation authorization.
Like Creon denying Antigone the right to bury her brother, the Government showed that to them, death is not enough. But as Sophocles knows, cruelty has the habit of backfiring.
The regime’s refusal to allow access to Pérez and his comrades’ bodies adds to the shocking list of Human Rights abuses reported here and abroad. The suspicion that they’d been straight-up executed only grew after leaked photographs of their death certificates revealed all rebels were shot in the head.
After five days of agonizing confusion, a Military Attorney authorized the burials without informing their families. Two of them, Abraham Agostini and José Alejandro Díaz Pimentel, were quickly buried in Caracas’ Eastern Cemetery, with only a few family members (informed of the process minutes earlier). The National Guard had to repel a small crowd at the entrance of the cemetery.
Like Creon denying Antigone the right to bury her brother, the Government showed that to them, death is not enough.
Hours later, Daniel Soto Torres and brothers Abraham and Jairo Lugo were buried in Maracaibo, under custody of the GNB.
Meanwhile, people met in Altamira in a demonstration organized by Voluntad Popular, to show their support to the grieving families. Shortly after, they marched to the morgue, where Pérez’s body still was, but they were stopped with tear gas and pellets.
Lisbeth Ramírez’ body was moved in a military helicopter to San Cristóbal, her hometown. Her family was never informed about its precise location and, after eight hours waiting, they buried her in La Consolación Cemetery, at 8:00 p.m. She was the first person to be buried there at night.
Oscar Pérez’s body remained in the morgue until Sunday, January 21st. Six days after his death.
He was buried in the early morning yesterday, with the sole company of his aunt and cousin, at Caracas’ Eastern Cemetery. The authorities chose an isolated part of the graveyard difficult to access by foot as location and, hours later, a crowd (including the parents of Neomar Lander, David Vallenilla and Juan Pablo Pernalete, all kids murdered during the 2017 protests) organized an emotive mass.
By showing the country how ruthless it can be and how little it cares about its rivals suffering, Nicolás Maduro’s government managed the sole thing Oscar Pérez couldn’t: It turned him, and his teammates, into the protagonists of every conversation, every Whatsapp chat, every family dinner and every line of people waiting for food.