In Caracas, Comités por la Libertad Start to Work

In areas of Caracas such as Santa Mónica in the south east, and El Paraíso in the west, neighbors have organized to resist on the street since April 30th, following Juan Guaidó’s instructions. This is how they took the upheaval of recent hours.

We regularly hear about the resilience of the chavista regime; what nobody says is how people are resilient, too.

“¡Libertad, libertad!” cried the neighbors of Santa Mónica time and again. This openly dissident area in Southeastern Caracas has been heavily repressed by security bodies for years, without impact on its spirit. Neighbors took to the streets on April 30th and then again yesterday, May 1st, chanting “No turning back, it’s now or never!”

They go out with every call, when they don’t have water or electricity. It’s usually spontaneous, but it has gained further traction in recent days with the Aid and Freedom Committees proposed by caretaker President and National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaidó, on February 19th, to start a phase of maximum popular pressure.

Although demonstrations had originally been called for May 1st, Workers Day, on April 30th, people went out to protest at about 6:00 a.m. in El Valle, Santa Mónica, El Paraíso, Bello Monte, San Martín and La Candelaria, after word spread that Guaidó was heading a civilian-military action against the Maduro regime.

“Guaidó is in La Carlota with Leopoldo López, soldiers released him.”

The info spread like wildfire, soon supported by videos shared by freedom committee members. In Southern Caracas, middle-class areas now depaupered by the crisis took to the streets in force. In the 11th street of Los Jardines in El Valle, neighbors didn’t block the streets but they did chant “freedom, freedom,” a cry picked up by drivers who also honked in approval. From Longaray and the Savoy residential complex, citizens joined to voice their dissatisfaction with the country’s many woes.

“Let’s go to Altamira!” protesters said as they walked to Santa Mónica. The rallying point was Crema Paraíso in the Teresa de la Parra Ave., where folks already waited, excited, singing the National Anthem.

The road was blocked and, soon, four men wearing National Police (PNB) vests approached and asked demonstrators to dismantle the barricades.

The road was blocked and, soon, four men wearing National Police (PNB) vests approached and asked demonstrators to dismantle the barricades, which they had to do themselves before joining an anti-riot squad. Security forces started repressing at about 9:50 a.m., with tear gas and rubber pellets shot straight at a crowd of mostly of elderly citizens. Some, holding their walking canes, went for the side streets as PNBs on motorbikes chased them down. Then the officers set up a human barricade with shields.

Protesters fell back for over 20 minutes. A few stragglers waved the national flag in corners, but no citizens were wounded or arrested then.

The same thing occurred, simultaneously, at Bello Monte, Altamira and El Paraíso, the latter being an area in Western Caracas, hotspot of anti-Maduro demonstrations in 2017. Neighbors set up nine barricades along Páez Ave., from the Pedagogical Institute of Caracas to La India roundabout. Women, men and children stood near the debris. “We’re tired of this,” said one of the women, “we’ve seen how they attack and take the boys. They tried to break into a building today, but we didn’t let them.”

“(The National Guard) used pepper spray, and a young man took a pellet in a leg, they wounded a girl with a tear gas canister. They were shooting at us point blank.”

However, protesters insisted on the streets. Stores were closed, some corners and intersections were blocked with metal chains to prevent traffic. In addition to Páez Ave., there was also conflict in the Machado alley, a block from the National Guard garrison. The canisters rolled across the asphalt while people resisted the assault by the soldiers.

“Nine policemen broke into my apartment back then. I live in Los Verdes and I still can’t get over it, that’s why I want this to end.”

In Los Verdes residential complex, things were tense with the appearance of civilian armed groups (colectivos). The tear gas used in Páez Ave. sometimes reached neighbors here and the sounds of detonations put their nerves to the test. “We had it rough in 2017,” said resident Isabela Campos. “Nine policemen broke into my apartment back then. I live in Los Verdes and I still can’t get over it, that’s why I want this to end.”

The inhabitants of San Martín and La Candelaria were also chased and harassed by the PNB. Three elderly ladies holding flags stood their ground despite the tear gas, because “we want our grandchildren to come home.”

At the time of writing, May, 1st, 3:00 p.m., there were no reports of arrests or serious injuries in any of these areas, but at least in Santa Mónica and El Paraíso, people were organized with the Aid and Freedom Committees and they had tools to protests and stay informed, resorting to word-of-mouth with the instability of mobile networks and internet blockades.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.