Latin America

Repression intensifies in Venezuela

A Venezuelan judge has ordered the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular, for his alleged role in a violent confrontation in Caracas Wednesday.

[T]he judge ordered to capture López to sue him for a wide array of offenses, ranging from conspiracy, solicitation to commit a crime, public intimidation, fire of public premises, damages of public property, murder and terrorism.

The decision against López came shortly after the National Assembly Speaker, Diosdado Cabello, charged him with the violent events occurred on Wednesday at the end of an opposition march resulting in the death of two students and a pro-government leader.

Lopez helped lead a lead a peaceful anti-government demonstration of thousands in Caracas on Wednesday. The violence came after the rally, when there were clashes between a small group of demonstrators and government supporters.

Emiliana Duarte, who attended the main demonstration, writes at Caracas Chronicles:

I started my subway ride back home acutely worried for those who remained gathered in front of the Fiscalía, since I know that, while there is safety in numbers, once these start to dwindle, smaller groups become a prime target for armed government vigilante thugs, locally known as colectivos.

I know this because I was victim of a colectivo attack while protesting a few months back, in Plaza Venezuela.

Back then we held a small street rally of no more than 200 attendees. All of the sudden, in a violent frenzy of motorcycle roars, dozens of male and female thugs encircled our group of unarmed demonstrators. They were armed, and uniformed in black battle gear and bulletproof vests. Before I could even process this scene, several had already jumped off their bikes and were brutally, indiscriminately beating any target in sight.

Though they did have prominently displayed handguns, they chose to carry out their savage attacks with steel rods, billy clubs, and using their motorcycle helmets as bludgeons. Not content with merely dispersing the protest, they systematically chased the fleeing victims, tackled and pinned them in teams of two or three, and hurt them. I looked one in the eye, and saw pure, unadulterated hatred.

Colectivos are the government’s parallel instruments of repression. They operate outside the bounds of institutions and accountability. They are recognized, even sometimes lauded by the government, and they do their thing in broad daylight. Iran has them and uses them, and now, so does Venezuela.

Needless to say there are no orders out for the arrest of any colectivos.

This video appears to show anti-government demonstrators running away, only to come under fire. One of the demonstrators appears to be shot and is taken away by comrades:

There are no remaining independent TV stations in Venezuela. AFP reports:

Colombian news channel NTN24, which had been featuring the protests in depth, was abruptly pulled off air.

But Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said it was the anti-regime demonstrators who represented a “fascist Nazi resurgence.”

USA Today reports:

The political crisis is coinciding with Venezuela’s worsening economy.

Food shortages are growing more severe, and shoppers now spend hours waiting in line to find goods such as cooking oil, toilet paper, meat and cornmeal.

Update: Ben Cohen has more.