Dark Days in San Cristóbal, Where It All Started

Tachira Today

San Cristóbal’s new normal

No place in Venezuela has been hit harder by the recent violence than San Cristóbal, the city of 650,000 up in the Andes where the current bout of protests started 18 days ago.

Last night, the authorities shut down internet service to the whole city, which explains why so few YouTube videos have emerged from  San Cristóbal. The internet blackout caused serious fears about what the town’s people could be facing, so today we reached out to contacts in San Cristóbal to try to get the story.

How It Started: Protesting Sexual Assault

San Cristóbal is a college town, home to three large universities (UNET, ULA, UCAT). On February 2nd, after over a year of asking the state government for improved security measures to curb rampant crime on campus, a freshman at ULA’s Táchira campus was sexually assaulted.

This attempted rape caused a wave of local protests, with students and civil society groups taking to the streets to demand justice. The government’s response was heavy handed from the start: five students were detained following a protest and sent to a jail hundreds of miles away in Coro, stoking anger even further. Students in other universities joined the protests in solidarity, demanding the original five be released, only to be repressed in their turn.

Within 18 days, that one protest in San Cristobal had snowballed into the nationwide mess we see today.

The Internet Blackout

Thousands of National Guard troops were sent out into San Cristóbal at around 12:40 last night, and at 1:00 a.m. Internet service was shut down for the whole city and its surrounding areas. Then the nightly running battles started, with unarmed kids facing off against the National Guard and their paramilitary companions both – a ludicrously uneven fight where the people claiming the right to protest get called fascists by a government using grotesquely disproportionate force to quash them.

According to our sources, San Cristóbal is settling into a grim routine. Each day, perhaps only a third of stores have been opening for business in the morning, and by noon, virtually all are closed. Around this time, members of the community (not just students, but people of all ages) gather in their  neighborhoods and start blocking roads with tires and trash. By nightfall, younger people stay to man their posts, and that’s when the trigger-happy authorities unleash their serious violence to dissolve the makeshift barricades, known as guarimbas.

Fighter jets in the Táchira sky

Proportionate? Fighter jets flying over San Cristóbal today…against kids who don’t even have guns.

Guarimbeo involves claiming the street as a legitimate space for protest, while standing up to paramilitary colectivos and the National Guard repression. The favored GNB weapon so far has been rubber buckshot, which hurts bad but is rarely lethal unless used at close range. One person I spoke to told me that rubber-pellet wounds are so common among the locals, that not having one is the exception. He might be exaggerating, but it is true that these are tireless, fearless protesters who will not be easily dissuaded. They will disperse, reconvene and do it all over again. They make Caracas students look like children at a pep rally.

After the yet another night of harsh repression, San Cristóbal woke up this morning a militarized zone. Avenida Carabobo, where most running battles between protesters and authorities have taken place, is a wasteland. Heaps of burned trash lined the avenue, rubble and debris scattered along with empty tear gas shells.

Today, despite Maduro’s threats and the GNB’s deployment, clusters of protesters were already setting up their roadblocks in the afternoon. Every so often the silence of empty streets was broken by the roar of a fighter jet, and peppered by banging pots and pans.

Several eyewitnesses report large concentrations of recently flown-in soldiers on the outskirts of the city, waiting until dusk to break up the roadblocks, under the cover of night and with no media to document. The Minister of Interior took care to properly warn local journalists about covering tonight’s protest.

The city remains at a tense standstill as another night falls in what is becoming the epicenter of this battle.

83 thoughts on “Dark Days in San Cristóbal, Where It All Started

  1. *Grammar correction*
    “Thousands of National Guard troops were sent out into San Cristóbal at around around 12:40 last night”
    Should be “at around 12:40 last night”

  2. Táchira is by far the most opposition-leaning state, while San Cristóbal is the most opposition-leaning state capital of the nation. Of course it is going to get hit harder by the government, considering the state’s dislike of it.

  3. Emiliana, thanks a lot for the explanation.

    Now, there is another point that I want to understand clearly and I appeal to your journalistic knowledge.
    Why exactly is Leopoldo Lopez accused? I am not asking about the interpretation, clearly the government wants to get rid of Lopez, but about the facts. What did he say or do that gave amunitions to the goverment?

  4. I wonder what has made San Cristobal such an opposition stronghold from day 1. I once read San Cristobal was the richest county after Chacao in Venezuela. I wonder if thats true or if there are deeper reasons than that.

      • Because its people have deep, true values based on honest, hard work, they have free spirit and a strong sense of independence. High moral values, that’s the main reason.

        • I’ll have to admit, I was baffled by the Legacy Media, here in the U.S., where “no pictures, no story” prevails into a consensus narrative playing down the situation in Venezuela. I should have known better. This is one of a bare handful of threads allowing the rest of the interested planet in on what’s happening. My impression remains that “Ya Basta, Carajo!” carries with it much deeper meaning among a people of such sublime patience.

    • Two reasons, I think: 1) One is cultural, besides attempts to change it by modern life styles and now “chavismo misiones”, the tachirenses has been hard working people, conservative, respectful, still valuing studies as a need and living in a very intercommunicated society where middle class neighborhoods and popular zones are dispersed in the city and everybody has a friend in one or the other visiting each other (even with rich people). So Chavismo values do not appeal too much to the culture there. 2) Security, lack of groceries, electricity blackouts are 2 or 3 fold worst than other places. They have FARC, ELN, Paramilitars from Colombia, the Bolivarian Guerilla (not the Colectivos, but a real guerilla), drug cartels, etc.

      • Sorry it went without completion: They have a restricted amount of gas to use daily (something people far from the border do not suffer), add military and government corruption to the list and you can understand how bad they feel about their situation.

          • Nunca falta un positivista del siglo XIX… Maybe you’re right, but it is not because they are “whiter”; it is more related to the different set of values from the mainly Caribbean culture that rules Venezuela from CCS

        • we know all about the difference about how our economy used to be facing the one in colombia, even the poorest person in the state has gone to Colombia and know how many things they could buy with their salaries.

    • the northwestern states have some kind of love-hate relationship with the central govt… as a single block they have contributed the majority of our presidents and rulers, and they tend to be somewhat contrarian when they’re not in charge. the latter is probably a result of their inherent conservatism (probably the staunchest in the country).

      • In thinking about Tachira and its many Presidents, I am reminded of Gabriel García Márquez’s Otoño del Patriarca, where he writes that the mountain regions of his mythical country produced the Presidents/Caudillos.

    • We can compere how our economy used to be facing the colombian, even the poorest person in the state has been in cucuta and they know the differences between now and before

      • It would great to confirm that, I’m not good at accents, but they’re saying “no te querias montar en la tanqueta”, and I’m not sure how frequent tanquetas are used in Colombia.

        • Theres a comment in that sense in the video. But also, the uniforms and stuff look very familiar to me. As well as the accent and words, using usted exclusively for instance. We do use the word tanqueta but only to mean the a anti riot car, a military tank is always un tanque.

      • Our mountain people (gochos) sound a lot like you, mountain people from Nueva Granada, but I think these are fro that side of the border…not sure. At the start you can briefly see some sign on a shield. Can you recognise that?

    • An apology by MUD would be a stupid move, it would acknowledge the “MUD as fascists” rhetoric and it would make the street protesters feel abandoned. Even if the MUD or its leaders aren’t really the leaders of the movement (as I agree with you it is about mass discontent), they can’t take responsibility for what the government is doing. LL and MCM can only point the finger at the government, Capriles can call for peace on all sides. There really is nothing the MUD has done wrong, as the protests started before LL did anything. If anything LL decided to become the face of it.

  5. Thank you so much for the thorough reporting on all this situation, It is a great resource to pass along for people that do not understand what is happening and for us far away needing any morsel we can get

  6. This is nonsense. The opposition is the only one who can benefit from violence in Venezuela. The government has nothing to gain from violence. Just use some common sense and you can know what is happening here. Opposition groups are doing everything they can to provoke the government, and many of them are armed. How do you think several Chavistas have been killed already? The one-sided shit on this blog is a disgrace.

    • I notice this wonderful “journalist” doesn’t even mention that the students in Tachira were arrested for violently attacking the governor’s house. Do you have any capacity for honesty or objectivity?

      • Well, now that you mention it, let’s take a look at who got detained: Patricia Josefina Sarmiento, a 21-year-old mother of two who owns a small business close to the Universidad Católica de Táchira, was apprehended by National Guards while she was heading home precisely due to the violence that erupted. She is not a student nor does she have anything to do with the protests that day. Reinaldo Manrique, Leonardo Manrique and Jesús Gómez, three university students, were detained the day after the incident at the Governor´s residence, not during any protests, because they approached the Court Building to inquire as to the status of fellow detainees, when they were apprehended by SEBIN (Intelligence Police) with no arrest warrant issued.
        The other two detainees were minors (16 and 17 years old) who were tried and given conditional freedom. The other 4 adult detainees were illegally charged in a civilian court constituted in a military facility (core 5) and then sent off to a prision 800 km. away from where the alleged acts took place (Coro, State of Falcón). Due process was consistently violated, and the crime problem in Táchira, let alone Venezuela, is far from being solved.
        Thanks for asking.

        • Patricia Josefina Sarmiento, a 21-year-old mother of two who owns a small business close to the Universidad Católica de Táchira

          “CIA PLANT!!!” –some gringo with a macbook, posting from his college dorm room.

        • Thank you for providing information I knew nothing about. It hasn’t been in any of the information I have been reading and watching so far.
          My heart goes out to everyone there in Venezuela. These fights, the fear in the peoples hearts. My heart aches for you all. The legal systems all over the world have corrupt people working in them, not all.
          The rights of the individual are being trampled on and the rest of the world is now finding out in trickled down data.
          Again Emiliana, Thank you for sharing some real information to help us truly understand what is happening.

    • Perhaps you should log on to Aporrea and read the one-sided news that you want to be told. Nobody here forces you to read and listen to what you don’t want, much unlike the government.

  7. The government is at war with its own people, the best thing that can happen is people start fighting back

  8. Thanks, Emiliana, for the brilliant post.

    There is an important point that needs to be taken into account:
    Táchira, as a border town, also benefits from a much higher proportion of people who knows how things
    are outside Venezuela. Most importantly, they are bordering a rather stable, densely populated area of Colombia (comparatively speaking). Colombia’s side not a rich region, but it is not the bitter-poor, FARC-infected borders with Arauca and Vichada. They have always being more isolated from the rest of Venezuela and connected to Colombia.

    Almost all Tachirenses know what normal buying of milk and chicken are like – when they go to Cúcuta (they also knew how much poorer it was before).

    Actually: nearby Pamplona was already a city where middle-middle class Venezuelans would send their children to study already ages ago. There are good ties.

    Remember: in spite of the CADIVI thing, most Venezuelans haven’t otherwise gone abroad. In Táchira it’s a large amount of people even from low class.

    It has been an economically more stable state since time immemorial
    1- the native Americans there had the most advanced methods of agriculture when Spaniards arrived
    (not less because of ideal climate and geological properties)
    2- there was a large proportion of Spaniards who settled there very early, the (relatively) intensive agriculture went on
    3- there was a lower proportion of slavery and the resulting resentment, etc
    4- even during the terrible Federal War, it was one of the regions less hit, with the corresponding more stable structures remaining, unlike in all of the brutalized Llanos. Same goes for Independence time.

    I produced a map with the 3 most common surnames for every Venezuelan state.
    You can see it here.

    Táchira and Mérida: These are the only states where neither Rodríguez nor González appear on top and also the only ones where Contreras appears in the top 3. It’s Founders’ Effect.

    • Sorry, “Táchira as a border STATE”.
      Consider also: the borders in Zulia are either the Sierra de Perija – really wild terrain – or Guajira. Other borders are also far away from any normal foreign city.
      It is not surprising that Chavismo closes borders at election time: it’s mostly because of people coming into Táchira…people who are less likely to vote for Chavismo.

    • Adding to this, the border communities suffered the most when Chávez would randomly decide to end relations with Colombia, close the border, threaten with war, etc

  9. How can one switch off the Internet in just one city? I mean technically – is this even possible? Or did they kill electricity? Or shut down all providers?

    • It should be relatively easy, the big cities would be where the high bandwidth fiber goes, probably one or two lines into the big cities, which then get split and filtered out. Here’s a map, assuming the lines that were proposed got built there are three lines into San Cristobal: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/MaparedInternexa.JPG

      Those lines should be able to be modified in real time by rerouting traffic going to or exiting to a local address. If it’s a DNS level hack you could get around it linking up with Google’s DNS or something, but it could be a true routing change. If anyone knows anyone in San Cristobal try having them change their DNS to 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4, those are Google’s DNS servers.

    • Switching off the internet is a lot easier than trying to block access to certain pages. You can switch off internet either per user, per base-station, switch or network node as long as you have control over the infrastructure. So if you want to switch off internet in a geographical region like Táchira you could simply oull the plug on the nodes connecting the state to the rest of the country. Or you could configure the routing to and from certain nodes to end up nowhere. Remember CANTV and Movilnet are owned by the government. But since the judicial system is totally controlled by the government, they could also have a judge order Digitel and Movistar to block their networks.

      From what I heard yesterday from contacts in San Cristobal CANTV ABA (DSL) was turned off, but users could reach the internet via their cellphones. This might have changed.

      If the internet is switched off there are few things you can do. If the telephone network is still active you could try to connect via modem to some ISP outside the blocked area. For those being close to the Colombian border you could roam in to the Colombian cellular networks and reach internet that way.

    • CANTV is the largest ISP in Venezuela and is state owned.
      If the order comes from above, they can easily suspend the service.

  10. “a ludicrously uneven fight where the people claiming the right to protest get called fascists by a government using grotesquely disproportionate force to quash them.”

    THIS WAS THEIR PLAN ALL ALONG, ITS CALLED “ASYMMETRIC WAR”, THEY’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT IT ON VTV FOR YEARS, WHY IS NOBODY LISTENING TO ME

  11. Those fighter jets are Su-30 Flankers, courtesy Chavez’ BFF Putin. Sick to see them being used to threaten their own population.

    I bet Venezuela’s F-16s are essentially line down due to lack of spare parts. Deo Gratias.

    • So we have been throwing away money like there’s no tomorrow on Russian/Chinese 3rd rate garbage to prepare for a hypothetical war agaisnt the US (And the consequent handling of our collective asses to us by their military) And we end up using said junk to repress our own people. This isn’t even funny, its just sad…

  12. “five students were detained following a protest” – why don’t you say what the nature of the protest was, Emiliana? Stobes and molotovs thrown in an attack against the governor’s residence which was full of 150 incapacitated people (crippled, blind etc.), children and mainly women. Bit for you this is OK and the students should have been released with a slap on the wrist – that is if they had not been paid to commit that crime.

    The mayor of Voluntad Popular, Ceballos, is cooperaing with the protesters, vandals and Colombian paramilitaries that are involved in the disturbances in Táchira, as well as the mayor of San Antonion Simon Vargas (also involved in Plaza Altamira in 2002 – 2003).

    Armed gangs were roaming the streets forcing businesses to close and join a “municipal strike” under the threat of violence. Part of the electrical system was burned by vandals “protesting”.

    Maduro has assigned a general to restore order and yesterday a battalion of paratroopers was sent to the state to patrol major routs and stop the blocking of them. Whether you like it or not, the state is obliged to do this to safeguard life and the safety of the people.

    Today businesses started reopening and unless there situation returns to normal fairly son Maruro will declare martial law and send in the tanks nd more military.This means that ALL CONSITUTIONAL GUARANTEES ARE LEGALLY SUSPENDED AND IF THE CURFEW IS BROKEN PEOPLE WILL BE ARRESTED AND IMPRISONED. Get it? If you want to take on the power of a democratically elected government and not repect the rules of the democratic system, these are the mechanisms you are facing. Be héroes and enjoy time in jail.

    If you think that either Colombian paramilitaries and armed gangs paid by the opposition are going to somehow control Táchira you are gravely mistaken. This could turn into a localized civil war (which is what you want so that the gringos invade us) and I would not want to be on your side.

    • 1. Who are these Columbian paramilitary you speak of? My family lives in Tachira, and the only Columbian paramilitaries there are the guerrillas. Are you suggesting these guerrillas are joining in protests against the same government that gives them sanctuary and free passage?

      2. How can there be a civil war when only one side has guns?

      3. Gringos are not invading and never will. Good thing too, the pot bellied Venezuelan generals would have to scurry off with their millions to Cuba mighty quick!

      etc etc etc

      But I guess talking points and propaganda only have to make sense to the ignorant and uninformed. Carry on.

    • They are not scared. They are sick of the fascist government led now by the comically inept Maduro. They are sick of guerrilla roaming free, of guerrilla forcing those in the border region to pay them annual ‘taxes’, or guerrilla occasionally kidnapping teenagers as forced recruits. They are sick of the military who does nothing but runs smuggling routes and demand bribes. They have had enough.

      You can kill some of them, but you can’t kill all of them. They will never again accept being ruled by corrupt fascists who take orders from Cuba. With enough troops and murder, it may be ‘pacified’, but any local who collaborates with the regime will need a team of body guards for the rest of his days.

  13. Although I agree with most of the reasons why the protest is going on, there some details that have yet to be taking in notice, that you either ignored or were not aware off.

    1) The supposed rape was never reported, no name was given, no actual story was told… so if the country is in a shit situation why would you have to invent an excuse if the people that are protesting do actually have good reasons to be mad…and this supposedly happened little after Leopoldo Lopez said to take the streets.

    2) Leopoldo Lopez, he was given a notice to hand him self in for various reasons and so he did…now if all this was or is real, why did the government permit him to have a speaker on his way to jail, they were accusing him of a terrorist, who hands a speaker to a terrorist, why did they allow him to get off the military vehicle, why can he still tweet while being in jail at the same time. (personally i think it’s a show they put on with some really well thought and weird intention behind it)

    3)One cannot claim the position of “victims” or “peaceful” if one is truly being violent or altering public order, so you can’t say that the government are liars when so is the opposition, unfortunately you become what you criticize the most. (Shutting the streets, burning trash and wheels, throwing stones, shouting insults, throwing anything else, putting barbed wire across the street, putting nails on the floor, putting oil on the floor and so on are not pacific things to do)

    4) I belong to a middle class family, im sick of not finding toilet paper, sick of not finding medicine, sick of being scared to take my phone out in public because they might steel it or even worse kill me for it, and countless things i’m sick and tired off. How ever you can’t be so blind to the truth, which is we’re not even half of the country, we’re not the majority. The day the lower class start to protest is the day you will get somewhere with this, how ever I doubt lower class people will protest because Chavez gave them something they never had before and I don’t think they’re willing to give it away so easily, which is to be seen, heard, known off! they have a parallel life to ours, they have there own markets, schools, medical things and so on… they basically worship Chavez, inventing them to join the protest because it’s in their best interest to, is like trying to convince a christian that god may not exist, it’s useless, plus “they’re okay just the way they are”.

    5) What is the plan? what happens after? Leopoldo has offered nothing more then to just get rid of Maduro and his people. Even I can offer that not being a politician, I want plans, projects, I want to know what does anyone else truly have to offer?

    6) This is going to sound totally pro-government crazy but… what if behind all of this is really the intention of bigger, more powerful countries? I mean we do have one of the largest reserves of oil and water in the world, it no secret that most nations want these things and i think if we allow ourselves to go in to a civil war, we would only make it easier for a big fish to come along and settle in. (that’s why there has to be a better plan that just taking the street, throwing stones, burning trash, killing each other)

    7) Venezuelan culture is also a huge problem, actually, the lack of culture is a huge problem. We do not care for our own, that the people from Tachira have values? More morals? really? We call Tachira the state of the cordial, how ever we a secretive people, hypocrites at best, we have a huge contraband problem, caused not only by the government but by tachirenses, so how good are we really? It’s all about the money, taxis in Tachira prefer not to do a days worth of work because they figured out that it’s a lot easier to take a tank full to cucuta, sell it make a bunch a of money and come back, easy money, right? and this is with a lot of products and a lot of people. We have scarcity of products that the government can’t even begin to handle, but then come along the venezuelans and make it even worse, how? people buy more out fear and then there’s the people that buy to re-sell at absurd prices on the streets, there for making the whole economic situation even worse, because sometimes we HAVE to buy things for absurd prices. We too are the problem! (of course it’s not everyone, we are also wonderful, loving, intelligent people)

    8)About the blackouts and information, it is a huge mistake, a desperate measure from a scared government. Although I have always been a strong believer that the media is one big evil system, it is unfair to blackout information! all information must be free and shared! ALL not just one side of the story. I have no way of understanding why they took the internet from ABA (cantv government company) from most of the state. Why are they flying sukois over the city of San Cristobal? to create fear? it’s the stupidest thing they’ve done yet! It will only make people angrier and more willing to continue the protest, it’s common sense, hence, I come back to thinking there is something weird about the whole situation.

    9)Everything is stopped in San Cristobal, but why? Most people were threatened by “students” that if they didn’t close they would burn or damage their business. The public transport was stopped not by their own decision but because at a student council at the university UNET they came to accordance to call a stop on public transport and if they didn’t stop they would burn the bus. This isn’t fair! it’s not these peoples fault!! our fight is against the government, not each other! (there is proof of this going around the internet, but it’s days old news and with all the information everyday unfortunately i couldn’t find it just now, If I do I’ll make sure to post it.)

    I could go on forever about Venezuela, but I’ll stop with this, violence is not the way, repression is disgusting, ALL information must be free and public (do not take as an offence but you are not exposing ALL information). we HAVE to be true no matter what, but most of all we HAVE to be critics of every single thing.

    • Are you not sick of being scared all the time? Of the constant crime? Of being told outrageous lies over and over by the government? Of power outages? Of press freedom systematically being destroyed? Of the whole infrastructure of the country decaying?

      Oil is at $100+ a barrel. Not $10 like it was in the 90s. $100. This past decade has been the biggest boom in the country’s history. Where has it all gone? This misgovernment of this country’s natural wealth is an absolute crime on top of the very real crimes against democracy and human rights taking place.

    • This is going to sound totally pro-government crazy but… what if behind all of this is really the intention of bigger, more powerful countries? I mean we do have one of the largest reserves of oil and water in the world..

      If I were an Evil Conspiring Empire who wanted to bring a Third World Petrostate to ruin, I would do the following.
      1) Cripple the TWP’s productive capacity by firing the greater part of its technical operatives in the TWP’s oil company.
      2) Give its oil away to insure that the billions of dollars from the sale of TWP’s oil do not reach the TWP’s citizens.
      What Evil Conspiring Empire has done this to Venezuela?
      Saber….

  14. In the seventies I used to live and work in Venezuela! it was a beautiful place and everything seemed to be working. For a country so rich in natural resources it should be looking like Dubai,not a run down third world country. The past governments of Venezuela have squandered away all their wealth and it is a shame if not a crime what is happening.I feel sorry for all the suffering that the ordinary Citizens have to endure. Follow the example of the Ukrainian people and stand up to this misfit who is in charge,

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