San Cristóbal Falls Apart [UPDATED]

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Jimmy Vargas’s mom says goodbye.

This morning, around the same time Táchira State Governor enjoyed an easygoing chat from an air-conditioned Caracas radio booth about how not a single gocho has died during protests on his watch, Jimmy Vargas, 34, was on his way to his charcutería job, as usual. Finding the mall where he worked besieged by the National Guard, he sought shelter from the tear gas and rubber pellets that the Guards was firing indiscriminately into the second floor of the building.

One mis-timed peek out to see what was happening cost him his life. According to eye-witnesses, he fell to his death from the second story balcony after being hit in the face with rubber buckshot (perdigones) and a tear gas cannister and losing consciousness. (see the update below – the story is a little confusing).

Neighbors manning the nearest barricade came to his rescue and organized for a doctor to come see him (no surgeons were available at the hospital).

It was too late. His mother, speaking to journalists, said, “don’t offer me condolences, keep fighting for what my son fought for.”

Teamwork between piqueteros has become the norm in a town that has been all but abandoned to its own devices. Public transport unions have gone on strike due to lack of safety on the streets, and municipal police is powerless to stop National Guards brought in from other states. Wounded victims refuse to go to hospitals, since so many have been detained by authorities upon showing up on stretchers.

Journalists have been repeatedly threatened, and also seek protection among town-dwellers who act as anonymous informants.  Networks of intelligence and bonds of trust are what protect San Cristobal residents these days. Orphaned by a state at war with its own people, folk rely on an unspoken system of cooperation and solidarity between people who’ve known each other their whole lives, or perfect strangers who are all in this together.

By Vielma Mora’s own admission, even he has lost control over the “excesses” perpetrated by the security forces. In reality, of course, they don’t report to him – the people calling the shots are safely ensconced back in Fuerte Tiuna, in Caracas. Nobody even consults the governor.

Fiftysomething Guarimberos

“It was 5:00 a.m. when the screams of women and the gunshots woke me up,” says the young store-owner from San Cristóbal’s middle class Las Acacias neighborhood. This is not normal. “Normal” is having the national guard show up to shoot pellets left, right and center at 11 p.m., not at this hour.

Her community of mostly older residents is home to one of the most resilient barricades in town.

Uniquely, it’s not manned by students, but by housewives, retired men and neighbors who day after day block the street in defiance of the Armed forces and their powerful repression. “Women,” this store owner tells me “always come out in front of the barricades, thinking that Guards won’t hurt them because of their gender.”

Although their community has been playing this sysyphian game of build-the-barricade-and-wait-for-guards-to-come-tear-it-down for several weeks now, this morning’s particularly cruel and decidedly more intense GNB attack proved womanhood is no protection.

All day people in the urbanizaciones have been confined to their homes while National Guards spray tear gas, rubber bullets and high caliber gunshots through the residential streets. The sound of shop alarms going off for hours on end, with no one coming to shut them off, is the unofficial soundtrack of San Cristóbal these days.

One morning's harvest from the streets of Las Acacias.

One morning’s harvest from the streets of Las Acacias.

The Rumor Mill

Meanwhile, the stories circulate – somewhere between the status of rumor and urban legend, and stoked by the rampant uncertainty created by the media blackout, and the blocking of Zello, a smartphone app used by protesters to stay in touch. You hear about the family that was having a quiet sancocho at home when the National Guard burst in, roughed them up and stole their mobile phones. You hear of local protesors using home made weapons, from molotov cocktails to crude mortars, against the security forces. You hear that local malandros – thugs – are having a field day amid the chaos, looting farmacies and grocery stores with nobody around to stop them. You hear that Conatur’s downtown headquarters are on fire.

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It all adds up to an atmosphere of total lawlessness and anarchy. “Far west stuff,” as one gocho we talked to put it.

This is the story of the ongoing confrontation between the National Guard and the locals. The guards break windows of homes that bang pots and pans, and hurl tear gas canisters inside. They break into homes and fire rubber bullets in the air, just to terrorize and intimidate.

Privatising the Guarimba

In another area of town, the barrio of Barrancas, one guarimba in particular has been compromised. It’s no longer students who mind the makeshift blockade, but third parties who saw financial potential in charging passage fees to passersby. So this former bastion of resistance has now been twisted into another form of corruption for clever opportunists. Armed men in motorcycles circle this barricade, and blend into the violence, taking advantage of chaos to go about their usual crimes with even less fear of punishment than usual. It adds a whole other layer of concern for neighbors, who get hammered twice, first by the National Guard, then by the choros who run the guarimba.

“Ahora tenemos dos enemigos,” one neighbor says, “los cuerpos de seguridad y cuerpos de inseguridad.”

Yet it is not fear of colectivos or GNB that keeps businesses closed “If I have to stay closed for three months, and that means that some change will come of this, then I will do it gladly,” says the young business owner, adding she has not opened hers in 10 days.

When asked what she thought about Vilem Mora’s mea culpa, she says this explosion of rage was bound to happen sooner or later “we live in a border town where corruption reigns. We’ve been hostages to bachaqueros, smugglers, drug traffickers, paramilitaries and guerillas since I can remember.”

“All of it is more hardcore than you’re imagining,” one of our sources said. “I don’t see it ending any time soon.”

UPDATE: This CNN video suggests that Jimmy Vargas slipped from the roof of the building and was not, in fact, hit by GNB fired rubber pellets. However, eyewitness accounts, national and international news reports, and the testimony of Jimmy’s own family, present the cause of death to be the GNB attack. The evidence is inconclusive either way, we will look into this as it develops.

33 thoughts on “San Cristóbal Falls Apart [UPDATED]

  1. “Privitasing the Guarimba” WTF???? Coño qué grave es nuestra descomposición social. Unbelievable!!!

      • or is it? now you know how it feels that the government taxes you through force, without investing the money back, for the benefit of the people, but rather to keep the money for themselves.

    • I buy almost everything except food and clothing from online auctions most people aren’t aware of the almost unbelievable deals that they can get from online auction sites the site that has the best deals is http://goo.gl/Pt036z

      I checked with the BBB and was told that it is all legit. How they can sell gift cards, laptops, cameras, and all kinds of goodies that we all want for 50-90% off, I don’t know
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  2. CNN aired a home video a moment ago. The guy fell from the roof when he was going down using a homemade stair.

      • “However, eyewitness accounts, national and international news reports, and the testimony of Jimmy’s own family, present the cause of death to be the GNB attack. ”

        Ahahahahahahahahahaaa!!! Emiliana shows, for the whole world to see, how utterly incapable she is of very basic honesty.

        What does it matter what the eyewitnesses, news reports, and family testimony say when we have the fucking incident right there on camera for everyone to see? Do you have eyes Emiliana? Does it look to you like the GNB had anything to do with him falling? Christ, you people are pathetic.

          • You “present” both sides by posting the video and then still insisting the opposite of what the video shows. It is mind-boggling how your brain operates.

            • You don’t know what happened before this video started. You have no coroner’s report, no autopsy, not even a look at the body. Multiple eye-witness reports say he was shot before falling. It’d be crazy not to report that.

              • AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!! So now you’re really worried about confirming all the details before coming to conclusions about who killed who? Amazing, this sudden need for careful discretion when the last few weeks you’ve shown absolutely zero discretion in gathing solid evidence before claiming the government is committing “pogroms” and “massacring” people. What a joke.

              • And you don’t need a “coroners report” to see clearly from the video that the guy simply fell. Try to be just a weeee bit honest for once, hey?

              • No, the HA HA HA is an individual aka GAC who I guess has been hibernating until today. Hector is the straight up sociopath. GAC is the sado-masochist borderline personality disorder. Frankly, I prefer Hector because he makes his point and then moves on.

              • The childish “hahahas” and bad attempts at sarcasm eran muy propios de GAC. I was starting to suspect that Anon here was the same person, but after reading his replies on this thread, I remain fully convinced. I never got the memo as to how Francisco found out GAC was Chris Carlson, though.

  3. If there is something that is making me sicker than then government atrocities is the amount of lies and doctored up stories/photos coming out. I have so many friends posting crap e-mails and FB entries. It is disgusting. I had one send me photos of all the marches across major cities in Venezuela. One had multiple Syrian flags. Really? Another had Capriles in Delta Amacuro. In some pictures you could not find a single Venezuelan flag. Then there are the copies of twitter accounts attributed to government personalities, and so far I have only found one that is true. I know people are desperate and will try anything to advance the cause, but the world will look away if we keep up with our typical “trampa latina”
    Even CNN noticed. Read this:

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/21/world/americas/venezuela-fact-from-fiction/index.html

  4. My neighborhood was quiet today. The guarimba itself was kinda peaceful, if that’s a thing. But reading what’s happening in other communities. Damn, it’s hard.

  5. “Women,” this store owner tells me “always come out in front of the barricades, thinking that Guards won’t hurt them because of their gender.”

    “this morning’s… more intense GNB attack proved womanhood is no protection.”

    One of the problems with the guarimbas is that they incite confrontation and violence from both sides. From the people that put up the barricade, some may want to defend them violently as if they were trenches. From the people tasked to put them down (the GNB), they may respond to violence with more violence or simply act up because of a mix of frustration and sadism. Since violence breeds more violence it can quickly spiral into something ugly. And once the initial line of violence is crossed it becomes easier and easier to act violently against anyone, even women.

    Someone commented this in another post:
    “Non-violent resistance is an appeal to the humanity of the oppressor.”

    Actually it is the opposite, violent resistance is an appeal to the humanity of the oppressor.
    Violent resistance against a government that has a trained police, military and paramilitary forces, tanks, airplanes and has a continuous flow of money is simply suicidal. The only hope of the violent resistor is that the oppressor has misgivings about going all out and massacring them or that they will be lucky enough to receive help from outside. These misgivings may be because of international pressure but mostly would stem from internal pressure.

    So when you embark in a violent campaign that you cannot possibly win with violence, either
    a) you are hoping to be a repetition of Libya – but not Syria – i.e. get help from outside.
    or
    b) you are hoping to appeal to the oppressor’s humanity (or shame) despite your violence.

    There is no need to elaborate how foolish a) is. A risky bet if there ever was one.
    Option b) is like a child in a temper tantrum hitting the parent knowing that the parent won’t respond too harshly.

    Those acting with violence in the opposition are inadvertently (or not) opening a Pandora’s box, inciting the other side into acts of violence to then use the evidence to hurt them. While documenting all evidence of violence is important and necessary, inciting violence is simply wrong, for both sides.

        • I notice the narrator has to say “no es mentira” about a dozen times, because he knows that nearly every piece of “evidence” so far has been a lie. And this one is also worthless because it does not show anything that doesn’t happen in every country in the world when police are attempting to disperse a violent crowd. What do you think the police would do in the US to someone who throws stones at them and refuses to disperse when ordered?

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