One Bottle, Then This: My Afternoon at UCV

Capuskishield

A reader who prefers not to be named sends in this first-hand account of yesterday’s march-and-melée at the UCV Campus.

It began with the usual confusion about the starting point and route; uncertainty has become a mainstay in recent weeks of street mobilizations. Sophisticated production and days-in-advance mass publicity for these events are a thing of the past: there is no time or money to build tarimas or rent audio equipment. Instead, we run on tactically-convened, stripped-down, home-made rallies that tend to change at the last-minute.

Art. 43 of the Law on Political Parties, Public Meetings and Protests clearly states that every resident of this Republic has the right to free assembly, and need only notify the municipal authorities of plans to hold a public gathering, 24 hours prior to said event. To notify, as you may have gathered, is quite different from to ask for permission, which is why, on the one-month anniversary of the fateful march that claimed three lives and left dozens wounded, the students of Caracas once again called on civil society to take the streets and march to the Ombudswoman’s office, calling for her resignation.

From the start, the rumors were flying:

“Maduro says we can’t go through Plaza Venezuela,” “The chavistas just announced a gathering in Plaza Brion.” “Someone told me they shut down the subway system”

This march had a definite tone of somber defiance about it. “We will get through,” was the general feeling.

Around 11 a.m. we began walking through the very alternate and not-at-all-direct route that would eventually take us to the Defensoría del Pueblo:  posted along the way, students with walkie talkies and megaphones led us from Bello Monte to Los Chaguaramos, and through the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), a legendary bastion of youthful rebellion.

About halfway through the UCV, the march came to a halt. “We have been blocked by the riot squad,” informed a student who was rallying information from the frontlines. “We are negotiating with the police chief, and we will continue our trajectory. Please sit and wait, we will be let through.”

While protesters waited, I decided to make my way to the heavily fortified blockade. The cast of characters changes as you make your way up to the front of the crowd: senior citizens, housewives and students clad in white and bearing flags give way to more war-weary types, sporting home-made anti-tear gas paraphernalia like breathing gear made of snorkels and facemasks fashioned from plastic bottles.

Backpacks held inside a treasure trove of antidotes for tear-gas effects: handkerchiefs soaked in vinegar, spraybottles containing a Maalox solution, gardening gloves for flinging back the canisters. None of which seemed necessary at this point, since the confrontation between students and security forces was limited to exchanging words.

“You know full well that our cause is just and that we have a right to walk these streets,” said a young girl to a policeman behind his thick plexiglass shield, one of about 400 who formed a human barricade spread in front of 7 armored riot light tanks ( rinocerontes, in protest-speak) and a water cannon (ballena, for the uninitiated).

Student organizers were doing a great job of keeping the resistance peaceful. The call was for us to stay there until we were let through, and so we did. Notes of the National Anthem were being sung.

And then, in slow motion, I saw the perfect arc, the perfect parabola, of a glass bottle gliding through the air. For a microsecond, time seemed suspended, as the object gracefully made its way against el Ávila and the gleaming Caracas sun, into the sea of helmets and shields.

Fuck.

It’s over. Forget being let through.

In an instant, tear gas canisters are raining from the sky, bursts of water gushed from the cannon.

What ensued was a violent pas-de-deux between riot forces and students, a somewhat pointless but relentless back-and-forth in which carefully-dosed repression was met with a brief retreat, and a just as brief regrouping of student resistance. Engulfed in a stinging cloud of bitter gas, students would run, heaving and wheezing, into the campus and lie facedown on the ground to catch their breath, while others relieved their shift, tossing back the canisters that were being fired at us. At any given time, there was an active guard of students, protecting those that were behind, on campus.

Everyone on this side of the fight was immediately a brother. “Maalox! Quién tiene Maalox!” shouted a medical student, blinded by tears. Immediately, dozens of protesters came to his aid, offering sprays of the soothing solution, as well as advice hard earned through experience (don’t breathe through your mouth, it makes the pain worse). Several shields were snatched from riot police, and carried back to campus as trophies among cheering students.

Daring press photographers on the roof of the UCV entrance made a haunting silhouette against the gray gas haze, it seemed as though the riot police were playing tear-gas target practice with these unfortunate bystanders. One was knocked down before my eyes. A fire broke out close by.

There was a method behind this apparent chaos. As I stumbled about sightless, after a canister whizzed by my face, I ran into a production line of sorts: students had a quarry of concrete slabs, which others smashed into smaller pieces and proceeded to meticulously heap into communal rock arsenals. Others gathered trash and debris and formed makeshift shelters for the active throwers.

Still indignant about not being allowed to march, and fascinated as I was by the battleground around me, I realized that this was no longer my arena to fight in, so I began to leave. But as I neared the exit, along with the large crowd of protesters that was not involved in combat, colectivos on motorcycles and red hoods poured into the UCV Campus - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lest we forget – and started chasing students, who fled in terror from their sticks and bats. I did not hang around long enough to witness the outcome of this siege, but I can attest to the fear and helplessness that we all felt while watching these goons frighten and hurt with impunity.

To say that the students defending themselves were not, at times, violent, would be a disservice to truth. Yes, thy threw rocks, yes they burned trash, and yes, some asshole hurled a bottle that started this whole mess today. But it is also true that the government, in their shameless strategy of denying our legitimate rights to protest, revels in provoking violence by stoking this very frustration. It remains to be seen what runs out first: the citizens’ will to take back the streets, or the canisters of tear gas that, uniquely these days, never seem to run into supply shortages.

56 thoughts on “One Bottle, Then This: My Afternoon at UCV

    • Syd, really FT back on the front lines again incognito (he traded in his Sudan frequent flyer miles for a scarce/expensive Venezuela flight)….

    • Wait, did you say ‘slowly becoming the next Syria?’
      The Venezuelan gov’t has barrel bombs in its arsenal?
      If it’s the next Syria, Colombia/Brasil/Guyana could be looking at
      a couple million refugees?
      Al Qaeda going to start fighting with the university students?
      I am hoping you made your comment purely in jest, as it is a real
      stretch to even mention the two countries in the same breath.

      • Venezuela already has a higher murder rate than Syria.

        Have you guys seen that the colectivos are threatening civilians by sending letters with rifle bullets attached to it?

    • Indeed. That was my thought as well. All it takes is one infiltrado to get pandemonium in an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

        • Kiko, vale, decirle así a ese tipo es un insulto a los imbéciles.

          It is true that idiots abound. I would like to think they are more common on the government side…. but I don’t have proof of that.

          That aside, there is no denying that the response was proportionate. After all, those carajos are supposed to be there to protect people in all sides, and not to take a pro-government stance.

          Nice theory, huh?

        • Imbéciles sobran. Still, there is another video where you can see clearly the moment that He-who-shall-not-be-named describes so well: “and then, in slow motion, I saw the perfect arc, the perfect parabola, of a glass bottle gliding through the air.” People are singing the National Anthem with fervor. They are not finished singing it and it seemed to me totally out of place that a legit protester would chose that moment to do it. And then the celerity of the response seemed orchestrated to me. But maybe I’m just another imbecile.

          • There is definitely a pattern: every time that there are protracted negotiations between the protesters and the GNB, PNB, a fire bomb, a rock or a bottle stops them cold. The castromaduristas want to avoid at all costs that the students talk to the repressors.

        • ¿Por qué será que la retórica chavista sistemáticamente se limita a reflectar todo argumento crítico? Ellos se comportan como idiotas porque al parecer los demás son idiotas, actúan como esbirros porque aparentemente los de la IV (sabrán que es eso lo que la vivieron) también lo eran, son los peores gobernantes que he conocido (los únicos por cierto), porque los de la oposición también lo son. Tratan de justificarse usando argumentos sin ningún valor ni mérito y en el proceso, evidentemente sin quererlo, declaran su fracaso y mediocridad.

  1. Those colectivos are the fascist paramilitary force of the regime, they are being used to do the “dirt job” in order to spare GNB and conventional forces of international critiscism. It’s easy for the government to say that the colectivos are autonomous forces indepedent from the nomenklatura, what is a big fat lie.

  2. Can someone confirm if this extract below is authentic or just a internet hoax? I can’t believe that God given has said that they will throw acid on the oppositionists’ faces.

    http://www.elchiguirebipolar.net/18-04-2013/gobierno-amenaza-con-arrojar-acido-en-la-cara-para-marcar-personas-que-lo-acusan-de-fascismo/

    “El presidente de la Asamblea Nacional, Diosdado Cabello, amenazó la tarde de hoy a los simpatizantes de la oposición con arrojarles ácido en la cara si vuelven a acusarlo a él o al gobierno encabezado por Nicolás Maduro de fascista.

    “No se equivoquen con sus palabras, acá el gobierno no es fascista nada. Fascistas son ustedes; eso es lo que les duele, y si vuelven a decirnos eso, les echaremos ácido a toditos en la cara para que queden marcados de por vida y el pueblo pueda identificarlos y saber quienes son los traidores, los apátridas, los hijos de Hitler. Es más, vamos a revisarle el celular a cada uno de los empleados públicos y al primer mensajito que veamos donde nos digan fascistas, los montamos encima de un rin mientras escuchan el disco de la hermana de Asier Cazalis. Ajá, ¿ahora sí ven la seriedad del asunto? ¿Quienes son los degenerados fascistas? ¡Atrévanse a decir lo contrario, carajo, para meterles estas agujas de bambú debajo de las uñas! ¡Malditas pocas cosas! ¡¿Cómo se atreven a no reconocer lo democráticos que somos nosotros?!” exclamó un eufórico Diosdado Cabello, mientras usaba a su antojo todos los medios públicos pagados con el patrimonio nacional.

    Por su parte, Luisa Estella Morales, presidenta del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, aclaró que el ácido en la cara de una persona es totalmente legal siempre y cuando esta “acción desprendida y solidaria de regeneración social” sea propiciada por un funcionario del Gobierno. “Es inaceptable que un grupito de persona venga y diga que nosotros, todos los poderes independientes, seamos fascistas. Eso no se va a permitir, esa anarquía no se puede dejar pasar. ¡No! ¡Ni lo digas, ni lo pienses, y mucho menos lo expreses! Por eso notificamos a todos las fuerzas del Gobierno que están en total libertad de hacer reflexionar al país, claro, con acciones como ésta, marcadas dentro del amor del pueblo que nos enseñó el Comandante Supremo y Hedonístico, para hacerle entender de una buena vez por todas a los seres despreciables estos que dicen ser nuestros compatriotas que este es un Gobierno pacífico y humanista.”

    • Resulta que NO es la voz de Bachelet, sino de una chilena tratando de refrescar la memoria de los chilenos calladiitos, inclusive la presidenta.

  3. There is something strange in this account , Lets consider the facts :

    First : Maduro had publicly stated before the protests marches had even begun to get started that he would not allow any unless the protesters agreed first to join the so called peace conversations , This was in the press .

    Second: People who gathered to march in front of the Banesco Building in Bello Monte where stopped from marching to Pza Venezuela by armed police without any bottle getting thrown .

    Third , from the testimony of one of the BCV protestors ( a kin of mine) who was THERE at the enthrance to the University as they tried getting out to the Pza Venezuela a picket of GNB stopped them saying that they had to wait some 10 to 15 minutes until all protestors could enter the Pza in orderly fashion , the wait extended to 30 minutes and nothing happened , they argued to be let out and the response was to wait a bit longer ,then without warning ( the person saw no bottle being thrown out) the GNB started attacking them with the helpf of colectivos that had started gathering arround ,

    My kin was blinded by the tear gas and was rescued by another protestor who took him inside the campus , there the protesters divided into two groups , the men who throw stones to the attackers and a second group consisting of girls that broke up stones into smaller pieces which could be thrown at the attackers .

    The attack was going to take place anyway because the orders had already been given that the protesters would not be allowed to march . The throwing of the stone ( if it happened ) would not have changed what happened , the attack was going to happen anyway .

    I gather that the govt felt emboldened to become more brutal by the OAS pronouncement and will become even more directly and unabashedly brutal by the Unasur announcement . They have been given license by the Latin American govts to do whatever they want without any reproaches !!

    • Good analysis, yet some people insist on blaming those students for anything bad that happens. I don’t know what they the accusers in exile (we know who they are) want to gain with that, but they should know that they are being very cruel.

    • Because I was there I can say that if some “gorila” in military fatigues stands in my way to exercise my legal and legitimate right to protest while threatening me if I choose to do so, then something bad is going to happen. The moment or the motive just become irrelevant.

  4. Am I the only one to be bothered by the fact that the poster only brought the UNESCO tidbit when the colectivos entered the picture, instead of when he/she talked about the quarry of (not naturally occurring) concrete slabs?

  5. Beautiful description and accounting of the main events. Readers can figure out themselves the strategic value of Caracas for the regime; other demonstrations in other cities did not have problems to go on that day. It is also contradictory to the official discourse (it is not always that ways?): they started claiming that demonstrators were just “4 gatos”, but then move to the level of “a few junkies and thugs under the influence”, while now the “preferred” version is “the coup-plotters after an elected government”. It is clear that as time goes by they only becomes worse in their arguments instead of better. No wonder we are in the streets more committed than ever.

    • Readers can figure out themselves the strategic value of Caracas for the regime; other demonstrations in other cities did not have problems to go on that day.

      Yep. Keep a close watch on the electricity grid, it’s the same deal.

  6. Funny, all this rhetoric about the opposition protesters being the victims of all this “state-sponsored violence”. But what do the facts say? Should we take a look at who the victims actually are? Wouldn’t want to overload Caracas Chronicles with actual FACTS, but here goes:

    *Among the dead are: 10 opposition activists, 4 government supporters, 7 citizens not participating in the protests, 3 National Guardsman.

    *4 deaths are directly attributable to security forces, 12 from shots fired by unidentified gunmen. 6 have died in accidents caused by barricades, 2 in accidents occurring during the course of protests.

    *Of the 12 shot by unidentified gunmen, 5 are opposition activists, 3 are government supporters, 3 are National Guardsmen and 1 is a nonparticipant.

    (facts taken from some people doing real journalism, not partisan hackery http://venezuelablog.tumblr.com/)

    So, of the 24 deaths that we have clear information on, only 4 (some say 5) can be attributed to state security forces.

    So who is doing all the killing? Well, the opposition claims it is the “colectivos”, organized by the government to shoot protesters. But this also appears to be false. Of the 12 people killed by unidentified gunman, only 5 are from the opposition. The majority of people killed by unidentified gunman are either government supporters or National Guardsman.

    Whoops. The facts don’t line up with the official discourse around here. But I guess nothing’s new right?

    • Getaclue, the police forces are supposed to protect the protesters, the bystanders, and themselves, certainly not by instigating or turning a blind eye to instigation of any trouble…

    • I agree with you, there is a big buzz about opposition protesters when reality points in other directions. Let’s bring the FACTS about your FACTS then:

      1. These demonstrations are not led or carried out by “opposition protesters”, these are done by university students who oppose the regime. Semantics is important here since students involvement in the current political scene add a complex dimension to current events.

      2. One government supporter (Montoya) was gunned down by his own death squad (colectivo+SEBIN) based on ballistic results (CICPJ) and on witnesses testimony (which include that of his own brother who happens to be also a cop, PNB). BTW, this contradicts public statements from Maduro in a national broadcast claiming he had evidence an opposition sniper was responsible.

      3. Contradicting statements are still under scrutiny about the GNB who died in Los Ruices, Caracas. Unconfirmed reports indicated he died of an accidental self-inflicted wound, yet again Maduro’s publicly stated in national TV the victim was killed by another opposition sniper. No official word yet about autopsy results or funeral details of the victim.

      4. Local media in Valencia is reporting witnesses testimony of the GNB Captain falling in the middle of “friendly fire” between dead squad members or colectivos, and national guards.

      5. Relatives of the non-participant victim (the man in the Isabelica neighborhood) went public yesterday and stated in several media outlet he was murder by government’ dead squads.

      6. All the opposition activist murdered are confirmed to have been shot or died as result of wound or trauma inflicted by the direct action of police (either SEBIN or PNB), the GNB, or dead squads.

      7. Four of the 12 victims you attribute to unidentified men are discussed above already, which leaves 8. From that number 7 died from shots in the head (one, Geraldine Moreno shot twice in the face at close range), and 1 from a shot in the chest.

      8. The numbers above do not include dozens of people severely wounded during clashes with the police or dead squads, which include 2 young man gravely hurt by marbles shot with firearms (one of which had a partial colonostomy), at least 2 with loss of one ocular globe, and 1 with a direct shot a his testicles at short range.

      Finally, there is sufficient graphic evidence documenting the action of dead squads and police operating collaboratively in all the national territory: (i) against protesters or by standers no actively involved in the protest, (ii) the destruction of private and public property by GNBs, and (initial) all sort do excesses and human rights violations during the course of police and military procedures.

      So I do agree with you, the official discourse here might not all right, but at least is is not unsolicited partisan hackery (or should I say palangrismo?)

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