I Just want you to get my account of what happened this week in my country because I think I must make an effort to send it abroad since silence is one of the most effective weapons of dictatorial abuse. Silence is consent...
I know that all of you, through your different television stations in your countries, will have seen the latest events in Venezuela.
More than 500,000 people, just talking of Caracas, took to the street last Thursday to protest an inept and violent government. The march was headed to the National Palace in Miraflores to protest in a completely peaceful way. Needless to say there were countless children in the march. The march left from exactly in front of my office. I saw people passing by continuously from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. I saw these people with my own eyes, which is a point I want to emphasize since the Chavez government states that anything on TV is "virtual" and doesn't really "exist."
The march had to pass beneath a bridge, 7 km. from my office and there were members of the so-cal1ed Bolivar Circle, members of Chavez's cancerous party, "stationed" on the bridge. The Bolivar Circle is composed of youth gangs which the government has armed who are supposedly responsible for control of the public and education, at gunpoint. There they were, in the march, not armed this time with pistols but with high-caliber weapons. At point-blank range they fired upon the defenseless people who approached the bridge. As far as we are aware, there were 11 deaths and 80 wounded. The majority of the dead had bullet sounds to the head.
Another point worth remembering is that during the work stoppage on the Tuesday prior to the march, the government set out to interrupt the transmissions of the programs of the five privately-owned stations, with messages to assert that nothing was happening and the country was a paradise of harmony. The channels, showing bravery, divided their screens to show the images of the national strike at the same time.
The final government bulletin, broadcast nationwide on all media, finished at about 11 p.m. The President told us that those who were in the opposition were a minority group of oligarchs, referring to them repeatedly as disgusting and privileged people exploiting the working people. The people, indignant, went out into the street in pajamas with whistles and pots and pans to express their displeasure, in spite of the fact that it was raining buckets.
On the day of the march, so that the TV stations couldn't again divide their screens, they pulled a dirty trick: at precisely the hour the big march was arriving at the Miraflores Palace, they seized all the antennas and left all the private channels without a signal, substituting another channel with Chavez telling us how calm reigned and he was willing to enter a dialogue. They didn't count on the satellite signals and two of the channels who had the technology to escape the trap, putting their signals on the air with divided screens. This is how those of us who were not in the march could see the massacre by the Bolivar Circle and other sharpshooters, who were posted on rooftops and in trees.
The people were indignant.
The National Guard and the armed forces withdrew their support and spoke up. The guards at the state TV channel departed, leaving the channel without a signal, and at about midnight it became known that the President had resigned.
A provisional government was named, presided over by the head of the Federation of Chambers [of commerce and industry]. The people who had fired the shots were detained, since they had been fully identified on the videos. All of this was broadcast on TV. The dissolution of the National Assembly was decreed. It's a bit complicated to explain the reasons for this. The dissolving of the National Assembly, in the eyes of the literate world, which is to say the OAS and the Group of Rio, is unconstitutional and as long as they refused to recognize the new government (who are all clean and elected democratically) it turned out that the armed forces were split, and that the Air Force was still supporting Chavez.
In other words, the armed forces backed off.
From there on we knew nothing. We didn't know if there was an internal battle within the armed forces or if they were making a deal with each other. The Friday night before Saturday there was a great silence in the city. On Saturday, the Bolivar Circle elements came out to loot the businesses of the "oligarchs" and closed off pathways into the city, attacking cars on both highways.
From 11 a.m. on, the five private TV channels were also taken and the persons on the scene kidnapped. At night the signal of the state channel came back on the air with the same miasma as before.
And I can tell you that I saw the following, on the state channel: in a private home, according to them, the attorney general of the Republic spoke to a group of approximately 20 people who were seated in school desks, like students who had misbehaved, telling them that he guaranteed that he would respect human rights. All of this verbiage he spat out before multiple microphones of international radio and TV (notably CNN and TV Spain) to cozy up to them. One could hear, but not see the speakers' voices asking, "Why do you have us here?"
To which the attorney general replied, "To assure safety."
At that point one of the people present raised his hand and asked for permission to speak. He said that he and three or four others who were there had been called to the Palace to be sworn in as part of the provisional government, but that others present in the [captive group] were journalists and others who simply happened to be in the Palace by chance. He asked, "Please, let them go, they have nothing to do with this. We'll stay, but release the others."
At this point the transmission ceased and returned to the studio.
Between 2 and 3 a.m. Chavez resumed power.
Right now it's Sunday morning, the TV stations are broadcasting non-stop movies, outside of their normal programming (there are no news shows), and the state channel is making us listen again and again to the speech about retaking power. THERE ARE NO NEWSPAPERS. The only alternative is the TV: CNN, and TV Spain, who are telling us that hundreds of thousands of Chavez supporters are celebrating his return to power and that Venezuela has regained constitutional rule.
Frankly, it's a lot of work for me to find any difference between this "constitutional rule" and a fascist dictatorship.
Chavez does have supporters, but not hundreds of thousands, just tens of thousands. Their demonstration covered four blocks (a quote from the Minister of Labor). That's a lot of people, but you can't call it a majority. The basic difference between the tens of thousands of Chavez supporters and the hundreds of thousands in the opposition is that the former are willing to harm those who do not agree with them.
This is something I can speak about from personal experience, since in one of the marches last night where I live, two members of the Bolivar Circle, faced with the protests of about 100 neighbors, before leaving the place where we were, which is not where they live, felt the need to draw a pistol and "gravely" threaten us. When we refused to remain silent, they put the pistol into the chest of an adolescent who was nearby. When the man took out the pistol I was no more than two meters away. Of course we shut up. This is very democratic, constitutional, and open dialogue, no?
As I write this nobody has any news of the lives of any of the radio, TV and print reporters. The shots in Petare (to the east) and Baruta (to the south) rang out between 2 and 4 a.m. The Ordinary Seaman looting continued all day. According to the government there are nine more dead and 40 injured.
The situation in my country cannot be easily remedied, and to understand it fully just reading this message will not suffice. Clearly there are many important things left unsaid. The terrible thing is that there is no medium to express them.
Thanks to all of you who read this up to here, and I apologize to those for whom this isn't a medium to broadcast these messages. If there is someone who wants to pass it on, I think it might help us greatly.
(Name supplied and withheld)
Printed in The Guatemala Post
Week of April 19, 2002
Vol. 11, no. 41, p. 3