El Caracazo: The unseen military cover-up

February 28, 2007

Yesterday, Chavismo brought all the cynical hoopla that characterize it, to declare the 17th. anniversary of the “Caracazo”,  Human Rights Day. This was simply grandstanding, as noted so well by the article below by Katy in Caracas Chronicles, which I reproduce in its entirety below, becuase of its importance. I will just complement it a little.

But this cynical attitude goes beyond what Katy says. Only 23 days ago the Government celebrated another military massacre, Chavez’ original coup attempts which also had a tragic end of too many dead and too any injured. Where are those responsible for those deaths? Nobody was punished for them.

And the same can be said for those that died on April 11th. 2002, when our current President activated the so called “Plan Avila” a military repressive plan to control the civilian population. Fortunately, the Generals in charge refused to do it, saving many lives. But that day there were 24 deaths and over one hundred injured and those that were taped shooting that march from Puente El Llaguno, all pro-Government, were found innocent and not a single person was found guilty of those deaths. The infamous “truth commission” in the National Assembly was killed by the current Government, so that we may never find the truth, or those responsible for those deaths.

Similarly, exactly three years ago yesterday, coincidentally the same day as the “Caracazo”, the repressive action of this Government led to many deaths, while a peaceful march trying to deliver a document to the Heads of State meeting in Caracas was met with extraordinary repression, which was simply uncalled for. Just recall Elinor Montes, who holding a Venezuelan flag approached a soldier asking why they were being so repressive to a peaceful march. Imagine her surprise when the soldier wrestled her to the ground, injuring her.

And I will never forget the feeling of impotency and despair I felt, when I first saw the pictures of how Jose Vilas was shot by the National Guard that same day. He was cowardly shot on the back with a military rifle, which was running after the dispersing crowd of a peaceful demonstration. I did not know Vilas personally, but I knew who he was. He was my wife’s co-worker and I know too many people that knew him well. His murder was never even investigated, which simply proves the cynical attitude behind even declaring the anniversary of El Caracazo as human rights day.

El Caracazo: The unseen military cover-up by Katy in Caracas Chronicles

Katy says: Yesterday was the anniversary of El Caracazo,
a day that no Venezuelan can ever forget. On February 27th, 1989,
thousands of poor people poured into the streets to protest a hike in
the prices of gas and public transportation. As the crowds grew larger,
people began looting, and pretty soon Venezuela’s major cities were
undergoing massive riots.

The rioting continued and grew worse
through the night and onto the next day, when newly-inaugurated,
democratically-elected President Carlos Andrés Pérez suspended
constitutional guarantees and installed a curfew. What happened in the
aftermath left a permanent stain on the country’s soul.

To
enforce the government’s curfew, the Venezuelan military began killing
people randomly in a desperate attempt to restore order in the country.
Estimates say that more than 1,000 Venezuelans were killed during those
days, most of them poor, many of them in their homes, while many more
are missing. Numerous bodies were found in mass graves, while some were
never recovered.

Yesterday we had a commemoration of sorts, with
the government holding an official ceremony while at the same time
vowing to end impunity. For all the grandstanding, though, the
government’s record in bringing those responsible to justice is dismal.
The inescapable fact is that after eighteen years, not a single one of
the people who murdered innocent civilians is in jail. More than a few
of them have ended up, instead, in cush revolutionary jobs.

He
has been in power for 8 of the eighteen years since el Caracazo. He has
controlled the courts for plenty long enough to put the people
responsible in jail and to implement measures to ensure abuses like
this never happen again. Voices from inside and outside Venezuela,
including respected human rights campaigner and victims’ defender
Liliana Ortega, have blasted the current administration for not doing enough to bring justice to victims’ families.

Other
criticism has come from an unlikely source: People’s Ombudsman – and
staunch Chávez supporter – Germán Mundaraín. Mr. Mundaraín came out with a report
yesterday blasting the Prosecutor General’s Office for not doing enough
to bring about justice, only to be strongly rebuffed by Prosecutor
General and former chavista Vice-President, Isaías Rodríguez. It was a
rare instance of public disagreement between two men who have always
worked in tandem to defend the government at all costs.

Why
would a government that has made the memory of February 27th so central
a part of its ideological memory fail so badly to bring those
responsible to justice? The reason is that this is a military government, and the main perpetrator of the abuses during those days was the military.

President
Chávez was a Lieutenant Coronel in the Venezuelan army when he tried to
overthrow Pérez in February of 1992. Yet Chávez did not act alone that
day: some of the officers who took part in or sympathized with the coup
are now in the President’s Cabinet, including the Interior, Defense and
Telecommunications Ministers (Secretaries) and the head of the national
tax-collecting office SENIAT. Even more are in positions of power in
official chavista bureaucracy. They are now ambassadors,
under-secretaries, superintendents, governors, mayors and even judges.

If
all these people were active in 1992, they were also active in 1989.
The fact that they remained in the military between 89 and 92 makes
them immediate suspects in the 89 massacre, since they obviously did
not disobey orders to shoot indiscriminately. And while certainly not
all of them participated, it’s safe to bet that some of them did, and
they probably either hold positions of power or are connected to
someone who does.

Take, for instance, the case of Crisanto
Maderos. Maderos was murdered during those tragic days, a crime for
which three military officers were charged: Col. Pedro Colmenares, Col.
Jesus Francisco Blanco Berroterán and Maj. Carlos Miguel Yánez
Figueredo. All three were active officers in 1992.

The trial
ended in an acquittal, with the judge arguing that the crime had
prescribed. Last July, the Chávez-appointed Supreme Tribunal upheld the
acquittal. This acquittal was unrelated to a lack of forensic evidence;
these guys got off on a technicality: a new low for chavista justice.

It turns out that Colmenares used to be
Venezuela’s military attaché in its Embassy in Washington. Colmenares
has also represented the Chávez administration in the Interamerican
Defense Board, and for a time was part of Chávez’s personal security.
Furthermore, Blanco Berroterán’s brother has recently been appointed
to a government post within the military justice system, having
previously worked as one of the directors of the Palo Verde military
jail, from which imprisoned union leader Carlos Ortega
famously escaped several months ago. Yánez Figueredo, still in active
service, is known for being part of the graduating class that controversially named Fidel Castro as its godfather. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the real reason these guys got out.

So
while we all remember the terrible days of 1989 with sadness and thirst
for justice, let’s keep one thing straight: the impunity surrounding el
Caracazo is not due to government foot dragging or to the usual delays
of a sclerotic court system. It’s the outcome of a carefully
orchestrated cover-up.

One Response to “El Caracazo: The unseen military cover-up”


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