Sunday, June 15, 2003

EL PETARAZO, OR THUGS IN THE TEAR GAS MIST
June 15, 2003

There are defining moments in a country where it becomes clear who is who among its residents. Such a moment happened in Venezuela on Friday 13th. Not for the number of casualties or the damage done, but for the revelations of what we have become, for all to see on the TV screen. Let’s the facts speak for themselves.

THE ACTORS

Copei, one of the two parties of our failed bipartisan democracy of past 40 years decided to revive itself from its ashes. In imitation of AD who did a revival of sorts a couple of weeks ago in Catia, it decided to call for a rally of an area where in the past it was blessed with significant electoral support. This area is the Easternmost Caracas neighborhood, marking the end of the valley, a former rural pleasant land now transformed in one of the shantiest area of the country: the “village” of Petare. A former Copei mayor, now the governor of the Miranda state did help along to organize a street rally for this past Friday. Other local leaders did contribute some, while government officials, obviously scared that a former party might demonstrate some life in a popular area, did all what it could to discourage the rally. But legally they could not forbid the meeting altogether, and they ended up their campaign with a pitiful TV speech of the Interior Minister alleging weapon distribution among Copei followers. He showed one, a small blade that would not do much against any gun from the police or from chavistas.

Caracas security forces are divided in two camps. Petare mayor, not only chavista but the son of the Vice-President controls the municipal Petare police. He can count if need be on the National Guard which had been refurbished with the safest units transferred for a while now to Caracas. On the other side you have the police of Miranda state which acts together with the Greater Caracas police, or Metropolitana. This Metropolitana by the way is the one that has been disarmed from its riot control weapons a few months ago by the Army. The courts have ordered the return of these weapons but the government is in contempt of the courts for the last 3 months! The result is that insecurity experienced a considerable increase in Caracas, in particular the poorer areas where only the Metropolitana dared to go. They cannot anymore as thugs overpower the Metropolitana. Even foreign embassies which were guarded by the Metropolitana have complained that the soldiers put in front to substitute are inadequate and make them more vulnerable since they have no experience on crime or riot control.

THE PRE-EVENT HAPPENINGS

Copei chose a side street, actually not too close from the center of Petare, Lebrun street that could contain perhaps up to 4-5 thousand people. Nothing really big was planned, just a show of sorts. While it was setting up the meeting, chavistas gathered in a famous traffic circle in Petare, lined with many informal open-air shops. The distance was approximately 4 blocks. The Metropolitana, with the Miranda police helping, created a line to separate both sides. Since it was a working day Copei called for a 2 PM rally. Between the two sides stand the Perez de Leon hospital which one would think would keep both sides quiet.

Of course a little bit before 2 PM the chavistas tried to break through the police cordon but that one resisted quite well. The chavista gathering had not received any permission by the way, so they were there illegally to begin with, blocking traffic around one of the main Caracas circles.

THE EVENTS

Around 2PM something incredible happened. A convoy of National Guards appeared, uncalled for. The convoy drove straight toward the chavista crowd. Initially one would have thought that it was sent to strengthen the line between the parts, but on live TV one could see clearly the chavistas receiving them as victors, fist in the air, a salute returned in kind by the soldiers! Unbelievable…

Of course the passage of the convoy punctured the security line and the emboldened chavistas, with the National Guard on their back, went on the offensive. What followed was mayhem as the Metropolitana and allies could not resist at first since they were trying to regroup and seal the line again. Tear gas bombs were thrown from BOTH sides. Yep, alleged chavistas civilians had as many tear gas bombs as the police.

Eventually the police prevailed and the chavistas were pushed back. In fury they turned to a police station of the Metropolitana and destroyed it with hammers and all. TV filmed every minute of it, live. The hospital had to evacuate its patients while it was receiving the injured from the brawl.

The Copei Petarazo, as the event was called, kept going and managed to fill up with its colors the street in spite of everything. This makes one wonder what would the determination of all these green flags carriers have caused had chavistas managed to reach the site. It did end up early of course as tear gas drifted and the organizers did not want to take unnecessary risks. But the main speakers did get their turn on the podium and for all practical purposes the event was a success as it met its expectations.

THE POST SHOW EVENTS

It started by an undone vice-president who in an act of psychotic dissociation declared that the police aggression “shall not go unpunished”! While we all saw who attacked!!!! He accused the Metropolitana to use undue weaponry, while he knows very well that all has been taken away long ago. But the vice, Jose Vicente Rangel is not to be stopped by facts or by lies. He made a career of that. Probably no one had told him at that time that the only serious injuries were within the Metropolitana corps, with even one of the higher sheriff ending up in the hospital with a bullet wound.

Later, in the Petare village, an historical small area chock full of simple colonial style abodes with plenty of wood, the Petare head quarters of Copei, in a landmark small house was sacked by the mob. Under the eyes of the Petare police that amiably chatted with the looters, as the political police, DISIP, did when it came to see how things were going on. All captured by a video amateur since the press was not allowed. Nor was allowed the fire department who was greeted by stones! Even as they pleaded with chavistas to let them in as the whole block could go up in flames!!!! The Metropolitana would have liked to get into the small streets but was kept in check by that chavista mob. Another video captured a guy attaching an rudimentary explosive device to a small domestic gas reservoir and sent it rolling down the street toward the Metropolitana barricade. Fortunately the street lousy pavement deflected the rolling bomb and the explosive broke loose and went elsewhere to explode leaving the gas tank safe.

Today, Sunday 15, the mayor of Petare has not come forward to make any declarations in spite of the press and media hounding him across town. Of course, he cannot explain why his police stayed quiet during some of the events, although it seems to have collaborated with the Metropolitana on some instances. But the video amateur is damming in regard to its overall complicity with the mob.

Chavez, not wanting to stay behind, in his weekly address, this time from Manaos, Brazil, went all the way out accusing the Metropolitan Mayor and the Governor of Miranda to hold full responsibility. He displayed quite a stressed aggressivity. He even threatened to “intervene” again the Metropolitana (to take what, one wonders), and went as far as arguing that the Miranda Governor had “armored” vehicles whose whereabouts he knew and that he was not going to take action. I am sure the Brazilian audience went home wondering how Chavez with all the might of the Army behind him could be threatened by a local official, or how such an official could grab armored vehicles and hide them effectively. Not to mention that if Chavez considered that the Copei meeting was by its low participation, how come he was spending so much time discussing it. But this is not the first time Chavez makes ridiculous accusations that are never verified and quickly forgotten. All talk, all show.

But the best of all was that Saturday, the lingering mob, that probably stayed all night drinking courtesy of the authorities, attacked the hospital to get the police officer that was interned. Fortunately, this one had been transferred as soon as possible to a safer location, otherwise he might have been lynched, as well as the doctors that might have dared to protect him.

CONCLUSION

I am sure that the reader that has followed me until here will have a quite clear idea of what is going on. The chavista mob acted like a tropical version of the S.A. Even the press pointed many a guy in the crowd as one of the regulars that haunt all of these types of events across all of Caracas, such as the ineffable Lina Ron, a star on her own. Nothing “spontaneous” there from “outraged” neighbors supporting Chavez against discredited Copei politicos. It all seems very organized, very paid for. Including the “casual” meeting just an hour before the events where a couple of chavista representatives (one the former head of the National Assembly) were seen leaving a meeting house in Petare. From that house also exited some of the guys that were caught on camera directing the attack on the Metropolitana.

Thuggery exposed for all to see.

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