The Other Side of the Story: Exposing Extreme Right Wing Violence in 2017

Much international corporate media coverage of Venezuela last year focused on violence in the country, but failed to tell the whole story, writes Callum Stevens (28/2/18)


Supporters of Trump’s ‘regime change’ agenda have characteristically ignored the scale of violence from extreme elements of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela with the aim of destabilising, and ultimately overthrowing, the elected President.

From April 2017 until August 2017 violent protests led by extreme elements of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela led to at least 124 deaths and over 1,200 injured.

Both pro-government supporters and anti-government protestors were amongst the killed or injured, as well as bystanders and other people caught up in the violence. A number of police officers and members of the army have also been killed or injured.

Every loss of life is a tragedy and those responsible for each death must be held to account. Indeed, Venezuela’s government has reiterated that incidents of police brutality will not be tolerated, and that officers who use excessive force will be punished. Cases are being pursued where members of the security forces have been suspected or positively identified as perpetrators of unlawful killings, and arrests and indictments have already taken place.

Unfortunately, hardly any of the cases of right-wing opposition violence outlined in detail below have been mentioned in much UK (and US) media coverage, where often the impression is given that violence in Venezuela only originates from one side of the country’s deeply polarised political divide.

Dialogue is the best way forward for Venezuela. But media impressions that the violence is one-way from the government side can be taken as a green light by extreme sections of Venezuela’s right-wing to feel they can use violence without international condemnation. Shockingly, some media have even glorified the wanton extreme right wing violence.

Why the campaign of violence against the elected President?

The 2017 campaign of violence by elements of the right-wing opposition was explicitly aimed at bringing down the democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro by violent, unconstitutional means, ahead of the Presidential election now scheduled for April 2018.

This is the latest effort in a consistent line of undemocratic attempts at ‘regime change’ by toppling elected governments. In 2002 an attempt was made by a combination of industrialists and businessmen, media owners, conservative military officers and others to unseat President Hugo Chávez. The coup, which was

supported by the US, was unsuccessful, thanks to popular support for the government.

Since then extreme elements of the right-wing opposition have persisted with similar efforts to bring down the elected government, including a management lock-out of the oil industry the following year, and multiple incidents of street violence and attacks on government institutions and public services.

Before the 2017 wave of violence, the most recent effort by elements of the right-wing opposition to bring about a change of government by violent means was the “La Salida” (‘the ousting’) campaign in 2014, which left over 40 people dead. A year before, despite the high hopes of business leaders and wealthy Venezuelans opposed to Chávez’s redistributive social programmes, the opposition leader Henrique Capriles had failed to defeat Nicolas Maduro in the presidential election.


How violent were the 2017 protests?

Contrary to how much of the mainstream media chose to report right-wing opposition activity in Venezuela last year, it was not a campaign of peaceful protest marches. A range of illegal and deadly tactics were used in the campaign which if they were deployed in the U.S, for example, would carry penalties under U.S law ranging from 5 to 20 years in prison.


Street barricades

Elements of the right-wing opposition coalition in 2017 returned to their use of ‘guarimbas’ or street blockades erected by masked protesters, seen in the 2014 ‘La Salida’ campaign, with co-ordinated action to blockade over fifty main roads across the country. The construction of barricades led to a number of deaths, for example:

· Angel Enrique Moreira Gonzalez, a 28-year-old Olympic swimmer, died when his motorcycle collided with a car going the wrong way on the highway, due to a barricade near the Santa Fe exit

· Ana Victoria Colmenarez de Hernandez (43) died in the state of Carabobo when the bus she was travelling in crashed trying to dodge a street barricade

· Carlos Enrique Hernandez (30) was driving a motorcycle with a companion and collided with a street barricade set up by opposition protesters

· Efrain Sierra (27) was shot in the stomach on April 24 as he resisted the theft of his motorcycle while passing through an opposition barricade, and subsequently died

· Carlos Enrique Hernandez (30) was driving a motorcycle with a companion and collided with a street barricade set up by opposition protesters.

· Manuel Angel Villalobos Urdaneta (22) died when according to witnesses his car crashed into a tree trunk after attempting to avoid an opposition street blockade. in Maracaibo, Zulia state

· Nelson Antonio Moncada Gomez, the 37-year-old judge who oversaw opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez’s criminal trial was shot while passing by a street barricade organised by opposition protesters in Caracas.


Assassinations of pro-government figures

Among the deaths reported during this period, a number of pro-government supporters and activists appear to have been targeted by extreme opposition forces:

· Jose Luis Rivas Aranguren, an active member of transport workers’ movement and a candidate for the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly was shot eight times in Girardot, a municipality of the state of Aragua.

· José Félix Pineda, a 39-year-old candidate for the National Constituent Assembly, was killed when two men broke into the family home in Bolivar state, the night before the election.

· Jackeline Ortega: murdered in the greater Caracas area in Santa Lucia del Tuy. Ortega was also a member of the PSUV (the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela) as well as a leader in the Local Committee on Supply and Production, known as CLAP, a government-created alternative food distribution program.

· Juan Bautista Lopez Manjarrez: a 33-year-old student organiser and PSUV member was shot at the Territorial Polytechnic University in Anzoátegui by an unknown subject who fled on a motorbike. Lopez was killed a day after publicly backing President Maduro’s call for a national constituent assembly during a press conference.

· Pedro Josue Carrillo: (20) a leader of the PSUV in his home state as well as the Socialista Guerrera Ana Soto commune that forms part of the Bolivar and Chavez Mission, he was found dead with gunshot wounds in Lara state after being kidnapped several days before.

Attacks (including arson) against public services

The violent campaign also involved targeted acts of vandalism and attacks on infrastructure and public institutions. For example:

· an arson attack on a building belonging to the state electric company in Carabobo, by armed demonstrators who reportedly shot at firefighters attempting to extinguish the flames

· an attack against a state-owned Bicentenario bank in Zulia state

· an arson attack on the Ruiz y Paez hospital in Bolivar that saw its storage facilities destroyed

· attacks against Venezuela’s electricity facilities (eight were made in the month of May)

· a wave of attacks targeting the state food distribution network – for example, on June 30 a food storage depot in Anzoátegui state (supplying free school meals for children), was set on fire, destroying 50 tons of food

· crèches have been attacked with children inside

· the besieging of the Carrizal Maternity Hospital for two consecutive days, during which time barricades of burning rubbish were set up by protesters just 50 metres from the building, endangering the health of patients on the fourth floor, and requiring mothers and newborn babies to be evacuated.

Such attacks were taken to a new level of criminal violence on Tuesday 27 June when a policeman, associated with the extreme right, piloted a stolen helicopter to fire shots and drop grenades in an attack on the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court in Caracas (read more here). The pilot has been identified as Oscar Alberto Perez, an inspector with Venezuela’s largest national police agency, responsible for criminal investigations and forensic services.

In the first attack, he shot 15 times at the Interior Ministry building, where 80 people were still at work and a reception was being held on the rooftop terrace for a group of journalists celebrating the National Day of Journalists. He then flew the helicopter, stolen from a nearby airbase, to the Supreme Court headquarters, where judges and office staff were at work. In this second attack further shots were fired and at least four grenades thrown. Fortunately there were no casualties.

The attacks were clearly opposition-motivated. The helicopter carried a banner bearing the words ‘350 Libertad’ in reference to article 350 of the Bolivarian Constitution, which opposition forces had attempted to invoke to stop the election of the National Constituent Assembly to review the Venezuelan Constitution, called by the government based on Articles 347, 348 and 349 of the constitution.

In addition, a series of videos were posted at the same time as the attacks to Perez’s Instagram showing him reading a statement, surrounded by several men in military uniform, masked and carrying machine guns, in which he claimed to represent a group of military and other officials committed to toppling the government.



A number of deaths occurred as a result of or alongside both pro-and anti-government demonstrations in this period, for example:

· Hector Anuel: a resident of Anzoátegui state, he was reportedly burned alive by a group of opposition protesters who hit him with a home-made mortar, commonly used by opposition protesters.

· Orlando Figuera (21) died in hospital from six knife wounds as well as first and second-degree burns to 54% of his body, from being set on fire by masked protesters who accused him of being a government supporter as he was passing through the opposition stronghold of Chacao.

· Brayan Principal (14) a resident of the Ali Primera Socialist City, he was shot by opposition protesters after they broke through the main gate of the commune.

· Daniel Queliz (19): a college student from Carabobo, he was shot by police while participating in an opposition protest.

· Miguel Castillo (27) died during an opposition demonstration in the Las Mercedes neighbourhood of Caracas.

· Miguel ‘Mike’ Joseph Medina Romero (20) died after being shot in the abdomen on May 3 during an opposition protest in Zulia state.

Members of the National Guard and police forces have also been attacked and killed or injured, for example:

· Gerardo Barrera: the 38-year-old police officer was shot during an opposition demonstration in La Pradera, Carabobo state, around 100 miles west of Caracas.

· Douglas Acevedo Sanchez: the 42-year-old police officer was shot in the neck during a violent opposition protest in Merida.

· National Guard soldiers were targeted when an explosive device was detonated on July 10 in the wealthy eastern district of Altamira, where unrest has been concentrated. Seven national guard soldiers were injured in the explosion, five of them suffering third degree burns.


What has been the government response where security forces are implicated in mistreatment or deaths of protestors?

Even though it is a common tactic by some protestors to use home-made weapons such as hand-held mortars and Molotov cocktails against security forces, the Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has reiterated that incidents of police brutality will not be tolerated, and that officers who use excessive force will be punished.

Cases are being pursued where members of the security forces (police or National Guard) have been suspected or positively identified as perpetrators of unlawful killings, and arrests and indictments have already taken place. William Tarek Saab, Venezuela’s General Attorney, reported [see p.69] in July that 46 officers had been arrested or arrest orders had been issued against them.


Who took part in the violent campaign and where?

Contrary to what the Venezuelan Right-wing – echoed by much of the Western corporate media – would lead one to believe, this kind right-wing opposition street activity tends to be concentrated in specific areas of Venezuela.

This is illustrated by the fact that violent opposition and attendant deaths and casualties from the period of April-August 2017 were concentrated in a small number of Venezuela’s 25 states or governmental areas or states. Just five of these states accounted for nearly four-fifths of the reported deaths.

As was the case during the ‘La Salida’ campaign in 2014, the right-wing opposition orchestrating the protests draw their support from the wealthier strata of Venezuelan society, including privately-educated students. While poorer and working class Venezuelans are affected daily by the violence, the barrios where they live are not where it is taking place.

An alarming development, captured in video testimony, is the right-wing’s paying and bribing children to help commit violent acts and confrontations, in contravention of United Nations conventions. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organisation of American States, has urged political figures in Venezuela not to use children during protests after several social organisations have denounced the right-wing opposition for using minors in its violent protests.


Where else is the opposition drawing support from?

The United States government through its legislation, executive actions (such as sanctions) and foreign policy pronouncements has a major influence in framing a discourse that favours the right-wing opposition and seeks to undermine and discredit the democratically-elected Venezuelan government.

There is a history to such U.S. activities stretching back at least to 2002. In 2016 alone, for example, more than $1.6m was channelled to opposition groups for dozens of projects thinly disguised as efforts to promote political awareness or participation. For example, $35,583 was provided for a project “to promote citizen engagement in the development of innovative alternatives to address Venezuela’s democratic challenges” and $50,000 for training youth groups in “critical thinking, democratic principles, human rights, cyber-activism, and leadership skills.”

Under President Trump the May 2017 Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act not only seeks to pump US$10 million to Venezuela as part of a “humanitarian assistance” package but also looks to provide funding for efforts to undermine the Maduro government. In August, Trump even refused to rule out military action against Venezuela – a move that was condemned by governments from across the political spectrum in Latin America.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently suggested that Venezuelan President Maduro might be removed by a military coup. Tillerson’s remarks were made before he embarked on a tour to garner further support for the US’s strategy, taking in Argentina, Peru and Colombia and ending in Jamaica

The US has also imposed multiple rounds of sanctions in 2017, against President Maduro and other government officials while also restricting Venezuela’s financial dealings with US institutions.

With Trump’s latest sanctions order we are now seeing a blockade of Venezuela’s relations with US companies to restrict its ability to make external debt payments and refinance that debt.

As those familiar with the US blockade of Cuba will recognise, policing of these sanctions by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control also draws in many international banking institutions.

This has led to them effectively boycotting a number of essential transactions with Venezuela. These include blocks on payments for food and other essential goods such as medicines. Sanctions are therefore already impacting on the Venezuelan people.

These sanctions are about forcing ‘regime change’ in Venezuela and will not help facilitate dialogue, but only exacerbate the country’s divisions and difficulties. By seeking to stave the economy of foreign exchange, they will hit the private sector and ordinary Venezuelans, including the poorest in society.

The sanctions are overwhelmingly rejected by Venezuelans of all persuasions, with polling showing the majority of both pro and anti-government Venezuelans are against them.


What has the Venezuelan government’s response been to the violence?

It is clear that Venezuela’s current difficulties are best resolved by dialogue as a way to peacefully address the problems the nation faces, where all forces renounce violence as a way to achieve political ends. President Maduro has repeatedly emphasised his wish to engage with the opposition in constructive dialogue.

The means for a regional dialogue under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) exist, with the participation of the former Presidents of numerous countries. The Venezuelan government and much of civil society have indicated a willingness to take part in such talks.

After the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) prevailed in the state elections in October, the opposition finally agreed to negotiate, but the talks have had a chequered history of breaking down and then being resurrected.

Dialogue appears to have broken down again in early February, despite Primero Justicia leader and representative for the opposition in negotiations, Julio Borges, confirming in late January that advances had been made, with some mutual points of agreement.

The President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, whose government has been playing a key role in the dialogue, reported that “the agreement could not be reached, but the Dominican Republic is still available for when the two parties want to meet again.” Polls show that the majority of Venezuelans favour dialogue as a means to resolve the ongoing political crisis. Governments internationally, including Britain and the EU, should do all they can to facilitate and support the dialogue process. Trump’s sanctions will not help the Venezuelan people, or to facilitate dialogue, but can only exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions.


This article was originally published by the Dawn-News at:

Photo credit: teleSUR