The following are testimonies told to Venezuelanalysis.com by people in Merida city. While on the one hand the situation in Merida isn't reflected around the whole country: such violence and barricades are mostly concentrated in the east of Caracas, Tachira, Maracaibo, Carabobo, and Barquismeto, readers should also know that these are just a few stories of many thousands like them. Some people told us they had videos of violence, but they were afraid to pass them on, as they had filmed from their apartments and the camera angle would reveal who they were, and there could be repercussions. For similar reasons, some people have preferred to remain anonymous.
Luis Alberto (Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com)
Luis Alberto, Central Merida, 27 February, “I’ve been working since 1 am and my legs hurt. This [opposition] mayor [Carlos Garcia] doesn’t do anything, he’s useless. He doesn’t collect the rubbish, as he should. I work for Cormetur [Merida tourism institute], basically the military goes ahead of us and removes the barricades, then we come behind and collect all the rubbish.”
Mario Yanes, Don Luis Urbanisation, Ejido, Merida, 27 February, “Where I live there are 545 houses and just 30 of those are with the [revolutionary] process. I live in an opposition area, it’s closed off in a kind of self-kidnapping. I go out when I want though; I just knock the barricade over. I don’t know why they shut themselves inside the community like that. There hasn’t been any aggressions”
Science teacher, Central Merida, 27 February, “They’ve set up a fence made out of laminated zinc and to get out you have to show ID. In other places they are demanding a payment. There’s a shop that sells cheese and bread near the exit [of the community to the main road] and they have a census and know who is with the opposition and will only sell to them”.
Barricade in Los Curos (Juan Rondon)
Juan Rondon, Los Curos, Merida, 25 February, In Merida what we’ve been seeing are people (some of them students), who close up the entrances to residential areas, obliging thousands of people, the elderly, children, and adults to stay locked up under the fear of being labelled Chavistas or infiltrators of the so called castro-communist regime. It’s really sad to talk with some of the people whose only justification for accepting the barricade on their homes is “well they reduced the CADIVI amount” or “don’t you have to queue up?” “doesn’t the crime affect you?”. It reminds me of around five years ago, a student who justified her hatred for Chavez because he didn’t let her see her favourite soapie because of the long national broadcasts.
Yesterday when I got to Merida after a few days break from the craziness, when I tried to enter the sector where I was born and grew up and was educated, I found some 20 people burning rubbish, tires, and sticking up barbed wire from post to post. What really got to me was that we’re talking about Los Curos, where the majority- both Chavistas and opposition, depend on motorbikes to get around, as public transport is really bad. It also got to me that those who were setting up the bonfires weren’t students, you could tell by their accent (they wore balaclavas). They used the typical language of criminals, of the criminal gangs. Apart from blocking the road they also took over the water tank which supplies the community, and from there they yelled out insults and threats to women who dared to walk past in order to get home. They yelled out things like “Pick up that chick, take her [home] she looks hot!!” They were charging a toll to pass, and trading fuel for the right to pass. They damaged the valves of the water tank, leaving a community of 20,000 people without drinking water for 16 hours”.
Anonymous, Central Merida, 1 March, “We were patrolling the neighbourhoods last night, to protect people. We saw people pretend to be Chavistas- they wore red – on motorbikes try to rob a food truck. Luckily we were able to stop them and save the truck. But no one will report that. If they report anything, it’s that Chavistas are robbing and attacking. We thought about going to the media, but we remembered that all the local newspapers here are private, they wouldn’t cover it”.
Anonymous, Central Merida, 1 March, “Look at the queues, do you see how many people are lined up outside the supermarket? We’re at an important point now, where there are opposition supporters who are so fed up, fed up with no food, no access to services, no transport, unable to leave the city or get to work, who are in the contradictory position of calling the government to intervene whilst not supporting it. The government needs to act now, otherwise those people will join the barricades. I was talking to health service workers and its a very serious situation, there are people who need dialysis who can’t get into the centre, and they need it twice a week and maybe they make it in once a week. They could die.”
Tamara Pearson, Central Merida, 1 March, “There are many things to talk about, but one thing is the fear and the irrationality. If there are cacerolas and you don’t join in, they call you a Chavista and yell abuse at you, perhaps worse. Sometimes people who cross barricades because they need to go somewhere are also accused of being Chavistas. Definitely, if we wear a red t-shirt... so the last few marches and meetings of revolutionary collectives that I’ve been to – very few people were wearing red. It was brave enough for so many people to get into the centre despite no transport and the barricades. But this constant fear- it’s been three weeks now- combined with insecurity in services, obtaining food, shops closed, and all the rumours and lies in the social media and private media- it can cause a lot of anxiety and even health problems. One of my comrades lost her voice for three days, she’s such a good person, she doesn’t – we don’t – deserve this”.
Elias Sanchez at a march in February (Tamara Pearson/Venezuelanalysis.com)
Elias Sanchez, Belen, Merida, 1 March, “Last week we mobilised in the early morning to clean up Merida. It was interesting, there was a bit of fear and tension because the opposition is armed and have been bothering neighbours and charging people to get past. We went there without arms of course, but people who are organised have a lot of power and they didn’t touch us, they just insulted us and played cacerolas. There were many inhabitants of the area watching us, and even though we were cleaning up their neighbourhood they insulted us. And before we got there the opposition removed the big sections of their barricades so that we couldn’t take them and they could put them back later. We cleaned from 5am til 1pm, about 300 of us, all different ages. We filled up 20 trucks. Some people worked for Cormetur, but most of us weren’t paid, we were just there because it hurts us to see our city like this. We also played music, I played the cuatro, we sang Ali Primera, in order to show that we’re peaceful people, we don’t want to respond with violence. But for them, they’re at war and we’re the enemy and have to be eliminated.
In Belen where I live, there are been various points of organised disturbances, blocking of roads with rubbish, playing cacerolas. They burn the rubbish and it affects the environment and our neighbour’s health. We’ve tried to talk to them, and we’ve asked them that if they are going to burn rubbish, to burn it in front of their own houses, not ours. A few listened, but mostly they don’t. Last week the police came to remove the barricades and put out fires, my mum gave them water from her house, which is also a posada (hostel). So the opposition threw bottles at her and the police. Then on 26 February my brother was out walking the dog and they through a (glass) bottle at him. They started concentrating all the rubbish out the front of my mum’s house, they don’t care that it affects her business. We tried to talk to them and ask them to move, but they were rude. We decided to remove the rubbish and they insulted us and while we were cleaning they through more (glass) bottles at us. And then there was one person we didn’t know who was cleaning with us and turned out to be like an infiltrator, was one of them. He attacked my brother and when he did that all of them saw it and came out in one group, they were perhaps ten of them against the four of us, and they beat up myself, my brother, my mum and my dad. My brother got seven stitches to his mouth- we took him to the CDI (Barrio Adentro Diagnostic Centre) afterwards. They beat my head and neck, had me down on the ground, and I kept falling because of all the petrol on the ground that was there, and there was broken glass from the rubbish, I cut my hand. Then other neighbours started yelling and that stopped the fight and after that there was a tense calm.
Now we’re (PSUV youth) planning activities for next week, to mark the anniversary of Chavez’s death. We’ll put on music, videos, and there’ll be a march with carnations.”
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, Santa Anita, Merida, 2 March, “On the morning of the battle, a seven foot tall barricade was erected on the main road outside Barrio Santa Anita. The barrier of garbage and old furniture blocked both the main road that runs past the neighbourhood and the sole entrance to Santa Anita. A single police officer stopped his motor bike in front of the barricade as it was still going up, coming to a halt just short of a wire strung across the road at a motorcyclist's neck height. Dismounting and resting his riot shotgun on his shoulder, the officer surveyed the scene. A handful of Molotov cocktails and a few sacks of fist-sized stones were lined up behind the barricade. Around the corner, a pair of young men were siphoning fuel out of vehicles left on the street for more Molotov’s. The politically divided barrio was tense. There hasn't been a gas delivery for weeks, due to barricades elsewhere in the city blocking transport. Without gas, stoves stayed cold, and Merida's undrinkable municipal water went unboiled.
At midday, an armoured vehicle came crashing into the barricade, and the battle began. As the vehicle crawled up the Santa Anita's steep main street, it was showered in Molotovs, rocks and chunks of concrete. National Guard (GNB) troops started pouring out of the vehicle to hunt down the attackers; but as they piled out of the vehicle, their boots splashed in petrol. The road was slick with it. A masked figure hurled a burning tree branch, sparking an inferno.
With that, the opposition fled, and the GNB gave chase through the flames. The opposition continued to pepper the troops with shrapnel, but were quickly met in response with rubber buckshot. Within another ten minutes it was over. Of the dozen or so blockaders, two landed in the back of the vehicle, and were taken back to the national guard barracks. I was seen taking photos, and was thrown in the vehicle as well.
When we arrived at the barracks, we were given gargantuan sized lunches. Around us, troops unloaded crates of confiscated improvised weapons from the vehicle: caltrops made from hose and nails, improvised bazookas, knives, molotovs and more.
One of my co-workers soon arrived to help me out. She had a burned leg from a recent motorbike accident. They whisked her off to an onsite medical clinic. After she had seen a nurse, we were left in a games room. Troops came in and out to play pool. We were left to watch Transformers. Every few minutes someone asked if we'd had lunch yet. Eventually I was asked to provide my witness statement. I was asked to recount what I'd seen, then they asked if I could load a few of my photos onto their computer. “Just save them to the desktop,” the soldier said before wandering out of the room to grab a coffee.
The four of us then got back into the armoured vehicle, and were driven back to the barrio. Outside the murder holes I caught shapshots of a city under siege. There were burning barricades everywhere. Armed mobs of supposedly peaceful opposition demonstrators were tending to the infernos like gardeners in an orchard. But they carried weapons, and used bottles of petrol instead of watering cans.
For three days the remnants of the barricade were left sprawled across the road outside Santa Anita. Traffic remained impeded by the skeletal mass of twisted metal and half roasted garbage. The day after the clashes a stray dog moved in. It sifted through the trash, feeding on petrol soaked scraps of rotten meat.
In the tropical heat, the garbage festered quickly. Soon it was alive with maggots and flies. The smell was worse than tear gas. The debilitating stench soon became too much for even the half-starved dog to bear. She disappeared, and the people of Santa Anita were left to stumble through the reeking no-man's-land without her.
On the morning of the fourth day, Santa Anita awoke to find the barricade rebuilt. It was bigger than before. However, the opposition had left it unattended. Seizing the opportunity, a handful of Chavistas emerged from the barrio. Armed with wire cutters, they tore down the barrier. Wadding knee deep in trash, they used pieces of the barricade to scrape the road clean of the filth left by the opposition.
Early the next morning a truck arrived. Members of the local communal council turned out in force to load the ruined barricade into the back. They continued by collecting the garbage, and sweeping the footpath. As they worked, passing opposition supporters hurled abuse at them; but nobody in yellow stopped to help clean the mess.
At the end of the day the street was clean, and the opposition was still nowhere to be seen. It was a small victory.”
Maryori Guevara, Central Merida, 26-27 February, “Since 4am I’ve been looking for somewhere to leave my children. I have a 9 year old and a 1 year old. Since 3am the “repressed students” have destroyed everything in their path in order to set up their “freedom barricades”. They tore down the doors of a supermarket, brought out mattresses, they broke all the windows of the cars parked outside my apartment, collected beer boxes, posts, tree trunks, cables, rocks, rubbish, and set it up along the road. What about the psychological state of the people in our buildings, of the children, and the elderly who they don’t let pass, even the Red Cross people who are out there checking if people need help aren’t allowed to pass.
Our house is covered in a layer of soot and everything tastes of burning tires, even the baby bottles and toothbrushes. Last night the babies cried because they were scared – there are other babies in the building too. One elderly lady tried to drive in to the apartment blocks, and they told her “You can’t go in, bitch, and if you try to we’ll burn you and your car!”. And these are people who supposedly want things to change for better?
Also, it turns out that the house on the corner where the honourable peaceful students stayed last night, there they stored, without permission, the petrol that they are using to burn their tires, and there was so much craziness that they broke the cables, leaving the woman in the house without electricity or phone- the woman lives there with her children and grand children. These so called protestors don’t think about the wellbeing of their neighbours. Soon, there’ll be respiratory illnesses because we’re breathing in so much burnt rubbish. Why don’t they go and dirty their own houses, why do we have to pay? And when the police come to try to end with this disaster, they complain?”
Griseida Briceño, south-west Merida, 26 February, “This morning at around 7:30am I was returning to my home after a 24 hour shift at the hospital. Because of the barricades I have to walk for 3 to 4 hours each way. While I walked towards a barricade in Avenue Las Americas I saw a despicable thing. An elderly man who sells ice-cream from a cart was trying to pass through the barricade wires. Three men came out from I don’t know where, and yelled at him that if he crossed the wire they would burn his cart with him inside. The man had made up his mind that he wanted to pass, and as I drew near I told them to please let him pass, to not be so insensitive, that they can’t understand that this man probably lives in poverty that he needs to work today to feed his family. Another 4 appeared and one told me “Get out of here Chavista asshole, you don’t want us to kill you and after that we rape you”. I didn’t respond, I went on my way while they continued to insult me with various insults.
A little while later I looked back and I saw them pushing and physically assaulting the ice-cream seller. I couldn’t help crying a little with impotence, aware that right now we don’t have access to the law and justice.”