“On [my son’s] way home he crashed into a barbed wire that was hanging across the boulevard and he was decapitated...If these people hadn’t called for these violent acts, none of this would have happened. My son would not have lost his life,” recalled Luis Durán, father of Elvis Rafael Durán, a 29 year old worker who died February 21, 2014. Elvis was one of 43 killed in 2014 and one of 57 in total since 2013 murdered by guarimbas, right-wing opposition violent protests.
The guarimbas erupted following President Nicolás Maduro’s election in April 2013 and subsequently in 2014 after the municipal elections resulting in a landslide victory in favor of the Bolivarian Revolution. Guarimbas include violent protests, roadblocks and barricades consisting of barbed wire, burning tires, and other dangerous materials. Protesters with firearms often watch over the guarimbas. Firearms are the cause of death in the majority of guarimba victim cases.
Determined to seek justice and committed to peace across Venezuela, family members of victims formed the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup in honor of their loved ones, killed or injured. The organization recently toured the United States to share their campaign for justice and expose the violence waged against the Venezuelan people which continues to manifest itself today in the right-wing opposition’s attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected government under President Maduro through constitutional and violent means.
Breaking International Media Barriers
“We are here to bolster our solidarity with Latin America and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, people fighting counter-revolutionary and neoliberal agendas,” declared Gloria La Riva, long-time activist and current US presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Committee representatives Desirée Cabrera and Durán spoke at their last speaking engagement on their tour in San Francisco, California to a room full of concerned community members determined to learn more about current events in Venezuela and the organized struggle against the opposition’s efforts impeach President Maduro and pass the Amnesty Law. Venezuelan Consul in San Francisco, Tibisay Lugo was among those in attendance.
“The [corporate] media says they were 43 students who were killed by the National Guard because they were protesting. That’s not the truth. The son of Don Luis was not a student and was not protesting in Chacao [Caracas],” determinedly clarified Cabrera.
Cabrera cited the invisibilization the victims and their families have faced in the international media as their driving force behind the tour in the United States.
Cabrera’s daughter, 19 months at the time, along with 89 other children were evacuated from a daycare center due to a fire caused by guarimba protesters in her government office building in Caracas.
Cabrera and Durán detailed individual cases of violence to honor victims while also addressing new political developments in their quest for peace and justice. The event also screened the documentary: Victims of Political Violence in Venezuela 2013-2014 which features statistics and testimonies that speak to the on the ground reality Venezuelans faced during these two waves of guarimba violence.
In total, 878 people were injured. “It’s incredible to see how the media blocked all this information and how some people say that all this did not take place,” expressed Cabrera.
She continued, “International media said the whole country erupted in violent convulsions. But, [the guarimbas] only took place in 18 municipalities in Venezuela, all under the control of opposition mayors.”
In Cabrera’s case this scenario rings true. Cabrera along with the parents of the 89 other children in the daycare took legal action against mayor Ramon Muchacho of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao and the municipal police for helping the guarimba protesters. As a result, the judge ruled in the parents’ favor ordering local authorities to establish order and guarantee the peace in the municipality.
Support for Truth Commission
The Venezuelan Embassy's Minister Counselor of Information and Political Affairs, Carlos Ron, along with Cabrera and Durán informed the audience of the recently inaugurated Truth and Justice Commission tasked with investigating all cases and crimes associated with the guarimbas. In December, the Committee along with national and international human rights organizations requested that President Nicolás Maduro assemble a Truth Commission before any Amnesty Law could be considered.
“All different people were killed. People who worked with the state or were identified as Chavistas, everyday civilians and also people who were partaking in the violent protests [died] because of the wrongful use of weapons and other accidents,” explained Durán.
“There are three types of criminals responsible for these actions: the material actors who carried out the violence, the intellectual authors, and the people who are covering this up. We’re seeking justice and we want the full force of the law to fall on these criminals,” he continued.
The commission was convened by President Maduro this April and Vice-President Aristobulo Istúriz will preside over the investigative body. UNASUR General-Secretary Ernesto Samper, representatives of different branches of Venezuelan government, members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s (PSUV) parliamentary bloc, international Nobel Peace Prize laureates and former presidents of Spain, Dominican Republic and Panama will participate.
“The most important thing is to take the victims into account and listen to the victims themselves,” Ron reiterated.
Families Reject Amnesty Law
One of committee’s greatest obstacles to guaranteeing justice is the right-wing opposition’s Amnesty Law, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Venezuelan Supreme Court on April 11. The opposition’s majority bloc in National Assembly has incessantly pushed the law which would exonerate all the perpetrators of the guarimbas as well as the 2002 coup d’état against then President Hugo Chávez. Moreover, the law would also eliminate records pointing the finger at all actors responsible for the guarimbas.
Many of the perpetrators have already been convicted of their crimes including Leopoldo López, one of the most visible supporters of the 2014 guarimbas. “There are members of the National Assembly today who were tied to these events, who promoted these events,” said Cabrera.
“We rejected the Amnesty Law as soon as they presented it in the National Assembly because we feel that it violates the rights of the people and the victims especially,” voiced Cabrera. “It didn’t take into account the victims. They didn’t call us. When the law was approved in the second discussion, the National Assembly’s commission published in their report that the committee had participated in the public hearings. That wasn’t the case,” she continued.
Ron criticized the opposition’s law pointing to the fact that, “If you see an Amnesty Law anywhere else in the world, the first thing you see is that they maintain the records in place so that these actions can be remembered and they do not happen again...The truth has to come out and the memory of what happened has to be open and transparent so that these acts do not repeat.”
Cabrera echoed this call for justice, peace and reparations. “When there is justice for the victims, there can be reparations and when there is that we will witness the non repetition of these violent acts. We don’t want this to happen again in Venezuela. We want peace. For there to be peace, justice and truth must prevail,” she expressed.
Last Friday’s event in San Francisco was sponsored by: ANSWER Coalition, Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition, School of the Americas Watch-SF, Task Force on the Americas, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee, Workers World Party as well as Women Organized to Resist and Defend.