Opposition Reports Shooting of Candidate at Political Event, Warring Unions Blamed (UPDATED)

Luis Manuel Diaz, a National Assembly candidate for the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), was shot dead in suspicious circumstances at a political event in the state of Guarico on Wednesday night. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas

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Democratic Action leader, Ramos Allup, stated that Diaz was shot from close range (El Nacional)
Democratic Action leader, Ramos Allup, stated that Diaz was shot from close range (El Nacional)
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Caracas, November 26th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) Members of Venezuela’s political opposition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), are reporting the murder of one of their National Assembly candidates, Luis Manuel Diaz, at a political event in Guarico on Wednesday night. 

The trade unionist and regional opposition leader of the Democratic Action (AD) party appears to have been shot dead at around 7.30pm while opposition activists were disassembling their podium following an electoral activity. 

He was accompanied by other opposition leaders, including the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, Lilian Tintori, who spoke at the event. No one else was injured in the attack. 

“The national leader of the PSUV for Guarico is Erika Farias, governor of Cojedes State. We are waiting for a response to the murder of Luis Manuel Diaz,” tweeted Ramos Allup, Secretary General of AD and MUD leader in the aftermath. 

The circumstances surrounding the shooting still remain unclear. While Allup initially informed the public that Diaz had died after several shots were fired at the crowd from a vehicle, he then Tweeted to provide alternative details.

“Rectifying information in the criminal case of Luis Manuel Diaz: shots were from assassin near the stage at close range, not from a vehicle,” stated the Tweet.  

The international media have widely reproduced Allup’s first description of the events as well as his allegation that “criminal gangs from the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela]" committed the act. The Justice First and the Popular Will parties have also released similar statements.

So far, opposition spokespeople have failed to present evidence to back up their allegations. 

Nonetheless, international observers familiar with Chavista political groups have cast doubt on the opposition’s official narrative.  

"This is not the modus operandi of any Chavista organisation and has not been so at any point since 1998 or before. The only ones to have carried out political assassinations have been opposition groups,” said Jorge Martin from the UK “Hands off Venezuela” campaign. 

“It would be the height of stupidity by any Bolivarian group to carry out such an attack and even more so at this particular time, a week from an election,” he added, referring to the National Assembly elections due to take place on December 6th. 

The US Department of State released an official communique condemning the murder as an attempt to “intimidate the opposition” this Thursday. 

Paramilitary Activity and Trade Unions 

Guarico was the setting for another murder last week when lawyer and construction trade unionist Ricardo Antonio Laya was assassinated by motorcyclists when leaving his house on November 19th. 

Venezuelan news site Aporrea reports that Laya was acting as lawyer for more than 300 campesinos, who were forcibly removed from their land by authorities earlier in November. 

There is little information available on the reported eviction, but the zone is fraught with different criminal groups. In particular, a paramilitary group known as “Los Picures” is known to be active in the area.  

The criminal group is one of the most powerful in the country and is involved in lucrative activities such as charging “protection” fees, kidnappings and hired killings. It is also know to have infiltrated construction and other private companies in the area, as well as their corresponding trade unions.  

Both Diaz and Laya were known to be members of oil and construction trade unions in the area. There is no evidence yet of links between the two murders. 

“What I can tell you is that the trade unions in Guarico are intimately linked to the paramilitary group, Los Picures,” a source from within the campesino movement told Venezuelanalysis, who wished to remain anonymous. 

Rival Unions

Venezuela's chief ombudsman, Tareck William Saab, also appeared to reject the opposition claims on Thursday that Diaz's murder was the work of PSUV activists, instead linking it to inter-union fighting. On his Twitter account, Saab stated that the killer had already been identified by police and that he is linked to a rival trade union. 

“Amongst the motives that seem most plausible for clarifying the murder of Luis Diaz, are the struggles between construction unions,” tweeted Saab. 

Nonetheless, the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE) moved to denounce the murder on Thursday, and stated that political violence could not be tolerated. 

The principal rector of the CNE, Luis Emilio Rondón, confirmed that the body would send over 300 electoral advisers onto the nation’s streets in a bid to make sure that campaigning for December’s elections passes off without incident. He also revealed that the body had opened up cases for irregularities against both the MUD and PSUV.

Maduro Responds

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waded in to the furore on Thursday night, chastising the US and regional bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS) for having hastily jumped to conclusions in the wake of Diaz’s murder. 

“The OAS and (Luis) Almagro are already attacking Venezuela only 12 hours after the investigation began,” said the head of state, referring to an official OAS communique calling for the disarmament of pro-government “armed civil groups” in the wake of the shooting. 

 In other official reactions, leader of the PSUV and mayor of the Libertador District of Caracas, Jorge Rodriguez, confirmed that the party would attempt to sue Allup for defamation in response to his comments labelling PSUV members as the killers. He also accused Diaz of having had links to a mafioso group. 

“Luis Manuel Diaz was unfortunately well know for his long record of criminal activity in the state of Guarico. He was the last member of a criminal gang called the Plateados (the silver plated), which was involved in extortion, contract killings and kidnappings,” he stated. 

 Maduro has confirmed that a thorough investigation into the murder has been opened up. 

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