Kidnapping-Murders Cause Protests Throughout Venezuela

The discovery of the bodies of four kidnapping victims, three teenage boys and their driver, unleashed a wave of anger and protests in Venezuela about the persistently high crime rate and insecurity all Venezuelans experience.

Caracas, Venezuela, April 6, 2006—Numerous demonstrations were held on the streets of Caracas and across Venezuela over the past two days in response to the murder of three teenage brothers and their driver, who were kidnapped more than a month ago and whose bodies were found dead in the outskirts of Caracas on Tuesday.


The three Canadian-Venezuelan brothers, aged 17, 13, and 12, were abducted along with their driver on Feb. 23, when their car was stopped by an unidentified man dressed as a Police officer, at a roadside checkpoint on their way to school. 


Officials say the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of $4.5 million, which was later reduced by half.  Smaller vigils and demonstrations had been held across Venezuela to call for their release.


Protests began yesterday morning, and carried on throughout the day, blocking several major arteries in Caracas.  Also, various universities where closed and many classes and official events suspended. Students from a number of universities blocked the east-west highway.  Approximately five different demonstrations were registered yesterday in the nation’s Capital.


A small group of protestors cut off part of Urdaneta Avenue in Caracas yesterday evening.  With black crosses painted on their cheeks, they held various signs and chanted for justice.


“This government has failed!” declared Herlinda Romero, a journalist participating in the demonstration. “We’re not going anywhere until changes are made.”  Choking back tears, Romera lamented the death of Jorge Aguirre, journalist for el Mundo, who was also assassinated yesterday by a drive-by shooter while heading to cover one of the protests near the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).  His last photograph, caught his assassin escaping the scene of the crime on an unmarked motorcycle.  “That could be any one of us,” cried Romera, “and this government is not doing anything to stop the violence.”


At approximately 8pm last night, for a half hour, the banging of pots and pans could be heard in several neighborhoods of Caracas.  The word Luto, “mourning” was written on the windows of countless cars.


The people of Venezuela awoke to various marches, protests, and church services today, which would take place across the country.


Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, the archbishop of Caracas, appealed to the country’s security forces to respect the spontaneous protests materializing across the Nation.


Among various demonstrations this morning, journalists and employees of the Capriles publishing house, which publishes two of Venezuela’s main newspapers, marched to the Attorney General’s office to demand justice for their fallen colleague Aguirre.


At the same time, approximately 500 students from the UCV, the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB) and the Simon Bolivar University marched to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice to call for an end to the violence, and justice for the dead.  Representatives from the Universities met with the Ministry and presented a document on behalf of various schools.   


“We denounce the insecurity,” said Jordy Moncada, a 4th year Law student at the UCAB,

“The state is here to give security to the people and that’s what we are demanding…   Crime in this country has always existed, it is not anything new.  We are not demonstrating against the government, but we are protesting for security.”


Although most of the protests over the past two days have been peaceful and without incident, a number of altercations have been registered on top of the assassination of Aguirre.


Two cars were set on fire this morning at the Catholic University, while an unidentified group of people attempted to rob a nearby bank.  At the time of this report, a group of adolescent students in the east of Caracas, had set fire to a number of trash cans.


Many blame the murders on the Chavez administration, and believe the recent assassinations are indicative of the lack of security and impunity throughout the country.  Others, such as Geraldine Alvarez, President of the UCAB Student Union of Social Communication are looking for justice, and see this issue as a way for people to come together regardless of their political affiliation.


“This is a noble cause, I don’t think there is a more noble or concrete cause than life.  Here there are no colors, there is just one color and that’s the color of Venezuela…. Here there aren’t divisions, I think it’s the first march like this.  Anyone is welcome, and we just want everyone to understand that we want to live in peace.”


Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, which has held relatively steady throughout the Chavez presidency.