Mérida, November 15th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Officers from Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Police (PNB) arrested 33 demonstrators who impeded a Caracas subway train from leaving the Propatria station for three hours on Friday morning.
Video footage that was broadcast on the state television station showed a group of people dressed in unmarked civilian clothing using their bodies to block the doorways of the train and shoving the Caracas Metro workers who approached them. The footage showed that when the police arrived, several of the demonstrators violently resisted arrest by flailing their arms and legs and shoving the police officers who handcuffed and escorted them out of the station.
During the incident, flyers bearing the logo of the opposition group Voluntad Popular (“Popular Will”) were distributed in the Metro. The flyers criticized the administration of the state-owned subway system and accused it of corruption. Following the incident, a spokesperson for the group denied involvement in the protest.
On Saturday, the arrested demonstrators were charged with disrupting of the public transportation system and resisting arrest. One demonstrator was treated for minor injuries. The detainees made official statements and were released from custody with an order to appear in court in 30 days.
The Transportation Ministry released a statement affirming that, “No protest regarding the services offered by the subway system merits the infringement of the right to free circulation of more than 1.5 million commuters who use the Caracas metro everyday.”
The Venezuelan Penal Code stipulates a maximum sentence of three years and 18 months in prison for “any act that causes alarm in such a way as to put in danger the security of the Metropolitan System of Transportation or people.”
National Police Commissioner Luis Fernández said the demonstrators’ “hostile conduct” was “completely distinct from what can be considered a normal customer complaint.” He said a special contingent of police officers had been deployed to secure the subway system against further attempts at disruption.
Vice Minister for Police Edgar Barrientos said the police’s conduct was “correct” and that “no infringement or violation of human rights occurred.” He said this was a result of the officers’ training in a new National Experimental University for Security that the government created last year.
The code of conduct for the Bolivarian National Police was created based on a 2006 nation-wide community survey aimed at identifying and overcoming the historic culture of abuse and corruption in the country’s local and state police forces.
On Sunday, President Hugo Chavez admitted that there have been mistakes in the management of the subway system, but he criticized the protestors, calling them “saboteurs” who are “attempting to bring chaos to the Caracas metro.”
“Yes, it has faults and we admit it, and that’s why we are working to solve it,” said Chavez during his Sunday presidential talk show. “We have spent a lot of money to expand the Metro, but we have neglected the old line,” he said.
Caracas’s subway was originally designed to serve approximately 600,000 users, but recent government estimates show it is currently serving as many as two million passengers daily. Over the past five years, the government has invested tens of billions of dollars on extensions of the subway lines, a new tunnel, and improvements to subway infrastructure.
In recent years, the Socialist Metro Workers Front and other sectors of the Caracas Metro worker union have denounced administrative irregularities and violations of workers’ rights by what they call a “mafia” of state bureaucrats and corrupt union managers. On Sunday, the Socialist Metro Workers Front declared themselves on “red alert” in support of President Chavez’s call to prevent further sabotage of the subway system.
Chavez has repeatedly denounced corruption within his administration as one of the primary impediments to the success of his government’s project of “21st Century Socialism,” and he recently called on his United Socialist Party of Venezuela to begin a new effort to rectify errors. In October, the president named a trusted ally and former planning minister, Haiman El-Troudi, to take charge of the Metro system.
On Monday, El-Troudi announced that 1,150 extra subway workers will be deployed in 20 stations along the main line through Caracas between six o’clock in the morning and eight o’clock at night during Christmas and New Year holidays in order to orient Metro users, avoid congestion, speed up ticket sales and lines, collect suggestions and complaints, and perform maintenance and cleaning tasks.
“We are combining the will, determination, and spirit of the Metro workers in search of solutions in order to improve the service,” said El-Troudi. “With an attitude of self-criticism we have examined the situation of the Caracas Metro and methodically begun the phase of rectification.”
Metro Caracas also announced last week that it would put into operation a fleet of new trains next month to augment the subway system’s passenger transport capacity by 30%.