Caracas, September 30 2012 (Venezuelanalysis) – At least two men lost their lives at a march for the Venezuelan opposition candidate, Capriles Radonski, on Saturday, after a gunman opened fire in the western state of Barinas. The incident took place a day ahead of the Venezuelan opposition's closing march in the capital Caracas and just a week before the country's presidential elections next Sunday.
Omar Ramón Fernández, 63, and Antonio Valero Ávila, 32, both died in hospital following the incident, which allegedly involved a supporter of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The national coordinator of the opposition coalition MUD, Julio Borges, has also claimed that a third man was killed later on Saturday evening, but has not identified the victim or provided any further details.
The deaths have caused controversy just a week before the elections, with the opposition suggesting that the perpetrator of the shooting fired the shots from the back of a government vehicle and have blamed the deaths on the government. The Chavez administration has refuted both charges.
Whilst accounts of the incident differ, in a conversation with an activist from Barinas, Venezuelanalysis was informed that the shooting happened during a confrontation that broke out when an opposition campaign van tried to enter a Chavista nighbourhood and was denied entry. Shots were apparently fired by a PSUV member when the opposition supporters became aggressive, confirmed another witness to Venezuelanalysis.
The activist, who preferred to remain anonymous, also went on to comment that both victims and the perpetrator of the crime were all union members in Barinas, where some unions are alleged to have mafia connections.
The government has said that it will conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths and has so far arrested the man who allegedly fired the shots, confirmed Minister of Justice and Domestic Affairs, Tareck El-Aissami, via his twitter account.
The minister also commented that although the arrest was positive, authorities must still find the “mastermind and his/her accomplices” behind the shooting.
Members of the national government have also criticised the opposition for making inflammatory comments surrounding the confrontation.
“There is a confrontation... between two different groups, and immediately they want to make out like it was the coordinator of the Carabobo campaign who gave the order (to shoot)... he (Borges) almost made out like it was Chavez who gave the order. It's irresponsible, they are liars. The people have been detained and they haven't even come out and said “we got it wrong, we jumped the gun,”said Vice-president of the PSUV, Diosdado Cabello.
The PSUV vice-president also went on to state that the government would “keep investigating what happened there and get to the bottom of it to see what went on”.
Speaking about the deaths from a campaign rally in Zulia on Sunday, current Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, who will seek re-election this Sunday, called on his supporters to abstain from using violence.
“We must deeply regret the deaths of two people yesterday in the state of Barinas... We should not give in to provocations, there should be no violence... I ask all Venezuelans, it is not through violence that we should confront each other (in the elections), but through ideas,” said the Venezuelan president.
In an interview with Radio France International, political analyst, George Ciccariello-Maher from Drexel University in the US, stated that violence was an unfortunate reality of local politics in Venezuela.
“The reality is that this is unfortunately quite common, especially in local politics in Venezuela, regardless of what side someone is on. One of the more scandalous and less mentioned elements of Venezuelan politics has been the disappearance and murder of campesino leaders and they are largely sympathetic with Chavez, and yet more than 200 of them have been killed for organizing to protect their land over the past decade,” said Maher.
The shooting is the worst act of violence to have taken place since election campaigning began a few months ago. Although campaigning so far has been relatively peaceful, Venezuelan press have reported some confrontations between groups of supporters, as well as several opposition attacks against journalists sympathetic to the Chavez government.
In the closing act of his presidential campaign on Sunday, opposition candidate Radonski demanded an investigation into the deaths and sent his condolences to the victims' families.