This is a post from September 2010. It is worth re-reading now, given the images of vigilante groups abusing protesters which we have seen coming from Venezuela, via Twitter, during the last week.
The Spanish reporter David Beriain traveled to Venezuela, and the result is an astounding documentary about the civilian groups that the government of Hugo Chavez is arming for when—and there will be a when because that country is a boiling pot about to blow its lid off—he needs their bodies against the opposition; incidentally, he considers his opposition to include the U.S. (“That yanqui imperialism,” as he likes to say) and Colombia (“Our sister Colombia converted into an instrument of imperialism”).
“Juventud.” “Socialista.” “ .. la muerte.” Such are the cries, barely beyond puberty, of the disenchanted who have been enchanted by Chavez. For the flavor of Caracas, add the salsa music in the background.
In “Guardians of Chavez” (which you can watch here or on the videos below) Beriain takes us to a slum called 23 de Enero, named after the 1958 coup d’état which led to the fall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who was a U.S. ally. The barrio 23 de Enero gained headlines in September 2008 for erecting the Plaza Manuel Marulanda Velez, in commemoration of the FARC’s founder; its inauguration included burning a flag of the U.S. In the 23 de Enero hood, you will also find murals of Argala, the most important ideologist of ETA, the armed nationalist and separatist organization in Basque, Spain, side-by-side murals of Jesus Christ holding a Kalashnikov rifle and sharing the last supper with Simon Bolivar, Lenin, Che, Fidel Castro and Marulanda. So you get the idea that this is Chavista territory in every sense.
One of the armed civilian groups operating in the 23 de Enero is “La Piedrita,” which, in reality, is a gang comprised of young hard-core Chavez supporters. One of its members expressed, “Let the right know, let the empire (that’s the U.S. to you and me) know, if we have to defend the (Chavez’s socialist) revolution through arms, we will do it.”
Commander Marachi, the leader of Los Carapaicas, another Chavez support group, which in this case is more of an urban guerrilla-type group, armed and in fatigues, with masked faces and gloved hands, said there are training camps outside Caracas where young people are receiving arms’ training to also defend Chavez’s socialist revolution. (Incidentally, the Carapaicas, a group created by Chavez in 1992 before he was president, have denounced Chavez’s inner circle for embezzlement and corruption.)
It is estimated 120,000 Chavez supporters have received military training already. A farmer, seemingly illiterate, seemingly submissive, was asked why he needed a gun in order to drive a tractor, and he responded, “For defense, to safeguard the food supply of the Venezuelan people.” From who? “From the empire, from an invasion.”
Not surprising: Approximately 2 people are murdered every hour in Venezuela and 44 people are murdered every day. In 2009, there were 16,000 murders, and 50,000 victims of shootings, half of which end up with a lifelong impairment. These victims show up at the hospitals with, on average, five shots perforating their body.
In non-Chavista parts of Caracas, houses are protected by sky-high walls reinforced with barbed wire, drivers do not stop at traffic lights, and drivers, before electronically opening the garage at home, circle the block a few times until the car which seems to tail-gate them disappears.
The Venezuelan president, in his column, “Lineas de Chavez,” wrote of the documentary as “real conflicting and powerful, meant to make the world believe the Bolivarian Government is illegitimate and terrorist.”
It was, in fact, Chavez’s criticism of the documentary that tuned me on to its existence. “Guardians of Chavez” gets an A++.
“Guardians of Chavez”