Caracazo recalled in polarized Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro led a mass rally in Caracas Feb. 28 marking the anniversary of the "Caracazo," the 1989 popular rebellion against an IMF structural adjustment package imposed by then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. Over the course of 72 hours, perhaps 3,000 were killed or "disappeared" in a wave of repression, although the actual figure remains unknown. Maduro announced that 75 more victims and survivors of the repression would receive indemnification from the state. Since 2002, some 600 victims and survivors have received restitution. Maduro of course also linked the commemoration to the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, pledging to defend "the anti-imperialist charatcer of the Bolivarian Revolution" despite designs by "the oligarchy" for a "coup d'etat." (Diario BAE, Argentina, Noticías24, Venezuela, Feb. 28; VenezuelAnalysis, Feb. 27)

Four days before the commemoration, a 14-year-old student was killed in protests against economic conditions in the country at the western city of San Cristóbal. An agent of the Boliviarian National Police was arrested, accused of firing a rubber bullet to the youth's head. But Maduro won opprobrium from the opposition for his jocular attitude in his nightly TV broadcast, "En Contacto con Maduro," the evening of the slaying. (InfoBAE, Argentina, Feb. 25; BBC News, El Universal, Mexico, Feb. 24)

The day after the slaying, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello made new claims about the "blue coup" (golpe azul) conspiracy that authorities supposedly broke up with a series of arrests—including that of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma on Feb. 19. Cabello charged that Ledezma had made phone calls to former Venezuelan military officers in New York who were organizing the coup. In January, an army lieutenant, Henry Salazar Moncada, was also arrested and charged with being in touch with the two figures in New York, named as Gen. Eduardo Báez Torrealba AKA "Máximo" and Carlos Manuel Osuna Saraco AKA "Guillermo." It was also claimed that a stash of weapons and explosives were discovered in a raid of the Caracas headquaters of opposition party COPEI. Proclaimed Cabello: "The evidence is notorious. The proof is extremely clear... It's a coup, and as President Nicolas Maduro said, there are very few opposition leaders who didn't know anything it. (VenezuelAnalaysis, Feb. 26; Ultimas Noticias, Venezuela, Feb. 25)

On the same day as the Caracazo commemoration, six US nationals were also arrested in connection with the supposed conspiracy in Táchira state, where opposition stronghold San Cristóbal is located. In response to supposed destabilization efforts, Maduro has announced measures to limit the number of US diplomats working in Venezuela, and instated a visa requirement for US citizens. He also said a list of US politicians would be banned from entry. (Daily Mail, UK, March 1; BBC News, Feb. 24)

Venezuelan anarchist journal Libertario on March 1 accused US-based SOA Watch—which monitors the Pentagon's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas (SOA)—of "silence" over the activities of SOA graduates now serving in the Boliviarian government. The statement noted that a Feb. 28 SOA Watch e-mail aert, "SOA Grads in the News in 2015," made note of nefarious activities of School of the Americas alumni in Honduras, Guatemala, Chile and Peru—but not Vladimir Padrino López, the current head of Venezuela's armed forces. Padrino López graduated from the SOA in 1995. He indeed made headlines in January with his decree lifting restrictions on use of deadly force against protesters.