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The Price of Dissent in Venezuela

Posted by Ricardo en 20 agosto 2004 13:18

by THOR L. HALVORSSEN

Thursday, August 19, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

CARACAS, Venezuela–On Monday afternoon, dozens of people assembled in the Altamira Plaza, a public square in a residential neighborhood here that has come to symbolize nonviolent dissent in Venezuela. The crowd was there to question the accuracy of the results that announced a triumph for President Hugo Chávez in Sunday’s recall referendum.

Within one hour of the gathering, just over 100 of Lt. Col. Chávez’s supporters, many of them brandishing his trademark army parachutist beret, began moving down the main avenue towards the crowd in the square. Encouraged by their leader’s victory, this bully-boy group had been marching through opposition neighborhoods all day. They were led by men on motorcycles with two-way radios. From afar they began to taunt the crowd in the square, chanting, “We own this country now,” and ordering the people in the opposition crowd to return to their homes. All of this was transmitted live by the local news station. The Chávez group threw bottles and rocks at the crowd. Moments later a young woman in the square screamed for the crowd to get down as three of the men with walkie-talkies, wearing red T-shirts with the insignia of the government-funded “Bolivarian Circle,” revealed their firearms. They began shooting indiscriminately into the multitude.

A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room. An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care. Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds. Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject visiting Caracas for her mother’s 80th birthday, was shot at close range with hollow-point bullets from a high-caliber pistol. She now lies sedated in a hospital bed after a long and complicated operation. She is my mother.

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