Saturday, March 13, 2010

Venezuela: all detainees released and charges dropped following union march in Maracay Mar 13 2010

All the individuals detained following Friday's demonstration were released late on Friday night, with all charges forgotten following the apparent intervention from someone from on high. Rafael from El Libertario, who was amongst the detained, filed this report:

Doing away with all elementary journalistic conventions, I write this report in the first person.

Following the callout by a group of unions to hold a demonstration in the city of Maracay against [the government's] economic measures, the criminalisation of protest and for justice in the cases of workers assassinated for demanding improvements in their conditions, three members of [human rights organisation] Provea - of whom I was one - and two members of the El Libertario newspaper - of which I am also a member - made our way with other companeros from Caracas to show our solidarity.

At approximately 2pm, a group of around 200-300 people congregated on the corner of the Avenidas Bolívar and Ayacucho in the city [of Maracay]. We recognised some faces - old school, left wing union militants, folk from all over the country - but most of the attendees were affiliated to various labour organisations such as the National Workers' Union (UTE). There was a disproportionate number of police present, who quickly started to block access to each of the four streets down which the demonstration would have been able to march. Right from the start, the authorities adopted a confrontational attitude; they were committed to preventing the march from happening. No more than 30 minutes had passed when they started to detonate tear gas bombs in order to disperse the demonstrators before proceeding to detain people indiscriminately.

Having recovered from inhaling an amount of tear gas, I accompanied Robert González - the executive secretary of the Oil Workers' Federation (Federación Petrolera) - as he was being interviewed by TVS Maracay (a regional TV channel). While he spoke to the journalist, a group of more than 30 police surrounded us. As soon as the TV cameras switched off, they pounced on us and, pushing against us, bundled us into the van. Amidst the tussle, they seized and broke my anarchist banner, which read, "FOR LIBERTARIAN AUTONOMY AND AGAINST THE REPRESSION OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS". Twelve people in total were packed into the police van, including two members of the Workers' League for Socialism (LTS). They didn't tell us what our charges were, or where we were headed.

We arrived at the main police station for Aragua state in the San Jacinto zone [of Maracay]. The rest of the detainees, including a woman, had been forced to sit on the floor, while we just joined the queue. They took our identification documents off us, and, after a while, they took us through into an office where they booked us in. In another room, they made us strip naked, filming our faces with a video camera as we did so. An obese policeman in civilian clothes was asking us, "Who sent you? Who sent you?" Afterwards, they put eight of us in a 2x1m cell alongside an underage kid who told us he had spent 6 months in this cell for aggravated robbery. We weren't able to all sit down at the same time. While the heat slowly suffocated us, the underage kid urinated in a soft drink can.

A low ranking bureaucrat from the Public Prosecutor's office arrived and told us that we were charged with "obstruction of a public highway, incitement of criminal activity and resisting authority". Before leaving, he rather casually informed us that we would be presented in front of the Attorney General the following day. Various Public Defenders came after them, and it was with their mediation that we were eventually able to get out of the hole they had dumped us in. Two Provea lawyers also arrived from Caracas, practically bringing with them the news that the order had come from on high to not only liberate us unconditionally but also to eradicate all evidence of our ever having been in this police station. After another hour of waiting they handed us back our belongings. An intrepid group of companeros had awaited our release, weathering the intermittent, strong rains. We came out together to hugs, kisses, applause and an impromptu rally.

Within a few hours, news of our arrest had echoed around the whole world. Many companeros moved heaven and earth in order to intervene on our behalf, with communiqués crossing seas in rejection of repression and demanding our release and telephone calls coming in from various parts of the globe. In the capital, the cost of having three human right activists in jail was quickly weighed up and the Public Defender contacted the local authorities [in Aragua] personally to demand our immediate liberation.

How I wish that a similar speed was used in dealing with the rest of the cases of individuals detained for demonstrating; if so, there wouldn't be more than 2200 people [in Venezuela] facing court dates after having gone through the same odyssey as us. It is a sad privilege to be afforded this sort of service. However, it doesn't alter the fact that yet another workers' demonstration was blocked and attacked by the authorities. This is now the state's policy; the cases speak for themselves.

A second point relates to what I - finding myself to be tired and lacking in ideas - will call the politics of noise. Our swift liberation - which, as I repeat, is not the case for tens of similar cases - was, to a great extent, the product of the rapid diffusion of the news [of our arrest, not only] on social networks such as Twitter, [but also, and] in particular, the independent mass media. The paradox is that our arrest was covered by many media outlets about whom we hold great reservations - such as Globovisión and El Nacional - but ignored by the media who, hypothetically and theoretically, should be accompanying the popular struggles. A brief example of this is in the [para-state website] Aporrea. Today's demonstration in Maracay didn't exist for a group of people who define themselves as "a popular alternative news agency and an open, interactive billboard for popular movements and workers' movements", yet a strike in Rome did. Neither did they mention the repression or arrest of over 20 workers and union leaders. As I've commented previously, in Venezuela, the news of the "alternative" media must be checked against the private media - not the other way round, like in the rest of the world. On this issue, we must draw the necessary conclusions.

I write this from my house, in the arms of my partner and my mongrel dog, adopted via Aproa [animal welfare organisation which takes in stray dogs and find them homes]. I infinitely owe the ability to sleep with such heartwarming company to the friends who swiftly swung into action; I must thank them personally, and not through the injustice of a list [of names] where I might forget someone. They know who they are and they're only just receiving this text via email. As a human being, an anarchist and a human rights defender I strive to constantly justify their dedication, while continuing on this path, which - if I can just squeeze in this piece of proud pretention - is nothing but accompanying and strengthening the struggles of those people who confront Power [in order to fight] for their rights and their dignity, of which they have as much as I do.

Thank you.

Rafael Uzcategui

It is now believed that the original figure of 43 arrests published by El Universal was inaccurate, and that all the 27 detainees have now been released, as described by Rafael.

Photos of the aborted demonstration and the police response can be seen here:

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