MARACAY, VENEZUELA — These past days have been marked by tension in Venezuela. The country’s constitutional crisis, which started last January and has been in a stalemate over the past few weeks, reached a critical point when opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared with mutinied members of the military and security forces at an airbase in east Caracas, calling the people to the streets and announcing “Operation Freedom.” Today, Supreme Court hearings began against Guaidó and others.
Many went out on April 30 not really sure what to expect. David Parra was one of them. He lives in the city of Mérida, in the southwestern part of the country, not far from the Colombian border.
“People started to gather in Plaza Bolívar, in front of the state government seat,” Parra told Latino Rebels. “When they were a considerable group, they went down to Plaza Glorias Patrias, which is front of (the garrison) of the National Guard, and the police headquarters.”
As the hours mounted that day, with Guaidó and his followers mobilizing to Plaza Altamira, it became clear that whatever they were expecting to happen that day, wasn’t coming. To Parra, for the most part, it was a very peaceful event, with people singing and chanting and by lunchtime many leaving. But then, things took a downturn.
“People started to attack the troops and a national guardsman came out and started to read the Bible and people calmed down. It was very surreal,” he said. From then on, he said it became confusing for him. Allegedly, other groups appeared and started to attack the police headquarters despite most of the protesters trying to stop them, shots were fired, and armed civilian groups scattered amongst the crowd.
In the evening, approximately 14 hours after Guaidó had appeared in La Carlota airbase, Nicolás Maduro addressed the nation along with members of the cabinet from the presidential palace. The uprising had failed.
“We have to identify all those people who fired weapons and go find them and submit them to justice, deliver them to the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts to all,” Maduro said.
Since then, versions and theories have come up following last week’s events, with several contradictory points. The official version of Maduro’s government is that the troops who gathered in front of La Carlota Air Base were deceived to follow Guaidó, under instructions of the U.S. government. Maduro also rejects U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s statement that Russians had convinced him not to resign.
Other versions of the events point out that, while the support to Guaidó within the military appears not as large or organized as he has attempted to project, allegedly there was some sort of contact between Guaidó’s camp, the U.S. government and/or high-ranking members of Maduro’s government.
On Twitter, US security advisor John Bolton singled out three officials: Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, Chief of the Supreme Court Maikel Moreno, and head of the Presidential Guard and Military Counterintelligence Iván Hernández.
.@vladimirpadrino, @Ivanr_HD, @MaikelMorenoTSJ: You know well the role you played in planning today’s move for democracy in Venezuela. You must now stand and do what is right for Venezuela. We, and the world, will hold you accountable for those Venezuelans who are injured today. https://t.co/w2MRrckVMN
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) May 1, 2019
On May 2, two days later, Maduro had his own early morning so-called surprise appearance, with an impromptu military parade with Padrino López and other high ranking military officers reaffirming their loyalty.
El odio y la mentira no podrán jamás romper con la disciplina y el patriotismo de los soldados del Libertador Simón Bolívar. Contamos con una #FANB cada vez más socialista, bolivariana y profundamente chavista. pic.twitter.com/okYherh8xP
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 2, 2019
Meanwhile, there have been reports of clashes between Trump and his cabinet on how to proceed with Venezuela and the exact involvement of Russia in the country. This Monday Pompeo reunited with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Finland where, among other things, discussed the situations in Ukraine and Venezuela.
Life Continues for Venezuelans
A new week started and Venezuelans have to resume their day-to-day lives despite the crisis their country is facing. Claudia González a middle-aged woman living in the Libertador Municipality of Caracas —long considered a bastion for the followers of the Bolivarian Revolution— said there’s still tension on the city streets.
“Where I live, there’s a FAES (National Police’s elite squad) checkpoint. The National Police is armed and carrying anti-riot gear. Around Caracas its the same…People on foot are checked, same thing for those in vehicles or for the few public transport that remains,” she told Latino Rebels.
“That day something was achieved,” she said. For her, the government’s relative silence and attempt to feign normalcy is a victory of sorts. Regarding U.S. participation, she considers it “a shame”, but inevitable given what she sees is the participation of Russia, China, and Cuba. “It’s not bad for the U.S. gets involved, but I would have preferred to not reach this point.”
For Parra in Mérida, things aren’t as clear cut: “People go out because they are tired. Some because they believe in Guaidó, others not so much. People go out because they feel they have to…but are skeptical about what happened in Caracas. Without power, water, or gas, people are really focused on solving their own problems.”
Though he doesn’t hold the US government in high regard, he explained “for me, the way the United States deals with Venezuela’s situation is…very erratic and driven by impulse. What’s going on with Bolton, Pompeo, and Abrams is madness. Instead of providing a credible, solid narrative they end up strengthening [Maduro’s] narrative.”
He said that having that opinion “automatically brands you a Chavista and that’s a pain in the ass.”
José González Vargas is a Venezuelan journalist who has written for several outlets, including Latino USA, Latino Rebels, Caracas Chronicles and Into. He tweets from @Maxmordon.