Resistance and Repression in Venezuela (docu)


Welcome to Venezuela. Once the richest jewel
in Latin America, it is now a country drowning in political
and economic chaos. A state with the largest oil
reserves in the world is now so impoverished that it cannot
feed its own people. TRANSLATION: Even if
I die, it’s worth it. How long is this
going to go on for? We are a hungry country. As his people rage,
President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power has grown
increasingly desperate. All opposition is being
systematically crushed. It is feared a new constitution
will extinguish democracy and establish a dictatorship. As the battle for Venezuelan
democracy reaches boiling point, the BBC has heard disturbing
allegations of state torture against demonstrators. Several officers there are told us, “We are going to give
you the shock treatment.” For Venezuelans, long accustomed
to economic hardship, the assault on their democracy
is proving the final straw. I have been to Caracas,
to meet resistance to the reforms of Nicolas Maduro and find out
what future lies in store for this troubled country. If you want to find out
who is behind a demonstration, head to a university. This is Uceve, the largest
university in Venezuela. I was a student here myself. In my day, we were protesting
against a rise in the bus fare. Today, it is a rather
more desperate story. In a quiet room on the campus,
I meet four young protesters. They have disguised their identities
and we have changed their voices to protect them. The way I see it, the resistance is
everybody who is against a regime. Many people see it
as a dictatorship. At the moment,
they are even trying to change our constitution. I think the resistance is those
people who come out to protest and are willing to take the lead
to confront the police or the national guard. It’s not like there is this little
group of resistance over here, and a group of normal
people over there. No. We are all the resistance,
and we are all against what is happening. Some have labelled us as terrorists,
but I think that all of us youth who make up the resistance are brave
fighters, defending our people from the government’s
brutal repression. The students are known
as escuderos, or shield bearers. Young men and women like them
see their role in the resistance as protecting the ordinary people
who demonstrate every day from the national guard. We are going to meet a resistance
group at Las Mercedes, and then we moved to the place
where it normally kicks off. Every protest march is accompanied
by the escuderos and when the people move into stop the march,
the escuderos will move in and confront them. They never allow us to make it
as far as where the march is meant to end – they use the excuse
that we will destroy the whole city. Our role is also to secure ground. Because just as the police
and national guard are trying to push us back, we also have
to seize our chances to advance. My job is to pick up any
falling helmets or gloves, to retrieve them and give
them back to the boys, or to be looking out
for them, or collecting the stones, or whatever. It is not just a matter of marching
forward and that’s it. It’s really about everyone’s duty. There is a naivete about some
of their actions, but it is clear that they are brave. Most of the dozens who have died
in this wave of protest are those at the front. But there is a little resentment
that they have been allotted this role in Venezuela’s struggle
for democracy at such a young age. It shouldn’t be just up to us to get
out there representing thirtysomethings or fortysomethings. I mean, they have
to come out as well. I think we suffer the worst
of the government’s decisions and that’s why we haven’t any choice
if we want to gain our independence to move forward and make
a life for ourselves. What I’ve noticed in most
of the marchers, most of those at the front are really,
really young kids, to be honest. I don’t think they should be there. You are supposed to fight
for your children’s future. You should not get your children
to fight for your future, right? It wasn’t meant to be like this. By the time Maduro came to power
in 2013, the Bolivian revolution, begun by his charismatic
predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was spluttering badly. Price controls and the state seizure
of industry had apparently failed. When the oil price fell,
Venezuela’s extravagant spending didn’t stop. The country found itself borrowing
heavily and increasingly reliant on imports of food and medicine. In the last four years,
the economy has shrunk by a third. The IMF estimates that inflation
is running at over 700%, the highest in the world. The people began to go hungry. Three out of four Venezuelans
lost an average of 18lb in weight last year. Corruption, say critics,
helps the regime to stay in power. By controlling foreign exchange,
the government decides who prospers. The army are kept onside
by being given charge of the most critical imports. The media is muzzled. In March, Maduro’s supreme court
declared the opposition led national assembly to be illegitimate. Days of daily demonstrations
and violent clashes with the security forces followed. Over 100 have died, and thousands
more have been arrested. Then, in May, President Maduro
declared that a new constitution would be drawn up. The government wanted to rewrite
the rules of the game, and no-one was asked if this
was what they wanted. It’s hard to get the government
to talk to the media but the minister in charge
of food distribution – a key job in today’s Venezuela –
did agree to talk to me. In the Chavista worldview,
there is a familiar bogeyman. It’s hard to say who represents
the opposition in Venezuela. But no-one would argue
against former presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado. Disbarred from politics
by ruling party legislators, she remains a political
force and is keen to be seen with protesters. But Maria Corina Machado thinks
there is far more to the resistance than violent protests. There is a word going around calling
the opposition ‘the resistance.’ What is the resistance for you? You don’t have to look far to find
who she is talking about. Street kids like these appear
at every demonstration. Their enthusiasm to take
on the security forces, whilst brave, places
them in real danger. Their motivation often stems
from a profound sense of injustice. TRANSLATION: Three days ago,
they nicked me, they tortured me, they asked me who was paying me. It’s a lie. Nobody gives us money –
we come out because we want a better future, we want a better
future for Venezuela. They split my head,
they hit me in the body, they grabbed me, they told me
they were going to rape me, they said they were
going to kill me. Fuelled by their grievances,
some of these young protesters take considerable risks. This is one of the most
controversial aspects of the so-called resistance –
small pockets of demonstrators at the end of the protest come
to places like this, a military base,
and try to attack it. In there, they’re already scuffles,
with some people telling them, “Don’t do it, you’re valuable,
you’re a young life, don’t lose it.” Because over there, the national
guard is already waiting for them. One person trying to cool the hot
heads of the protests is a senior citizen now known as Senora de la
Tanqueta, or ‘tank lady’. She rose to fame in April
by refusing to move out of the way of a small tank. She was taken to prison and
interrogated before being released. The experience has not put her off
going to the demonstrations. The stakes are certainly
high for both sides, and the regime is defiant. This residential block in Caracas
is called Los Verdes, the greens. It has been a focal point
of vociferous anti-government protest since April. Neighbours here set up
barricades on irregular basis and clashes with the police
and National Guard are frequent. One evening, the government said,
another was enough. Margarita, her husband
and her cousin who lives in the apartment, were petrified. Although her husband
and her cousin were released, the intrusion into their home has
badly affected the family. But not all members of the tower
block were so fortunate. When she heard the police
begin their assault, Camila and some friends went to hide
in a neighbour’s apartment. TRANSLATION: When he opened
the door of the wardrobe, the man who grabbed me,
he did it by the hair, he lifted me and threw me onto the bed,
and then they beat the boys in the head. They really beat up
the boys horribly. Even though she told
police she was pregnant, they took no notice. TRANSLATION: We were lying
facedown on the floor, then they told us to take
out their shoelaces. Then they kicked me about ten times. In the bum, in the legs… They also beat
the rest of the girls. They kept on beating us,
even when they took us out of the apartment. They told someone, come on,
I’m going to kill you, right here, right now. Why did they take me? Because this is a dictatorship
and they nicked whoever they want to, whether you are doing
anything or not. Camila taken to some
of the worst prisons in Caracas, before eventually being released. Simon was not so lucky,
he was arrested at a demonstration, accused of being a member
of an opposition political party. TRANSLATION: They grabbed me
from behind, 18, 20 cops that came down on me,
while they were kicking and hitting me, they put me
on a bike and took me to the headquarters
of the intelligence agency. Originally designed
as the futuristic shopping centre, today, the Helicoide is a place
whose name makes even the hardened shudder. Held in an overcrowded cell
for over two months, Simon witnessed prisoners returning
from interrogation, with tell-tale signs of having been tortured. TRANSLATION: One got back,
you could tell he was frightened, he couldn’t stand up straight
and you could see the burn marks on his ears. And the other guy,
you could see his black eye, it was all bruised, so you could see
they have given him shocks. Later on, several offices there told
us, we are going to give you the shock treatment,
and we’re going to grab those two and soak them,
keep them soaked all night long. Simon was beaten but not
tortured, he could not get out of the Helicoide. Even though he received
a release order from a judge, intelligence agency officials
ignored it and he was only released over one month later. Today, he is still trying
to get back on his feet. TRANSLATION: At night I’m
very anxious, any little sound makes me jumpy,
I feel like I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m still worried that any time,
they will come and knock on my door and take me back there. Far from being intimidated,
the opposition are growing in strength. Whilst we were filming,
with Maria Corina Machado, and its ordinary defection
from a Chavista loyalist. This is the Attorney General
of Venezuela, now playing a key role in the crisis. The Maduro regime was not impressed. Despite the government’s denials,
the Attorney General has claimed that the security forces
are using unauthorised firearms. What is clear is that many
protesters have been killed and severely injured by the reckless
use of riot control munitions. Many in the opposition believe
that behind the bluster, Many in the opposition believe
that behind the bluster, the end game is being played out. a recent unofficial plebiscite
showed 7 million voters were against President Maduro,
as many as had elected him in 2013. Do you think we are in
the final days of Chavism as a proposition in politics? The president sees a very
different future for the opposition in Venezuela. Whilst the politicians fight it out,
the students of Uceve continue their own perilous resistance. TRANSLATION: I don’t mind giving
up my life out there in the streets if it is for a good cause. I believe I would prefer to die
than live in this way. I will never be able to achieve my
attentional as a person here, because the government
isn’t letting me. TRANSLATION: I’m scared of dying,
I’m scared of seeing someone getting killed,
to be near them when it happens. After all, we are supposed to be
fighting for the safe of living in a better Venezuela. TRANSLATION: when you’re
standing behind a shield and they fire at you,
the impact deafens you. It leaves your ears ringing. There’s always the risk
that by trying to see what is going on a ahead of you,
that a pellet can get through the shields
and hit you in your eye. That’s your eye gone. Or it could kill you. TRANSLATION: I always
think that maybe one day, my luck will run out. And I think about those boys
who didn’t make it back home. Every time I get home
from the protests, I tell myself that it a gift. Because many of my mates
didn’t make it back. They may be dead, or under arrest. This is a country that has seen
many of its youngest people killed, injured, or arrested. People like these
are commemorating the lives lost in this wave
of political unrest. This is very much an open wound,
and the consequences are far from known, regardless
of who is going to run this nation. The government now
plans to convene a new assembly, to rewrite
Venezuela’s constitution. It’s a future that many
in the country are dreading.

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