LATIN AMERICAN HERALD TRIBUNE

Venezuela’s New Government Approach to Crowd Control: Robbery

By Carlos Camacho

CARACAS — Venezuela National Guardsmen physically attacked two opposition lawmakers, stole cell phones, motorcycles and even shoes from demonstrators as well as goods from street vendors Monday, in what seems to be another indication that the armed forces are tired, frustrated and poor after 66 days of trying to control continuing, near-daily and violent protests against the increasingly embattled administration of Nicolas Maduro.

In spite of having legislative immunity, a guardsman punched lawmaker Miguel Pizarro in the mouth while others threw fellow legislator Juan Requesens inside an electric-utility manhole. Attacks on opposition politicians by security forces are increasing in number and intensity recently.

However, all efforts, no matter how chaotic and undisciplined, to rein in the protest proved fruitless, counterproductive even: Venezuelans again massed against Maduro from very early Monday morning. And demonstrators were still facing water cannons and tear gas eight hours later as of this writing.

National Guardsmen are by far the worst offenders in protest violence, which has resulted in 64 demonstrators and security forces killed according to figures by the attorney general’s office. 19 guards are being tried for offenses which include homicide and 18 more have warrants out for their arrest. National Guard forces are also accused of injuring more than half the 1,000 persons reported wounded in demonstrations since April 1st.

Reporting teams from independent outlets such as web TV station VivoPlay and all-news web site Run Runes were attacked and robbed. However, a team from TV station Globovision, more pro-Maduro since it was purchased by friends of Chavez, was also attacked by National Guardsmen.

Witnesses singled out the special CONAS (national anti-extortion and kidnapping command) unit of the National Guard, which was involved in two shooting massacre-mass robberies in Eastern Venezuela, last year as the worst offender. Members of CONAS were photographed shooting live ammo from inside a gasoline station near a shopping mall in a bid to dissolve Monday’s demonstration, which was called on by the opposition to reject Maduro’s call for a new Constitution. Only non-lethal armaments are allowed in crowd control, per the Venezuelan Constitution.

National Guard troops fired tear gas grenades inside the CCCT shopping mall, affecting demonstrators fleeing police action — workers and shoppers alike. And yet, the opposition managed to demonstrate right next to the Supreme Court, the executive-controlled judiciary that is backing Maduro’s efforts to ditch the existing Constitution and replacing it with one being written by a committee appointed by him.

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