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Venezuelans Draw Ire for Violence

Posted on 04/18/2002 11:38:03 AM PDT by Dallas

CARACAS, Venezuela --

As a sea of people advanced through Caracas to topple President Hugo Chavez, men on rooftops and a bridge opened fire, their victims falling in blood next to the presidential palace.

Authorities say some of the shooters belonged to pro-Chavez neighborhood groups known as "Bolivarian Circles," and the violence has brought new criticism of what Chavez's foes call Cuban-style snoops and enforcers.

"Circles of terror," opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez called them. "There can be no reconciliation until the Bolivarian Circles are disarmed."

It's unknown exactly who fired into a massive opposition march April 11, killing at least 16 that day and wounding dozens, if not hundreds. Globovision television captured horrific images of snipers and gunmen firing repeatedly into the throng. Chavez supporters insist opposition gunmen fired, too. Others blame police and troops.

But Caracas police, who have arrested at least three people, say some of the shooters belonged to the circles -- neighborhood committees that were created after Cuban President Fidel Castro urged Chavez's followers to organize themselves to defend Chavez's leftist revolution. Castro made the appeal during a 2000 visit.

Reinstated Sunday after the coup, Chavez said the Bolivarian Circles weren't armed groups and that if anyone belonging to them had committed "errors," they would be punished.

The circles -- named after South American liberator Simon Bolivar -- bear similarities to Cuba's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, who watch over their neighborhoods and maintain socialist principles.

Chavez says he formed the circles to improve their communities. Despite their country's oil riches, 80 percent of Venezuela's 24 million people live in poverty. Circle members say Chavez is the first leader in memory to show concern for the poor.

Circle members pledge "loyalty to the thinking of the Liberator Simon Bolivar." A government pamphlet says the groups are involved in "social and political struggles" and "defend the Bolivarian Revolution to maintain and consolidate its values."

Many members say they are involved in such civic projects as cleaning up parks, erecting street lights and organizing crime-prevention efforts. "We aren't terrorists," said Ramon Reyes, a 34-year-old circle member who has held food sales to raise money for children's sports teams.

Others see a darker side.

Chavez's supporters have led "countermarches" to successfully halt demonstrations by the president's opponents. They have clashed with students in Caracas and warned newspaper vendors in eastern Venezuela they will burn kiosks unless they stop selling a newspaper, Correo del Caroni, that is critical of the government.

When Pedro Carmona, the businessman tapped to head a transitional junta after Chavez's ouster, began to lose support Saturday, thousands of Chavez's supporters took to the streets to demand Chavez's release.

Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said dozens of gunmen attacked his office Saturday night. Three police guarding the building were wounded, Pena said.

The violence cut both ways. Many Chavez supporters, including members of circles, said they went into hiding, fearing for their lives. Some have been reported missing.

Among those who went into hiding was Alfonso Rodriguez, a regional liaison overseeing some of Caracas' circles. He said the government hasn't condoned the keeping of arms.

"After all these things, it will be more strict," he said. "We will have an eye on them."

Nevertheless, militant Chavez supporter Lina Ron, now imprisoned for leading an earlier demonstration that turned violent, has suggested violence may be needed to counter opposition.

Such combative rhetoric has made the Bolivarian Circles a target for opponents. As soon as Chavez was ousted April 12, police began raiding the homes of circle members, searching for weapons.

At the house of pro-Chavez legislator Reinaldo Garcia, police knocked in the door and searched furiously, leaving mounds of scattered clothes and a gaping hole in the floor where officers searched for hidden guns.

Members of a Bolivarian Circle had met there before. Police tore apart a stereo, seized passports and even knocked down the bathroom sink.

"It is an abuse," said Garcia's wife, Marga Arginzones. Next time, she vowed that "Chavistas" will prevent his ouster: "A coup will never happen again."

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: latinamericalist

1 posted on 04/18/2002 11:38:03 AM PDT by Dallas
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To: Dallas
"Circles of terror," opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez called them. "There can be no reconciliation until the Bolivarian Circles are disarmed."

How about making your own 'Circles' and take out the men on rooftops and bridges with your own men?

2 posted on 04/18/2002 11:39:46 AM PDT by Frohickey
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To: *Latin_America_list;Cincinatus'Wife
Check the Bump List folders for articles related to and descriptions of the above topic(s) or for other topics of interest.
3 posted on 04/18/2002 1:09:36 PM PDT by Free the USA
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To: Dallas; Free the USA; All
Chavez Followers, Foes Fight on Venezuelan Streets[Excerpt] CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clashed on Wednesday, fighting running street battles in a western city and skirmishing with fists, sticks and stones outside the presidential palace in Caracas. Several people were hurt in the disturbances, which reflect growing political tensions in the world's fourth largest oil exporter, where left-wing populist Chavez is facing growing opposition to his three-year-old rule. Fierce fighting broke out in Barquisimeto, 218 miles (351 km) west of Caracas, when followers of the outspoken president confronted members of Venezuela's Workers Confederation, or CTV, the country's largest trade union, which has spearheaded labor opposition to Chavez.[End Excerpt]

Chavistas: Venezuelan street toughs: Helping "revolution" or crushing dissent?****CARACAS, Venezuela - From her bed in a Caracas military hospital, the wiry, chain-smoking prisoner vowed to continue a hunger strike and risk becoming the first death in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "revolution." "Comandante" Lina Ron, who considers herself a modern version of "Tania," a woman who fought alongside Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, says she is a willing martyr for Chavez's cause. She was arrested after leading a violent pro-Chavez counter-protest against demonstrating university students. Thousands follow her lead in Venezuela and they have increasingly quashed dissent, breaking up anti-government protests, intimidating journalists and alarming the president's critics.****

Chavistas Attack Venezuela's Congress - Bolivarian neighborhood groups inciting wholesale violence

4 posted on 04/18/2002 1:44:56 PM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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