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National Guard troops loyal to President Chávez did nothing to stop the violence on Baralt Avenue.

La versión en español está aquí.

One of my more disturbing discoveries was that the National Guard (loyal to Chávez) was present in force on Baralt Avenue (where most of the violence occurred), but did nothing to stop the bloodshed. They witnessed a four-hour firefight where over 100 people were wounded by gunfire and 11 people were killed, yet they did not try to stop it. They neither helped the Metropolitan police, nor hindered the pro-Chávez gunmen who were often firing from just a few feet in front of them.

What's wrong with this picture?
Instead of making an east-west cordon to block the march, the National Guard left an opening for the marchers to move up Baralt Avenue toward the Bolivarian Circles and Chavez supporters.

Take a look at this map and you will see the curious way that these troops were deployed on April 11. Instead of making a consistent cordon that blocked the path of the march (as they did on the other streets to the palace), here the National Guard made an opening and only blocked the side streets.  This had the effect of channeling the march toward the Bolivarian Circles (Chávez's militias) and other Chávez loyalists. Both pro and anti-Chávez witnesses that I spoke to told me that they tried to escape down these side streets to get out of the crossfire but that the National Guard kept them from doing so.

Why did the National Guard behave this way?

When I first interviewed Mike Merhi (whose son was killed on this street), he told me that he was convinced that the violence was part of a premeditated plan by the government; that they "funneled" the opposition march toward the Bolivarian Circles with the express purpose of killing some of them. This, he said, was to teach the opposition a lesson; to make sure they never tried to march on the palace again. While I am still skeptical whether the ultimate goal was “to teach the opposition a lesson,” there is a great deal of evidence that the Venezuelan government intentionally used the Bolivarian Circles to stop the opposition march on this street and that the National Guard had orders not to interfere.

Consider these details:

  • On April 7th (four days before the violence) Chávez and his advisors discussed using the Bolivarian Circles in conjunction with the National Guard to defend the palace in case there was a march, according to my interviews with Generals Rosendo, Vásquez Velasco, and Usón, who were present in the meeting.
  • After that meeting the Bolivarian Circles were indeed placed on a 24-hour “vigil” around the palace.  This is recorded in many pro-Chávez news sources and confirmed in my interviews with Chávez loyalists.  See Francia, Nestor, Puente Llaguno: Hablan las victimas, Publicaciones Monfort, Venezuela, 2002, p. 63-64, 92.
  • According to pro-Chávez witnesses who were congregated in front of the palace on April 11, when the opposition march began to make its way there, government officials told them to be willing to sacrifice their blood to stop it.  They chanted, “Don’t let them through!”  This call was even made on the state-run television station, VTV, by government officials like Juan Barreto.
  • Handguns were distributed near the Llaguno overpass as the march approached, according to Venezuelan journalists Sandra La Fuente and Carlos Meza in their book El acertijo de abril (The Riddle of April).  “Not everyone accepted them,” they wrote (P. 102). Other supporters armed themselves with sticks, knives, baseball bats and rifles. Many painted red stripes on their cheeks--war paint--visible in several of the photographs below.

We will probably never know exactly what orders the National Guard were given, nor will we know what orders the Bolivarian Circles had. Yet, it is clear that the groundwork for violence had been laid. If you give your loyalists military training and guns, tell them to defend you, and give them a specific “sector” to protect, then they will do it with whatever means are at their disposal, which they did.

That is why the violence erupted the way it did on April 11 and why the Venezuela government refuses to prosecute the gunmen or the National Guard troops…because they were doing what they were told to do. It also explains why the Chávez government refuses to allow the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to enter Venezuela and conduct an independent investigation of these events.

Below are a series of images that show the National Guard deployed on the side streets of Baralt Avenue and doing nothing to stop the confrontation.

Click any image to see the photograph in higher resolution.

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Looking South Looking North GN_sitting_1_looking_West GN_sitting_2_Looking_West GN_sitting_Looking_East