• Marco Teruggi, teleSUR English/15 y Ultimo

The War for Power in Venezuela’s Countryside


Since opposition protests began in Venezuela in early April, much of the media coverage has focused on clashes in Caracas. However, the opposition’s campaign to bring down the government of Nicolas Maduro has not been limited to the country’s capital.

Marco Teruggi reports on a recent visit to the small, but strategic town of Socopo, in the largely rural state Barinas, which has been the site of a campaign of terror and an all-out struggle for power.

It was original published at 15 y Ultimo and has been translated by Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes

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More than two months after the right-wing opposition began its campaign of full-frontal confrontation, we can start to see particular episodes as model cases.

Such is the case with Socopo, a town of 20,000 residents in the state of Barinas that for five days, during a period of time that can be divided into three moments, was an epicentre of violence: April 19 and 20; the intermediary phase; and May 22, 23 and 24. Behind closed doors, people are already saying there will be a fourth moment, based on an analysis of the plans to escalate the violence.

Socopo has various characteristics. It is situated along a main highway that unites San Cristobal, the capital of Tachira, with Barinas, and then continues to Caracas via Guanare, the capital of Portuguesa.

Its proximity to San Cristobal is important for two reasons: the first is that it is the rearguard of paramilitarism in Venezuela, from where they can restock on fighters, weapons and logistics.

The second is that it is where many of the vegetables that go to Caracas come from. Cut off Socopo, or more precisely its bridge, and you cut off transit for part of the food heading to Caracas, epicentre and designated site of the final battle.

Another key characteristic is the strength of the opposition in the area, comprised of a political wing, via the opposition-aligned mayor who guarantees, for example, that the municipal police will not intervene; an economic wing, with ranchers and a section of local traders providing funds; and an armed wing, in the form of paramilitaries that for years has been infiltrating the area.

All of this provides the opposition with an organisational, economic, intelligence and military structure, to go with the approximately 150 men and women it can count on to carry out its orders. This unity of action gives the opposition the ability to coordinate its movements in the area and the capacity to control it.

Chronology

April 19

Day the cycle begins. It coincides with national mobilisations in Caracas.

The right wing attacks a pro-government Chavista mobilisation with rocks, firebombs and homemade rockets. No firearms are detected.

They attack the house of a leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, burn the state-owned Bicentenario Bank and attempt to take over the local command station of the state police, an objective they fail to achieve

April 20

Coincides with a night of attacks in El Valle, Caracas.

From the morning, a group of 15 motorbikes and two cars circulate, carrying with them a list of Chavistas to kill. In the afternoon, right-wing groups now use firearms in a visible manner and 30 armed motorcyclists go shop to shop, forcing them to close.

They force the Bolivarian National Guard to retreat from the bridge. Once the strategic site is occupied, they cut off electricity to the town and set off a flare, a signal for the attack on the government-subsided Mercal food distribution outlet to begin. An armed group head there, leading a mobilisation; they open the gates and allow the looting to occur. Twenty-one tonnes of food are stolen.

Intermediary phase - April 21 to May 22

It is marked by almost daily, though smaller actions, including the setting up of roadblocks on the highway, charging tolls, looting trucks.

The support of the ranchers is explicit. They take meat to the roadblocks so that those participating can eat and stay the whole day.

It is an exercise in measuring the reaction of the state security forces, the time needed to reinforce their numbers, the reaction of the people.

Read the rest of this article @ teleSUR English

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