October 9, 2002

Ineffectual authoritarianism…

What a farce! The TV images from the joint Secret Police/Military Intelligence raid of Colonel Antonio Guevara (suspected coupster) looked like something out of TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes. Something like thirty heavily armed intelligence officers, many wearing ski masks, poured into the apartment at 5 in the morning, blocking traffic around the neighborhood. Within minutes of their arrival, the colonel’s wife has managed to sneak out of the apartment and call several radio and TV stations to tell them what’s going on. As a result, when my radio alarm wakes me up I’m treated to the very surreal experience of a Secret Police raid being brought to me live, blow-by-blow, on the radio, as described by the raidee’s wife.

Eventually, the raiders realice that they’re on the air and go find the lady, but by then everyone in Caracas knows what’s going on. By six in the morning, the neighbors had started a huge cacerolazo, the very folkloric Venezuelan practice of protesting by banging pots and pans with wooden ladles outside your window. It was a huge cacerolazo, showing the people there weren’t the least bit intimidated by the DISIP/DIM presence. Significantly, the neighborhood (La Rosaleda in San Antonio de los Altos) is a military community where 9 out of 10 apartments is occupied by a military family. But then, it got even more farcical: angry at the raid, all these women from the nearby apartment buildings got out their protest “kits” (flags, pots, pans, whistles and such which they’d been doubtlessly preparing for tomorrow’s march) and put together an impromptu little street protest in the access road to the neighborhood. They got some cars out and blocked the access road, leaving the intelligence officers stuck there: once the raid was over, they couldn’t get out. The officers marched down to the streets and tried to scare the ladies into letting them through, but the remarkable thing was how totally unimpressed these housewives were…all the TV showed was a string of forty and fifty year old middleclass ladies shouting their heads off and jeering at these dressed-to-impress, heavily armed military dudes. It was really surreal.

Finally, showing just how misplaced the word “intelligence” is in these people’s job titles, they decided to disperse the mini-protest with tear gas. This was incredibly dumb, cuz tear gas will disperse the jeering women but not the cars parked right on your way. So it just made the marchers angrier without getting the officers unstuck. They looked so pathetic with their little machine guns slung over their shoulders standing there as these housewives gave them hell. It made for great TV footage, that’s for sure.

Eventually, at about noon, the opposition mayor of that area showed up, talked the protesters down, and negotiated an end to the "siege.”

That was two nights ago. Last night’s raids were, if anything, even more ridiculously bungled. First, they turned up at this apartment on a tip that this one colonel had been plotting a coup only to find out that the colonel in question had moved out of there six years earlier…yup, you read that right, Military “Intelligence” information on some of the nation’s most wanted conspirators is six years out of date. Christ! A different colonel was living there, and so they went around on this wild-goose chase looking for the fascist coupster’s current address.

Worse than that, they tried to raid the house of General Efraín Vásquez Velásquez, who was the top commander in the army during the April coup. Another swing, another miss: Vásquez Velásquez’ neighbors ringed his house in another little mini-protest and the DIM/DISIP teams couldn’t get anywhere near the place.

The message here is that nobody takes the government seriously here anymore. They’ve lost all respect, even fear of Chávez. They send these thugs out to prove how tough they are and just end up looking ridiculous, faced down by the fearsome fascist shocktroops known as housewives. They have 6 year old addresses for supposed conspirators. It’s really, really pathetic.

It’s obvious that the raids are meant to intimidate, it’s even more obvious that they aren’t working. If they were really police raids, you’d think they’d have done them all at the same time, no? Imagining for just a second that there really was a conspiracy afoot, what sense would it make to raid the conspirators one at a time, on successive nights? Isn’t it blindingly obvious that if you’re a member of a conspiracy and you see your co-conspirators being raided one after the other on successive nights you’re going to either move, burn, shred, hide or eat any compromising documents you have before it’s your turn? As a policing strategy, the successive raids are totally absurd, as an intimidation strategy, they’re totally ineffectual.