October 10, 2002
The Revolt of Los Palos Grandes
Last night was a circus. First, Rosendo Struck Again. Major General Manuel Rosendo, in full military uniform, gave a fire-breathing press conference where, among other things he,
-Accused the president of war crimes, saying that on their final phone call on April 11th, after he refused to implement Plan Avila for the first time, the president told him he was "wearing his uniform with his rifle in hand and he was going to fight for this revolution that had cost him so much."
-Reminded the defense minister of 1991, when Rosendo was a student of the current minister, and Prieto taught him a course on the importance of countering urban guerrillas early-on rather than waiting for them to become full blown wars: "we have urban guerrillas now, Mr. Minister, what are you going to do about it? Why do you do nothing?"
-Warned that the president might issue the same orders today he'd issued on April 11th, but that this time all the military officers around him were unconditionals and would not dare defy him. He reminded the army's troop commanders of their responsibility under the Statute of Rome and reminded them that "following orders" is not an admissible defense in a case of crimes against humanity.
-Decried the hideous treatment of dissident army officers at the hand of their leaders, pointing out that while those who agreed to April's violence had been rewarded with plum ambassadorships, those who refused to shoot on the people were facing trial.
-Sprinkled various other harsh criticisms on the Vice President, the Attorney General, General Belisario Landis, and half a dozen others I can't remember right now.
Rosendo definitely missed his calling: he should've been a politician. He's good at it! Much of the reason his testimony is so damaging is that, until April 10th, he was a chavista loyalist, the head of the Unified Command of the Armed Forces, and as such was privy to a lot of high-level, very compromising discussions in those days. e's a turncoat, basically, and knows way too much. He's also a terrific public speaker.
But his statement was only the beginning. Just an hour or so after the press conference, a DISIP patrol tried to arrest him. The idiots tried to do it on the Third Avenue of Los Palos Grandes, the antichavista heartland of East-side Caracas, during rush hour. As they tried to nab him, an old lady who was driving next to Rosendo's car recognized him, got out of her car, and started shouting "It's Rosendo! It's General Rosendo!! They're trying to arrest Rosendo!" As more and more people in the traffic jam realized what was going on, they started pouring out of their cars, shouting "Leave Rosendo alone!" and "Rosendo! Rosendo! Aqui yo te defiendo!" (a clever on-the-spot rhyme: "Rosendo, Rosendo, I'll defend you here!") With traffic stopped, and a quickly gathering mob surrounding them, these DISIP agents saw which way the wind was blowing and high-tailed it out of there, barely on time. Meanwhile, neighbors were coming down from their apartment buildings in droves, March-Kits (TM) in hand, for another - but this time, much bigger - Insta-Protest. There must have been four blocks full of ecstatic people shouting anti-government slogans and cheering Rosendo. Eventually, somebody took the guy into one of the neighboring apartments to shelter him, while several thousand people stood guard outside, singing the national anthem and such. It was quite a scene.
[Venezuelan readers will be amused to know that, for about the first 20 minutes of this whole thing, the only reporter anyone could get close to the General was Valentina Quintero, who apparently lives nearby. It was hysterical! She kept trying to act all serious and reporter-like, but couldn't quite carry it off and kept digressing on how nice Rosendo looked out of military uniform...very funny. [Valentina Quintero writes a fun, but very vapid, tourism column in El Nacional, and is about as far-removed from a hard-knuckled political journalist as you can possibly imagine.]]
That was the evening for Rosendo. Meanwhile, General Medina Gomez had a somewhat similar experience. He decided to start giving a round of TV interviews, starting in Globovision where he told Norberto Mazza of Grado 33 that he more or less advocates a coup (not in those words, of course.) Then he drove off to Televen for a chat with Cesar Miguel Rondon. DIM finally caught up with him as he was leaving Televen, but in no time at all the neighbors from around Televen caught un, grabbed their March-Kits (TM), and surrounded the TV station, copying the scene in Los Palos Grandes. That siege went on most of the night. Result, they couldn't arrest either Rosendo or Medina Gomez.