January 16, 2004

A thought experiment...

Imagine you wake up on just a normal Friday morning, turn on your local news radio station and hear this, read in newscaster's deadpan:

According to DC police chief, Larry Forester, the Barry Goldwater Tactical Combat Unit of [pro-Bush urban guerrilla group] the Ethanallens, who operate in Georgetown, attacked a group of District of Columbia police officers just outside the Foggy Bottom-GWU metro station. The attackers used both handguns and rifles. Four people were wounded, including two bystanders who were on the way to ride the metro, along with a metro worker, who is being treated at the local hospital. The DC Police officer and one of the bystanders received bullet wounds to the face.

It's just too far-fetched, isn't it, even as a send-up.

The spooky thing is that if you'd been listening to news radio in Caracas this morning, that's what you would have heard. Well, a Venezuelanized version thereof, anyway.

The pro-Chavez guerrilla group in question is the Tupamaros, a Marxist group far older than chavismo that now enthusiastically supports the revolution.

Perhaps alone in the world today - the tupas, as they're known - occupy the ultimate oxymoronic/magic realist political position: they're a pro-government guerrilla movement.

(Think about that - how does that even work?!!)

The government does not control the Tupamaros, and it's not clear to what extent they take orders from Chavez personally. But what is clear is that they're heavily armed, and effectively control entire housing estates in the West Side of Caracas. What's also clear is that the Tupas sporadically carry out urban warfare opperations against the "enemies of the revolution" - and often against the PM, the Caracas Metropolitan Police.

The PM is seen as the enemy because their chain of command ends at the desk of Alfredo Pena, the fiery antichavista mayor of Caracas who was elected with more votes than Chavez himself got in the city. What the bystanders did to deserve a bullet in the face only the tupas know.

It's hard to exagerate just how destabilizing events like today's shootings could be. But the worst of it, the most destabilizing part of it, is the government's very public and very chronic refusal to ever investigate, much less prosecute, any act of political violence perpetrated by any Chavez follower.

Is it really too much to ask for the president to try to maybe do something to stop the urban guerrillas who support him from shooting cops randomly at tube stations?

What kind of mad reality are we living in when you can actually write a question like that last one and mean it?!

Reader mail
From: Cesar Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004 6:27 PM
To: caracaschronicles at fastmail.fm

Hi Francisco,

I read your last post (Jan 16th) and I'd like to tell you that I too worry
about all this madness. I worry that all this will become normal like so
many other bizarre things are "normal" in our country. I struggle, for
example, to explain to my US friends why Venezuelan homes have so many metal
bars on their windows, something I didn't think about before coming to the
US because I considered them normal, even though deep inside me I knew it
was very wrong. In the same way, Venezuelans of the future may see as normal
to have armed groups controling part of the cities. And then we'll be

I fear that the Chavez era has opened a Pandora's box for which we will not
recover in a long time, if ever. I mean the political violence that is now
part of our society. I have, however, some hope that in a post-Chavez era,
without his inciendary verb, all this tension will fizzle down and the
current violent politics will give way to more constructive ways.