Thursday, February 27, 2014

Venezuela Accuses Intelligence Officers of Murdering 2 - NYTimes


National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or Sebin - Google Search

Venezuela Accuses Intelligence Officers of Murdering 2

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Seven members of the intelligence service have been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of a demonstrator and a government supporter after a major protest march here, the authorities said on Wednesday.
The announcement of the charges appeared to contrast with repeated claims by top government officials that the political opposition was responsible for violence accompanying a wave of protests that has swept the country.
Yet the charges also appeared to be part of growing intrigue swirling around the intelligence service and possible maneuvers within the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The national prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the seven members of the intelligence force, known as the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or Sebin, had been charged in the deaths on Feb. 12 of Bassil Da Costa, the protester, and Juan Montoya, the government supporter.
The statement said five of the intelligence officers were arrested on Monday, but it was not clear when they were formally charged. Two others were charged previously, it said.
All seven were being held in jail, as well as an eighth member of the service who was charged with lesser crimes.
The deaths of Mr. Da Costa and Mr. Montoya were the first of about a dozen associated with protests that began early this month and gained momentum after the killings.
The deaths occurred after a march through the center of Caracas that was called to protest the arrest of several students in earlier demonstrations. After the peaceful march, a few hundred young protesters threw rocks at the police, broke windows in a government building and burned several police vehicles.
The two men were shot during the chaos. Another protester was killed later that day when, according to witnesses, a man on a motorcycle fired on a group of demonstrators.
Mr. Maduro immediately blamed a prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, for the violence and ordered him arrested, saying that he had trained young people to spread violence during the protests as part of a conspiracy to topple his government. Mr. López turned himself in last week, and he was charged with inciting violence. He has denied the accusations and called for peaceful protests.
The protests, fueled by economic problems, high crime and dissatisfaction with the government’s socialist-inspired policies, continued on Wednesday. Government supporters also marched in several cities.
But the arrests announced on Wednesday appeared also to be linked to broader questions around the intelligence service.
Within days of the killings, Mr. Maduro announced that members of the service had disobeyed an order to stay off the streets during the protest. He also said that men in Sebin uniforms had been seen lurking around Mr. López’s home, although there was no order for them to go there, and he warned of a plot to murder Mr. López.
Soon after that, he reassigned the head of the service, who had been on the job only a few weeks. He also hinted that if members of the intelligence service had been present at the march, they might have been part of a conspiracy against the government.
All that has watchers of the conspiracy-minded Mr. Maduro alert to possible hidden meanings in the prosecutor’s moves.
“This is going to be a novel in installments,” said José Vicente Haro, a constitutional lawyer close to the opposition. “We get one chapter today, another the next day, another the next day and so on until we can decipher the answer to the mystery, in the best style of Agatha Christie.”
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Venezuela Gallup Survey Shows Venezuelans Suffering And See Lives Getting Worse

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Venezuela Opposition Protests Are Not Ukraine, Thanks To Maduro's Grip On Power

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — It is hard to find toilet paper or flour in oil-rich Venezuela these days and the country is plagued by some of the highest inflation, murder and kidnapping rates in the world. Clashes between protesters and security forces loyal to the president have left 16 dead, and a telegenic opposition leader has been thrown in jail.
But don't expect a Ukraine-style street revolution anytime soon in this South American nation, where the frequently outmaneuvered opposition hasn't united behind a single strategy or managed to broaden its appeal beyond the largely middle-class, educated followers it's had on its side all along. The man they are up against, President Nicolas Maduro, has a near-complete grip on the military, broadcast media and institutions from congress to the judiciary after 15 years of socialist rule.
That could change if the protests continue and unrest gets further out of hand. But for many Venezuelans, the opposition's two highest profile leaders, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and the jailed Leopoldo Lopez, are still viewed as part of an elite detached from the working class life.
For years the opposition has insisted the government is illegitimate rather than succeeding in building bridges across class lines, reinforcing perceptions that it hasn't evolved since it backed a failed 2002 coup against then President Hugo Chavez.
"The opposition is always convinced that it's a majority and therefore it thinks that the government wins elections by fraud," said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who spends part of the year conducting research in Caracas. But "it's a government that has considerable support."
Maduro's party handily won municipal elections in December that were seen as a referendum on his first year in office. An economic decline has accelerated since then, but he continues to funnel government resources into poor neighborhoods. While people there are suffering from the country's economic woes, they still feel little connection with the protesters they watch on television burning trash and setting up barricades in leafy neighborhoods that they could never aspire to live in.
On top of that, the two men leading the opposition haven't been able to agree on a strategy.
Capriles has come closest to expanding the base by reaching out to Chavez backers, promising to protect the revolution's social gains. That brought him within 225,000 votes of winning the election in April to choose a successor to the late Chavez.
But he's been pushed from that path by Lopez, leader of a smaller opposition party, who seized on this month's student-led protests to call even more people into the streets, a move that landed him in jail charged with arson and incitement. That has forced Capriles and other opposition figures to rally behind him.
Capriles conceded the demonstrations may have strengthened Maduro's hand in the short term by distracting Venezuelans from their daily frustrations and giving him a convenient scapegoat on which to blame a coming economic crisis caused by heavy-handed government policies.
Indeed, Maduro has trained state-run television cameras on the barricades of trash and furniture erected by the opposition.
"Now they want to blame me if there are shortages, but they are the ones who don't let through the trucks with rice, grains, milk and flour," Maduro said at a rally on Tuesday with employees of the state telephone company. "The rest of the country is like you all, working, studying."
To be sure, there are some signs that unrest is spreading to at least a few working-class neighborhoods around the country, even if most have remained calm despite the protests in tonier districts.
"How is it possible that there are food shortages, that my husband who worked (with an automotive company) ended up without a job?" said Adriana Suarez, a homemaker who banged a pot in protest Wednesday outside her house in a working-class neighborhood of Valencia, an industrial city about 170 kilometers west of Caracas with an opposition mayor.
She complained that the state supermarkets have food, but are only open to government supporters, while private ones have bare shelves.
While Chavez did some good things, the economic mess he left behind can't go on, she said. "We want a change."
That sentiment, and widespread expectations that the country's economic situation will only worsen in coming months, means there will be more opportunities for the opposition.
"These political protests have to connect with social concerns to build an organization that has strength and broad reach," Capriles said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. "Otherwise weariness will set in."
That more inclusive message, focused on the shared economic hardship and crime, was echoed this week by Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, who has been leading protests in the capital in between visits with her jailed husband.
"These have been difficult times for everyone in Venezuela," Tintori said. "The working class, the middle class, the wealthy, we have all faced the same problems, the crime, the kidnapping, the food shortages ... It hits us all."
But Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis, said the opposition hasn't convinced the poor that it's capable of governing in their interests.
"They (the poor) are not going to get out in the street to do anything if they don't feel there is an alternative (to the government)," Leon said.
Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Caracas and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Valencia contributed to this report.