April 11 victims speak out on VTV

Video in Spanish, courtesy of Aporrea. Running time approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

Ernesto Villegas, host of the VTV morning show En Confianza, interviews members of ASOVIC, the association of victims of the April 11 coup d’etat in Venezuela.

We hear Yesenia Fuentes, media co-ordinator of the association, describing how she was struck in the face by a bullet of a type and calibre used only by the Metropolitan Caracas Police. (The force was, at the time, under control of an anti-Chavez mayor.) Fuentes is lucky; the wound she sustained healed completely, with barely a scar. She knows all too well, however, that there are others with worse wounds, some of them permanent.

But no wound is more permanent than the loss of a loved one. Another of the ASOVIC members is Dalila Mendoza, who lost her husband, Pedro Jose Linares, to a police bullet under Llaguno Bridge, where he and several other Bolivarians were demonstrating their support for Hugo Chavez. Then there is Edgar Tortoza, who lost his brother Jorge, a newspaper photographer, to a sniper’s bullet. The anti-Chavez forces tried to claim Jorge as one of “their” martyrs, according to Michael McCaughan’s The Battle of Venezuela:

“We’re still trying to get Tortoza on board,” one lawyer told me, referring to Jorge Tortoza, the “prize” victim of 11-A….The attempt to recruit Tortoza as a victim of state terror ultimately failed. A New York Times reporter spoke to Tortoza’s sister, Sonia Tortoza de Blanco, who described a conversation she had had with her brother on the morning of the fateful events. “Things are getting worse,” Jorge told her. “It seems to me that they want to overthrow the government. I can’t tell how this will end.” Sonia agreed and added, “I can–they need at least one death.”…Tortoza was posthumously named the winner of the Voices of Freedom press award given by the Venezuelan Chamber of Broadcasting and the Television Federation, both of which were firmly in the anti-Chavez camp.

That move also fell apart in the face of the evidence. The man the escualidos originally tried to pin the blame on, Amilcar Carvajal, a Chavista, turned out to be innocent–Jorge Tortoza was shot 13 minutes before Carvajal even drew his pistol, and moreover, the line of fire (as determined by autopsy) did not correspond to where Carvajal was standing. It did, however, correspond to the position of one of several suspected snipers stationed on rooftops that day. There is ample evidence that the snipers and undercover shooters were working in collaboration, not only with one another, but also the Metropolitan Police. This argues strongly that they were all on the anti-Chavez side–in other words, perpetrators in an act of treason. The largest number of victims were Chavistas, with only a token smattering of opposition demonstrators. The shooters’ job was clearly to take victims on both sides and create chaos, so that any ensuing riots could be blamed on “fascist mobs” supposedly mobilized by Chavez.

Edgar Tortoza is trying still to find out who the two mysterious men at the scene were who claimed to be Jorge’s work colleagues. They were dressed in the many-pocketed fishing vests commonly worn by press photographers to carry extra film, lenses and other gadgets of the trade. Yet neither one carried any camera–except Jorge Tortoza’s, after he was shot! The camera was later recovered by police, but the pictures on the film were out of order and some had not been taken by Jorge Tortoza. Who took them, and what happened to the film in the camera? What was on it that was so incriminating that it had to be disappeared or altered?

Five years after the murders, there are still so many unanswered questions. To that end, ASOVIC lawyer Antonio Molina is keeping the pressure on for a federal investigation. So far, none of the perpetrators have been tried for their part in the crimes.

There are so many intriguing things begging to be investigated. There’s a clip of CNN correspondent Otto Neustaldt, who witnessed an extraordinary thing: the military high commanders who called on the citizens to rise up against Chavez, recording a tape in which the number of casualties was announced–two hours before any had occurred. How did they know how many dead and wounded there would be, or indeed that there would be any? Unless they were in on it and giving the “kill” orders to the sharpshooters, it makes no sense.

Neustaldt, a foreign correspondent, had nothing to lose by telling the truth, at least after the fact. On the other hand, Andres Izarra, formerly news director at RCTV, resigned immediately during the coup because he was unwilling to follow the station’s line, “cero Chavismo en pantalla”–zero Chavismo on the screen. (RCTV is now about to lose its privilege of access to the public airwaves for its abuse thereof in support of the coup. Meanwhile, Izarra is now in a much better position–he works for the multinational satellite channel, Telesur. Let it never be said that Karma doesn’t happen!)

The media’s role in the coup is central and blatant. While they kept touting the line that Chavistas were “fascist hordes”, the blatantly fascistic, gangland behavior on their own side went unquestioned, or was promoted as “democratic”. We can see a clip of them, “arresting” Chavez’s then justice minister. It is an ugly scene, reminiscent of a lynch mob. Not surprisingly, several other government ministers had to go into hiding because they received death threats.

Little by little, though, the truth is creeping out. Some of the opposition’s own gunshot victims of that day are now speaking out, saying they were “manipulated and taken advantage of”. Survivors and family members of the dead are coming forward to denounce the way in which their trust was abused by the opposition leaders. They marched, they said, in the hopes of changing things for the better, not to become sacrificial lambs in a bloody coup. And the consensus is clear: they agree that the primary intended victim was to have been President Chavez.

There is hope.

PS: Don’t miss Gregory Wilpert’s excellent, comprehensive run-down on the events leading up to, and during, the coup, at Venezuelanalysis.

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