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Venezuela Remembers the Caracazo, 23 Years Later

On February 27, 1989, just 25 days after then president Carlos Andrés Pérez took office, the Venezuelan people expressed their resounding rejection of a neoliberal economic package imposed on the new administration by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a large loan. This event would be forever remembered in Venezuelan history as the Caracazo.

The Pérez government’s plan, known as “the Great Turn-around,” included an increase in public services, the freeing up of consumer prices for basic goods, a considerable increase in gas prices and a currency devaluation.

The increase in the cost of public transportation as a result of higher gas prices served to detonate the first rebellion by the Venezuelan people against neoliberalism.

At dawn on Monday, February 27, 1989, public transportation fares doubled and student passes were no longer recognized.

Workers and students refused to pay the new price and protested against the injustice.

Guarenas, a town located east of Caracas that was home to many commuters who worked and studied in the capital city, rapidly became the epicenter of the protest.

By 8 a.m. there were already reports of protests involving burning vehicles and the ransacking of commercial establishments. The protests soon spread throughout a good part of the capital city and other urban centers across the country including San Cristóbal, Barquisimeto, Maracay, Barcelona, Puerto la Cruz, Mérida, Maracaibo and Valencia.

The official response of the Pérez government was unbridled repression. In some areas, police equipped with automatic weapons opened fire indiscriminately on crowds.

By late afternoon, President Pérez appeared on television to announce the suspension of constitutional guarantees and declare a state of emergency.

The National Guard and armed forces were ordered to repress all disturbances, and with that, a second great attack was unleashed against the population. Poor and overcrowded sectors in Caracas such as Catia, Petare and El Valle were fired on by soldiers that, untrained on issues of public order, were instructed to shoot people.

According to a report by the Ombudsman’s Office, “The soldiers were very young and inexperienced, and as young people, they followed the orders given by their superiors. Many of them were also brought in from the interior, and the majority were unfamiliar with Caracas. They pointed them toward the lights of the barrios and said to shoot everything that moves.”

Official estimates cited a death toll of at least 300, but the number of people assassinated would eventually climb to over 3,000, most of them killed by security forces.

The events of February 27, 1989 awoke the spirit and consciousness of the Venezuelan people, inspiring them to take up struggles for human rights and facilitating other processes such as the civil-military rebellion of February 4, 1992.

In 2008, during the commemoration of the 16th anniversary of that rebellion, President Hugo Chávez said: “February 27 and 28 was an uprising by a people that were exploited and massacred. It was the profound revolution of a people that got tired of being mistreated and an igniter of February 4th. It accelerated a process that had already been simmering, that was engendered deep inside the core of the armed forces.”

In 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the actions of President Pérez during the events of February 27. Its investigations counted more than 1,000 dead that were buried in mass graves as well as 2,000 disappeared.

Remembering the Caracazo

Events to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the Caracazo are taking place in Venezuela today.

A series of seminars called “The crisis of development and the Venezuelan state,” organized by the lawmaker Jesús Farías, will be held in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office is hosting an event in honor of the fallen at a cemetery in the south of Caracas. Concerts and conferences will also take place in other cities throughout Venezuela to remember the events of the Caracazo.

See photos of the Caracazo here (caution – some images are graphic).

RNV / Press – Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. / February 27, 2012

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