Dr.Dawg

Guest post: Sorting Fact, Fiction, and Propaganda in #Venezuela's Death Count

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From my Twitterfriend @occbaystreet, who compiled many of the images in my last blogpost on the subject:

Half of 15 confirmable deaths in Venezuelan unrest have been on pro-government side

Last week the New York Times published “In Venezuela, Protest Ranks Grow Broader.” William Neuman, reporting on location in San Cristóbal, Táchira, noted that “[t]wo people were killed on Monday,” including a man who, according to the Times’ reporting, “fell to his death in San Cristóbal.” Beyond talking to the man’s family, Neuman and the Times appear to have engaged in precisely zero fact-checking.

Jimmy Vargas’ death was indisputably accidental, as can be seen in this video broadcast by CNN the next morning.



The second death, Wilmer Carballo’s point-blank shooting by irregular forces in the Venezuelan state of Aragua, appears to be far more factually supportable. Mr. Carballo had just celebrated a birthday with a wish for “Venezuela Libre!”

The possibility for error is quite understandable, particularly in a chaotic situation in a country that has censored, or attempted to control media outlets (including a retracted threat to expel CNN), blocked images on Twitter in response to widespread fakes, and temporarily shut down the entire internet in the State of Táchira. On Valentines Day, for instance, @YourAnonNews, along with many others, erroneously tweeted regarding the purported death of a protester in Valencia, Carabobo at the hands of police. Within an hour, YourAnonNews retracted the tweet, posted a meme indicating that reporting on the death was false (first in Spanish, then in English), and posted a link to an article explaining how the situation had been intentionally photoshopped.

All the same, it is simply unacceptable that a week later, perhaps the most important, respected media outlet in the world has left unmolested its erroneous report on Mr. Vargas’ accidental death.

Mainstream Anglo-North American media has repeatedly reported on deaths in Venezuela by simply including the number of people killed without indicating that those deaths come from both the government and the opposition side. As of initial publication here, we can confirm seven pro-government Venezuelans have been killed, seven opposition demonstrators have been killed, and one person of unknown loyalty was either shot or trampled to death during looting last Tuesday in Maracay, Aragua.

**

On February 12, the first major day of coordinated, nation-wide demonstrations, Bassil Alejandro Dacosta Frías (opposition) and Juan Crisóstomo Montoya González (government) were shot dead in Caracas by the same gun. At least seven officers in SEBIN, Venezuela’s secret service, have been arrested and charged with murder, and New York Times’ reporting suggests the possibility of additional charges of conspiracy against the government. Roberto Readman (opposition), a 31 year old pilot, was also shot dead that day in Chacao, Altamira by irregular forces believed to be loyal to the government.

The thorough, left-leaning outlet Venezuelanalysis recorded ten deaths through February 21, five resulting from confrontations at barricades erected by student protesters in a wide variety of cities. Seventeen year old opposition supporter José Méndez was run over by an angry motorist, who has been charged with murder, in Carapano, Sucre State. Julio Eduardo González, a government attorney, crashed his car and died while trying to navigate around a barricade in Valencia. Delia Lena Lobo, a 40 year old government supporter, was killed when she and her child crashed into barbed wire on their motorbike in the City of Mérida. Arturo Alexis Martinez, brother of a Socialist party parliamentary deputy, was shot dead at a barricade in Barquisimeto. Elvis Rafael Durán also died in Caracas after riding a motorbike into a barbed wire opposition barricade.

Barbed wire.jpg [Photo credit: @amiladelaroca]

While initially reported under a wrong name by Notidare, generally reliable, right-leaning El Universal correctly reported yet another motorcyclist’s death late in the evening on February 21. Santiago Pedroza, a 29-year-old grocery clerk, was decapitated by a wire strung across the road at a barricade in Caracas. The next day President Maduro issued orders for the arrest of ex-General Ángel Vivas, a hero of the student movement. General Vivas, who could pass for Mr. Bean and insists that Cuba is invading Venezuela, had earlier tweeted a recommendation (retweeted hundreds of times) that galvanized wire be strung across barricaded roads at a height of 1.2 meters.

Barbed wire suggestion.jpg

In one of the ugliest deaths of the uprising, opposition demonstrator Geraldine Moreno Orozco was shot by Valencia police twice in the face with buckshot on February 19. She succumbed to her injuries in the hospital on February 22. Professional engineer Alejandro Márquez was shot at by La Candelaria police, also on February 19, while he attempted to film them. The shots missed and Mr. Márquez began to run before, reportedly, falling and hitting his head on the sidewalk. Witnesses say police then beat him severely. He was in a coma when he arrived at the hospital and was pronounced dead two days later.

According to Venezuelanalysis: “Venezuelan press initially reported another death following a shooting attack against a pro-government ‘march for peace’ in Bolivar state on Wednesday [February 19], in which industrial workers from the region participated. However it later resulted that the worker in question had not died, but was seriously wounded. Nine were wounded in the incident and sixteen have been arrested. A video taken of the shooting appears to show hooded figures firing at the march.”

Meanwhile, President Maduro has claimed that the real death toll is around 50. We do not, however, have enough information to reach a definitive conclusion, even in the specific case of an 84-year-old Caracas woman whom Maduro says was held up for three hours at a blockade and died in her family’s car of a heart attack.

Perhaps the most disputed death during three weeks of violent protests is that of Génesis Carmona, a beauty queen from Valencia. Eight people were injured when armed Colectivo members opened fire on a march during which Ms. Carmona held up a sign reading “ESTOY CANSADA DE ESTAR Por Lo Menos VIVA” (I am tired of being just barely alive). While her case has become a cause célèbre for the opposition and many of their supporters in North America, the government insists that witnesses on the ground and the location of the bullet entry wound in the back of her head indicate that she was shot from behind by opposition supporters who returned Colectivo fire.

On Thursday, Giovanni Pantoja, an officer in Venezuela’s National Guard (GNB) was shot dead while reportedly picking up debris in the El Trigal section of Valencia. In one of the most unethical Venezuela news reports to date, the Associated Press (as picked up by the UK’s Telegraph) includes information in header information indicating that a National Guard member has been killed, but in the article itself, separates information on his death from news that more than 40 opposition protesters were arrested in the aftermath. When the AP does get around to recounting the death, no mention is made of Pantoja’s status as a National Guard member. He is simply presented as a “a youth who was cleaning a street,” a formulation meant to suggest to the average reader that Pantoja was, in fact, a part of student protests.

As an afterthought, the AP-Telegraph article notes that “Venezuelan authorities say they have arrested eight members of the domestic spy agency on murder charges, as well as three national guard soldiers and three police officers. ‘The Venezuelan state has acted to punish, to sanction those persons who appear responsible for human rights violations,’ Ortega Diaz, the chief prosecutor said.”

That 14 military or police officers have been arrested by Venezuela (as well as a motorist), in relation to half that number of confirmable opposition deaths, goes completely unmentioned not only by the United States’ imperial press corps but also by supposedly independent, left media often caught out mindlessly regurgitating pro-US propaganda regarding events in Venezuela.

**

Taken together, known government supporters or other people confirmed killed by opposition blockaders are Juan Crisóstomo Montoya González (1), Julio Eduardo González (2), Delia Elena Lobo (3), Arturo Alexis Martinez (4), Elvis Rafael Durán (5), Santiago Pedroza (6), and Giovanni Pantoja (7).

Bassil Alejandro Dacosta Frías (1), Roberto Readman (2), José Méndez (3), Génesis Carmona (4), Geraldine Moreno Orozco (5), Wilmer Carballo (6), and Alejandro Márquez (7) have been killed by government forces or supporters while exercising their right to protest.

Each side may have been responsible for one friendly fire death (Carmona and Montoya) and a 15th victim of unknown loyalty was trampled or shot in Maracay.

Until evidence is presented otherwise, it may be assumed that media reporting 18 deaths are including Jimmy Vargas’ accidental death as well as the unconfirmed death of an 84 year old woman held up at barricades and the severe injury of a pro-government marcher in Bolivar state initially reported as a death.

Besides fifteen arrests for opposition deaths or other human rights violations, Venezuela has also arrested scores of demonstrators (most of them released almost immediately) and has issued an arrest warrant for retired General Vivas while jailing and charging opposition leader Leopoldo López for their role in promoting deadly protests.

**

As mistakes in reporting continue to be made, false information has sometimes been purposely spread and other Anglo-North American media outlets are continually and irresponsibly conflating government and opposition deaths while sometimes refusing to correct erroneous reporting.

Those of us who took part in Occupy Wall Street tent sites and events witnessed repeated beatings, tear gas, destroyed books, pepper spray, trumped up terrorism charges, and approximately ten thousand arrests in the U.S. and U.S. friendly nations. Iraq War Veteran Scott Olsen nearly died. Police beatings, arrests of peaceful protesters, and terrifying killings of demonstrators cannot be tolerated or excused. Given the lasting outrage when, for instance, a homeless man shat on an NYPD car during one of those marches, we can only imagine how countries affected by Occupy would have responded if it had been responsible for the demise of seven or more people.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on March 3, 2014 1:05 PM.

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