Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro warned protesters in a Caracas square, a focal point for the opposition, to evacuate or face the full force of the military, after months of protests in which unofficial government paramilitary groups have killed dozens of student protesters.
In a speech yesterday in which he was surrounded by men wearing olive uniforms, Maduro warned the “Chuckys”–he has rechristened the protesters after the bloodthirsty doll from the 1990s–that they had “a few hours” to leave Altamira Plaza in Caracas or they would face the full force of the Venezuelan military. Maduro warned that he was ready “to finish liberating the places still hijacked by the scammers and violent people who have taken them… I will go liberate those spaces with the public forces.”
Maduro also boasted that Venezuelan police had “captured almost 60 Chuckys in Plaza Altamira” and that he would “respect all the human rights,” above all the “right to work and right to health.” He then called opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, who ran against Maduro in the country’s last election cycle, a “fascist.”
In the same extended speech, Maduro warns that President Obama “has given orders to assassinate President Maduro.”
Maduro’s move to use the military against protesters was suspected for days, as the Miami-based Nuevo Herald newspaper published allegations by a source that Maduro was contemplating such an act.
While it is still early in Venezuela, protesters remain in Altamira Square, clearly unfazed by Maduro’s warnings, according to reports on Twitter:
— #ResistenciaVzla (@pettybooshwah) March 15, 2014
President Maduro has yet to employ the official armed forces of Venezuela against protesters, and such a move would signify a radical escalation never resorted to even by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Instead, Maduro has been employing the services of armed paramilitary groups on motorcycles commonly known as “motorizados” or “colectivos,” who have wreaked havoc in both the capital of Caracas and outside rebel states like Táchira. Maduro has also employed the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), the domestic wing of the military, against protesters, many of whom are said to be Cuban nationals and trained in torture and violent repression of political speech.
These groups have engaged in an active torture campaign, disfiguring the faces of protesters, and shot many in the face to prevent an open casket funeral featuring a young protester. They have also flooded apartment buildings known to house college students with teargas at night in an attempt to intimidate the protesters into not coming out the next morning. The current death toll is at 28, all unarmed student protesters.