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The Bolivarian Fury as a pre-electoral ambush on civil society

Headquarters of the NGO Fundaredes with “Furia Bolivariana”. Public domain image.

On January 18, within the framework of an official act, Nicolás Maduro ordered to “activate the Bolivarian Fury plan” at the national level, describing it as “a civic, military and police plan to confront any coup and terrorist attempt.” Maduro invoked the plan regarding alleged assassination attempts and violence to him and asked to “organize to ensure peace.”

On January 22, day that commemorates the end of the previous dictatorship, Diosdado Cabello declared the launching of the Bolivarian Fury throughout the national territory. At the same time, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the arrest of 31 civilians and soldiers linked to “five alleged plots against the government (…) with support from the United States government (…)”, which would have occurred between May 2023 and the first days of 2024. In addition, he revealed the existence of arrest warrants against 11 other people, including journalists, retired soldiers and human rights activists, such as journalist Sebastiana Barráez and defender Tamara Suju, who would be being investigated for the crimes of treason to the country, intentional homicide qualified as attempted against Maduro, terrorism and association, according to Saab.

Following the repressive pattern of this type of cases, Saab stated in a press conference that the detainees “are confessed and have revealed information about their plans,” which usually results in summary, opaque processes, torture and prolonged detentions. During his statement, the prosecutor released a video in which a detained person linked one of said plans to the opposition leader María Corina Machado. Such action ratifies once again the lack of independence of the justice system and its permanent validation of human rights violations and crimes against humanity investigated by the International Criminal Court.

On January 23, the day began with numerous violent incidents against the headquarters of political parties, media outlets, civil society organizations, and disappearances against political and social leaders, in application of the “Bolivarian Fury” ordered by Maduro. The Vente Venezuela party, led by Machado, reported that at least 10 of its state and municipal headquarters in the states of Anzoátegui, Mérida, Monagas, Táchira, Zulia, Caracas and Bolívar were painted with red graffiti that read “Furia Bolivariana,” and some with phrases like “iremos por uds” (we will come for you).

Likewise, the party reported that Guillermo López, Juan Freites and Luis Camacaro, regional heads of Machado’s campaign command in the states of Trujillo, La Guaira, and Yaracuy respectively, were arrested and remain missing to date. The Sebin also surrounded the home of leader Gustavo Ruiz in the state of Zulia. Just 4 days before, Professor Victor Venegas had been arrested for the same alleged reasons of violence and destabilization against the government and indicated by the attorney general as well.

At the close of this edition, the Bolivarian Fury recorded similar attacks against the headquarters of the Primero Justicia and Un Nuevo Tiempo parties, as well as against the headquarters of the Fundaredes organization, whose general director, Javier Tarazona, remains detained, with health problems and several more of their rights violated. Other organizations affected were the College of Engineers in Puerto Ordaz, the Radio Hispana 89.5 FM station in San Felipe, Yaracuy state, and the National College of Journalists, Táchira section.

The organization Provea highlights that this is the second time that the Bolivarian Fury has been implemented as a strategy of intimidation and control of civil society. The first was in 2020 in the context of the covid-19 quarantine. According to the organization, the strategy is related to an increase in patterns of arrests and other human rights violations against real or perceived dissent. The newspaper Tal Cual reports that until January 19 the hashtag #furiabolivariana accumulated at least 5,000 posts on Instagram, while on X, former Twitter, accumulated at least 180 reposts in 24 hours, which reveals a planned and coordinated repression state action from the highest levels to weaken civil society.

In the middle of a public demonstration to commemorate the fall of the dictatorship of General Pérez Jiménez, on January 23, Maduro came back to the issue of the five attempted attacks against him, asking to activate Bolivarian fury if he suffered any damage. In a matter of days, the territorial dispute with Guyana left the political and narrative scene of the government to place the figure of the president as the center of attention for partisan purposes. The intention is none other than minimizing the possibilities of the electoral route in Venezuela and the very existence of civil society, which is seriously threatened by the most recent parliamentary advances of the anti-NGO law.

Hours later, the United States issued a statement condemning the government’s repressive wave and stated that “actions that are contrary to the spirit and letter of the Barbados Agreement will have consequences.” In December, the United States and Venezuela had negotiated, among other issues, the release of Alex Saab and some political prisoners. That was seen as a gesture of goodwill toward the implementation of a roadmap ahead of the presidential elections this year. Today the Bolivarian fury confirms the revolving door effect of detainees in Venezuela and the government’s manifest unwillingness to comply with the political and social agreements reached. Political persecution and other crimes against humanity not only continue but intensify in the electoral context while using their different repressive strategies to consolidate the ruling party.

AlertaVenezuela calls on the international community to closely monitor ongoing events and adopt in a coordinated and decisive manner all necessary diplomatic measures to demand as soon as possible the fulfillment of the Barbados agenda and protect effectively civil society.