Connect with us

US & World

Venezuelan military propped up the government for years, but cracks are showing

Published

on

CARACAS, Venezuela — It was 10 a.m. and the newly promoted lieutenant was already sweating under his plastic face shield and black flak jacket.

A few days before, the 28-year-old who goes by the name of Catire had watched a national guardsman get his arm broken at a protest. A week earlier, a friend collapsed several paces from him on the riot line, shot through the groin. Catire pulled up his visor and chain-smoked by his motorcycle, hoping the day would pass quickly.

Several miles away on the other side of the city, tens of thousands of Venezuelans in white shirts and homemade gas masks gathered to march toward Catire and his unit, part of a bloody protest movement that has seen dozens of deaths in more than two months of turmoil.

Catire’s family suffers along with protesters who skip meals while watching their money become worthless. The lieutenant is unsure whether to blame the government or the opposition for the crisis. What he and other soldiers decide in the coming months could decide the country’s fate.

President Nicolas Maduro has greatly expanded the military’s authority and is leaning on the armed forces as his own grip on power weakens. The military has helped hold up the socialist administration for more than a decade, but never before was it the government’s main crutch. And despite the outward loyalty of top officers, cracks are beginning to appear.

In April, three lieutenants publicly rejected Maduro as commander in chief and sought asylum in Colombia. Another lieutenant in a restive western state cut up his official military ID card as supporters cheered. “Soldiers must not turn their arms on the people,” he said. Days later, he was in military prison.

“The country is unhappy with the situation right now, and the armed forces are no exception. The military has traditionally been on the right side of history here. If they turn, it’s all over for Maduro,” said Cliver Alcala, a retired general who participated in an unsuccessful 1992 coup led by a then-unknown junior officer named Hugo Chavez.

These days, Alcala is a vocal opponent of the socialist government installed by Chavez after he won election to the presidency in 1998. Despite counterintelligence and close surveillance in the barracks, Maduro is unlikely to know an uprising is brewing until it’s already upon him, Alcala said.

Any actual coup would cause an international crisis across a hemisphere profoundly scarred by the bloody military takeovers that marked much of the past century. But most opposition figures are hoping for much more passive support: for soldiers to hold back from attacks on protesters.

More than a dozen military officers were arrested during the first two weeks of the protests and thrown into a military prison on suspicion of rebellion, according to military documents provided to The Associated Press by a third party.

The government has pampered the armed forces as much as an economy in shambles will allow. Before Catire put on his green fatigues, knee-high boots and black body armor before the protest, he sat down to a breakfast of two corn cakes, beans, eggs and coffee with milk — more than many Venezuelans eat in a day.

He gets bonuses in dollars, and his status has allowed his relatives to cut the line for government-subsidized apartments, household appliances and cars. But those perks have not been enough to insulate military families from shortages and crime. In Caracas, Catire, whose name is local slang for blond, feels increasingly hemmed in. Like most other soldiers, he has been confined to barracks since the protests started at the end of March.

Opposition leaders have used social media to broadcast appeals to young soldiers killing time in the barracks. In one recent video, lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares emphasized the potential consequences for soldiers who fire on protesters.

“Captains and lieutenants, we are the same age, we have the same dreams and expectations from life. But you are the ones carrying out orders to repress on the street while your bosses try to figure out how to preserve your special privileges. You’re the ones who risking prosecution,” Olivares said.

Like many leading politicians, the 31-year-old Olivares has been photographed multiple times stumbling away from blooms of tear gas at protests with blood streaming down his face.

The opposition has said it will hold officials to account for human rights violation and the message seems to be getting through. In 2014, the U.S. sanctioned officers involved in a far tamer crackdown on protesters. On a secret recording The Associated Press obtained last month, high-level military officers are heard debating the use of snipers against protesters, with some expressing concerns about possible prosecution should the opposition gain power. The recording’s authenticity could not be verified.

Catire has taken extra precautions since the day he saw a friend collapse next to him as his unit shot tear gas at protesters near an upscale eastern Caracas plaza. A bullet passed through his friend’s upper thigh and punctured his groin, causing rapid blood loss. A teenage protester was killed at the same plaza that afternoon, his chest crushed by a tear gas canister.

While the soldiers inflict more injuries than they receive, Catire is wary of protesters throwing gasoline bombs and rocks. Shots also often come from pro-government militias who ride into the scrum on motorcycles. At least two National Guard soldiers and two policemen have been killed in the protests.

Along with asking soldiers to break up demonstrations, Maduro relies on military tribunals to jail protesters and gives the armed forces a prominent role in his effort to rewrite the constitution. He has invited uniformed military members to appear at televised rallies since the protest movement started, and has promoted waves of officers to general.

Although he lacks the military background of Chavez, his late mentor, Maduro has been at pains to point out he shares soldiers’ working-class background and emphasize that he and many soldiers have browner skin while opposition leaders and elite Venezuelans in general look more European. In May, he appeared before a group of grim-faced young soldiers and told them opposition protesters had burned a bystander to death “just because he had dark skin like you and me.” Witnesses say the bystander was caught stealing.

Catire, who did not give his full name because he was violating protocol by speaking to a reporter, said he feels the country is descending into civil war. He grew up poor near the Colombian border, and joined the military because he liked the idea of bringing order to a chaotic country. He disapproves of the opposition calling on the armed forces to pick a side and believes the military must stay neutral and wait for elections.

By noon on the day of the protest, he and other soldiers were turning back the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.

Toward the day’s end, a group of women approached Catire’s post and shouted, “Lay down your arms and join us!” Some stripped naked and threw their clothes over the 12-foot barricade the soldiers had set up. But the young men stayed immobile and silent. “Take down this wall,” the women insisted.

After a few more hours, both sides went home to cool down and prepare to repeat the whole process the next morning.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading
Click to comment

News

Colorado, Arizona teachers pressure lawmakers for 2nd day

Published

on

Colorado and Arizona teachers plan to don red shirts and descend upon their respective Capitols for a second day in a growing educator uprising.

Educators in both states want more classroom resources and have received offers either for increased school funding or pay, but they say the money isn’t guaranteed and the efforts don’t go far enough. The walkouts are the latest in demonstrations that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

On the first day of the historic statewide walkout, around 50,000 educators and their supporters marched Thursday through downtown Phoenix in nearly 100-degree (38-Celsius) heat and swarmed the Capitol grounds.

In much cooler Colorado, several thousand educators rallied around the Capitol, with many using personal time to attend two days of protests expected to draw as many as 10,000 demonstrators.

Lawmakers in Colorado have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say Colorado has a long way to go to recover lost ground because of strict tax and spending limits.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has proposed 20 percent raises by 2020 and said he has no plans to meet with striking teachers or address other demands.

Teachers voted to walkout after Ducey unveiled his plan, saying that it failed to meet their other demands including about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff.

“We’re going to get this 20 percent pay increase, we’re going to get $100 million for support staff and other needs,” he said on KTAR radio. “And then if there’s still a teacher strike I don’t think that will make sense to parents, I don’t think that will make sense to kids.”

More than 840,000 students were out of school as a result of Thursday’s walkouts, according to figures from The Arizona Republic.

Most of Arizona’s public schools will be closed the rest of the week, and about half of all Colorado students will see their schools shuttered over the two days as teachers take up the Arizona movement’s #RedforEd mantle. In Oklahoma and West Virginia, teacher strikes stretched beyond the one-week mark.

Organizers say they haven’t decided how long their walkout will last.

“We want to make sure we can gauge the membership about what they want to do,” said Derek Harris, one of the organizers of grass-roots group Arizona Educators United.

At least one Arizona school district, the Chandler Unified School District, has said school will be held on Monday. The district said it polled staff and determined there are enough teachers to re-open.

___

Associated Press reporter Bob Christie contributed to this report.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

News

Robert Kennedy gets the Netflix treatment, new doc explores the the icon

Published

on

 

He was once called the most likely American in the 20th century to become president. But Robert F. Kennedy’s bid to follow in his older brother’s footsteps as commander in chief was cut short the same way John F. Kennedy’s White House term was: by a man with a gun.

Fifty years later, Bobby Kennedy’s life and transformation into a liberal hero is coming to Netflix in a new four-part documentary series available Friday. Through archival footage and interviews with friends and staffers, “Bobby Kennedy for President” takes an in-depth look at what drove him to seek public office, the events that shaped him and his legacy decades after his assassination.

“If we want to understand why Bobby Kennedy was so important to people, we have to understand all of it,” said Dawn Porter, director and executive producer, also known for “Gideon’s Army” and “Trapped.”

The series opens with a broadcaster’s prediction that “no American in this century has ever been so likely to be president as Robert Francis Kennedy.” It takes viewers through Kennedy’s combative time as attorney general, and his depression after his brother’s death, entry into the 1968 presidential race and assassination 83 days later.

The documentary explores Kennedy’s growth on issues like civil rights, through the guidance of black leaders like John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman. In documenting Kennedy’s journey from a “cop-at-heart” lawyer to polished politician, it highlights experiences that affected him, like a trip to the Mississippi Delta that opened his eyes to rural hunger.

Viewers hear from key figures in Kennedy’s life, including Paul Schrade, who was shot in the head when 24-year-old Sirhan Sirhan fired at Kennedy on June 5, 1968. The series, produced by RadicalMedia, Trilogy Films and LooksFilm, also features interviews from Sirhan’s brother, Munir Sirhan, and Juan Romero, the Ambassador Hotel busboy who was at Kennedy’s side as he uttered his last words: “Is everybody OK?”

For Romero, a Mexican immigrant, it was one of the few times he has openly spoken about Kennedy’s death — something he had felt guilty about for years since Kennedy stopped to shake his hand before the gunshots. Romero had met Kennedy the day before while delivering room service. Kennedy thanked him and shook his hand then, too.

“I never felt so American,” Romero told The Associated Press.

Filmmakers spent more than a year gathering footage from museums, news outlets and presidential archives that transports viewers to a different time. Some of the footage, which shows Kennedy from his college days to the last day of his life, had never before been digitized and was at risk of being lost forever, filmmakers say.

“I didn’t want this to be talking heads with pictures as the background,” Porter said. “We wanted the archive to play out, to not be window dressing, but to let people watch that and absorb it and hopefully be in the moment, be taken back to that time,” she said.

At a time when distrust of politicians is high, Porter said she hopes the series reminds viewers that people serving in public office can be human and flawed, but also inspirational.

“Without saying (Kennedy) was the perfect person, there’s something comforting and inspiring to me about his willingness to try, his willingness to learn, his willingness to not give up,” Porter said. “Right now we all need a little dose of not giving up.”

___

Associated Press reporter Russell Contreras in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report. Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Read more of her work at http://bit.ly/2hIhzDb.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

News

Explained: Why Colorado, Arizona teachers are walking off the job

Published

on

Tens of thousands of schoolteachers plan to walk off the job in Arizona and Colorado on Thursday, shuttering classrooms in pursuit of better pay and school funding.

But there are key differences between the protests in the two states, which share below-average spending on public schools. The actions build on a movement that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Arizona and Colorado:

WHAT ARE TEACHERS PLANNING AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

Teachers will walk off the job to hold rallies and other demonstrations at their respective state Capitols.

In Arizona, the first-ever statewide strike starts Thursday after educators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the action. There’s no end date scheduled, so it’s not clear how long classes might be interrupted.

Educators who are planning to participate could face consequences in the right-to-work state, where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and representation is not mandatory.

The Arizona Education Association, the largest teacher membership group, has warned its 20,000 members about a 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion saying a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose their teaching credentials.

But no school district has said they would fire educators who strike or revoke teaching certificates.

In Colorado, teachers in four suburban school districts, including two of the largest in the state, will hold protests Thursday. But the bulk of the widespread walkouts will happen as a single-day demonstration Friday.

No laws in Colorado prohibit strikes. In response to recent national protests, a Republican lawmaker proposed a measure docking teacher pay and threatening fines and jail time for striking. Democrats oppose it, and it’s not expected to pass the politically divided Legislature.

WHAT ARE THE DEMANDS?

Arizona teachers have a long list, including a 20 percent raise for teachers, who earn $47,403 annually compared with a national average of $59,660, according to 2017 data from the National Education Association. They also want yearly raises until their salaries reach the national average and competitive wages for classified staffers.

They are seeking a return to pre-Great Recession spending levels, which would be a roughly $1 billion increase annually, plus additional funding increases until Arizona reaches the national average in per-pupil spending.

In Colorado, teachers secured a $150 million annual boost to schools in this year’s budget negotiations but want to wipe out an annual school funding shortfall within the next four years. After next year’s boost, Colorado will underfund its schools by $672 million a year versus what’s required by the state Constitution.

Colorado teachers don’t have specific demands regarding salaries, because they are set at the local level. But the hope is that more state funding will trickle down in the form of better pay. The average Colorado teacher earned $51,808 in 2017, according to the national teacher salary data.

Complicating matters, lawmakers are negotiating sweeping changes to the state and school pension fund, which will likely cut teacher retirement benefits and could decrease their take-home pay. Educators say they hope their protests highlight that any changes to the pension fund could further erode their compensation.

HOW ARE STATE LEADERS RESPONDING?

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has offered teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020 and pledged to see his proposal through despite concerns on how to fund it.

Ducey’s plan relies on higher-than-expected state revenue. Republican legislative leaders have questioned where the money might come from and are negotiating the plan this week.

Colorado lawmakers have secured a bipartisan deal to boost school funding but are negotiating on the pension changes. Republicans want public employees, including teachers, to put more of their own pay into the system to close a $32 billion funding gap. Democrats have countered with a plan to contribute $225 million in annual state funding to shore up the fund.

WHAT DOES THE WALKOUT MEAN FOR SCHOOLS, TEACHERS AND PARENTS?

In both states, school districts have been weighing whether to stay open or cancel classes.

Many in Arizona, including the state’s largest district in suburban Phoenix, will be closed at least Thursday and Friday. Some have said they will try to stay open if they have enough staff.

Many parents are scrambling to make child care plans. Community groups are organizing day camps, churches are opening for free care and some stay-at-home parents are volunteering to watch others’ children.

Colorado’s largest district, Denver Public Schools, will be closed Friday, along with more than a dozen others. Four others, including large suburban districts in Jefferson and Douglas counties, will be shuttered Thursday but are expected to reopen Friday.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

Trending