February 12 marks Venezuela’s Youth Day, a holiday that commemorates the battle of La Victoria, where José Félix Ribas, one of the leaders of the Venezuelan independence movement, and a small group of students, defeated Spanish royal troops in 1814 during the War of Independence (1810-1821). But this year, the day became a memorial of different versions of a common history, interpreted through the lens of the current political conflict.
On the one hand, student movements associated with the opposition organized marches and gatherings throughout the country to remember the February 2014 protests that shook up Caracas and other major cities for three months, leaving 43 people dead and 800 injured. Authorities arrested more than 3,000 people in an attempt to snuff out the uprising and 60 of those individuals are still serving time in prison.
On the afternoon of February 12, 2014, two Venezuelan citizens – Bassil Da Costa and Juan Montoya – were shot dead by Venezuelan police near the Prosecutor General’s Office in downtown Caracas. Hours later, another demonstrator, Roberto Redman, was killed in Chacao, east of Caracas.
On Wednesday, the first anniversary of these deaths, there was no unified call for mobilization. Instead, different groups rallied and gathered at the Caracas campus of Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) – a sign that the opposition is still grappling with internal conflicts. Student representatives from the largest state and private universities gathered in the Great Hall to settle on a joint statement.
Although President Nicólas Maduro declared the day a holiday, both pro-government groups and the opposition drew low turnouts.
A storm, an unusual thing during this time of year, fell over Caracas around noontime.
About 200 people from various opposition groups joined ex-congresswoman María Corina Machado and Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, in Las Tres Gracias square in Caracas and attempted to march toward San Pedro Church. The demonstration did not have a permit from Libertador (midwest Caracas) Mayor Jorge Rodríguez, former vice-president under Hugo Chávez and ex-president of the Electoral Council. While the National Guard blocked this demonstration, pro-government youth groups marched down the same route the opposition had taken during last year’s protests.
Meanwhile, police and students clashed violently in San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira and the main hub of last year’s demonstrations. Three demonstrators were shot by police the day before.
Translation: Dyane Jean François