The Caracazo, or sacudón, is the name given to the wave of protests, riots, looting, shootings and massacres[5] that began on 27 February 1989 in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, and the surrounding towns. The weeklong clashes resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, thousands by some accounts, mostly at the hands of security forces and the military.[3][6][7] The riots and the protests began mainly in response to the government's economic reforms and the resulting increase in the price of gasoline and transportation.[5]

Caracazo
Caracazo collage.png
Top, left, right:
Venezuelans cheering during the rioting; the looting of stores in Caracas; police responding to a scene
Date27 February 1989 – 8 March 1989
(9 days)
Location
Caused by
Methods
  • Protests
  • Riots
  • Looting
Resulted in
  • Heavy civilian casualties
  • $120 million of damage (2017 USD)[1]
  • Political instability
Parties to the civil conflict
Protesters
Casualties
Death(s)276 (officially)
2000+[3][4]
Injuries2,000[2]
A group of rioters attempting to push over a bus during the rioting.

EtymologyEdit

The term, “Caracazo,” stems from the city’s name, Caracas, and “-azo,” which stems from another famous event, Bogotazo. Bogotazo was a massive riot in Bogota, Colombia in 1948. The riot is recognized as a crucial role in Colombia’s history.[8] “Caracazo” is technically defined as the “Caracas smash” or “the big one in Caracas” based on Spanish dialect.

BackgroundEdit

During the late 1980s, the city of Caracas split between the rich and poor. [9] Caracas was filled with high-priced buildings and stores, but extremely impoverished neighborhoods surrounded the city.[10] Low wages and transportation inefficiency led to many of Caracas’ citizens traveling by bus to work. [11] President Jamie Luschini, a member of the Democratic Action political party, worked to prevent an economic crisis in Venezuela during the late 1980s. [12] Although Luschini prevented a possible national disaster, he allowed the divide between the population to grow and maintained previous government policies.[13]

Consistent with the left-leaning dominance of the Democratic Action party, Venezuela’s 1988 Presidential Election crowned Carlos Andrés Perez the country’s new leader. Immediately into his Presidential term, Perez decided to shift the country’s economic policy by working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement economic reforms. [14] Ironically, Perez was blasted for allegedly insulting the IMF, calling them “a neutron bomb that killed people, but left buildings standing.” [15]

Perez’s economic reform brought many changes to the country. His government policies implemented a massive rise in prices including gas and transportation rates. [16] As a result of the oil crisis of the 1980s, [17] gas prices rose 100 percent while transportation rates also increased over thirty percent. [18] As Perez’s policies prevailed, the frustration of the population increased as well.

World ContextEdit

The late 1980s brought many changes to the world. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was taken down, bringing an end to the Cold War. Not only did the Cold War end, but many believed that it was the end to communism as well.[19] Communism was on its way out, but neoliberalism was spreading like wildfire.[19] As the German Democratic Republic and the U.S.S.R. were becoming extinct, a popular uprising was forming in Venezuela.[19]

Protests and riotingEdit

 
Looters running through the streets with stolen goods

The protests and rioting began on the morning of February 27, 1989, in Guarenas, a town in Miranda State about 30 kilometres (19 mi) east of Caracas, due to the steep increase in public transportation prices.[3][20] The protests and rioting quickly spread to the capital and other towns across the country. A lack of timely intervention by authorities –some police were under orders not to take action– led the Metropolitan Police to be quickly overwhelmed.[3] Despite initial debate within the government over how to manage the situation, a heavy-handed approach was implemented as a state of emergency and martial law were imposed.[3]

On February 28, Pérez suspended a number of articles of the Constitution, including Article 60 (right to individual liberty and security), Article 62 (inviolability of the home), Article 66 (freedom of expression), Article 71 (right to gather publicly and privately), and Article 115 (right to peaceful protest).[21] The rights were not completely restored until March 22, and in the interim, there was no official decree or resolution to define how government authority would be exercised in the absence of those constitutional rights.[21]

 
Smoke billowing from fires throughout Caracas
 
Large crowds of people gather during the rioting

By the time authorities encountered the scenes of rioting, citizens began firing weapons at officers, with the ensuing firefights resulting in many bystanders being killed by "bullets from army troops and from sniping protesters."[1][3] In many poor areas, citizens destroyed their own local commercial facilities, with food markets so damaged that their food distribution system was ruined.[1] Much of the rioters destroyed properties indiscriminately, with no motives related to initial protests.[1] According to Amnesty International, tactics used by security forces included "disappearances," the use of torture, and extrajudicial killings.[7] As part of the government's security forces, members of Hugo Chávez's MBR-200 allegedly participated in the crackdown.[22] Chávez himself was sick that day with measles.[23] As tensions eased, troops began to sweep through neighborhoods collecting appliances and cash registers and informing citizens that if they provided a certificate of purchase, the items would be returned.[1]

The initial official pronouncements stated that 276 people had died[20] but many estimates put the number at above 2,000.[4] Shortages of coffins were reported and many Venezuelans had to line up at government food distribution centers since markets were destroyed by rioters.[1] Insurance estimates of damage caused during the rioting were $90 million CAD ($120 million 2017 USD).[1]

Aftermath and consequencesEdit

On March 3, 1989, President Carlos Andres Pérez spoke with U.S. President George H. W. Bush. President Bush offered Pérez a US$450 million emergency loan. Pérez thanked Bush and asked him to support a change in debt policy toward Latin America: "I want to tell you if there is no change in [international] debt policy then whatever we may do here may be useless."[24] Pérez told Bush that he had sent him a letter several days earlier and that he would appreciate it if he would read it.[25] Pérez also visited Bush in Washington on April 1, 1989.[26]

Political instabilityEdit

The clearest consequence of the Caracazo was political instability. The following February, the army was called to contain similar riots in Puerto La Cruz and Barcelona and again in June, when rising of transportation costs ended in riots in Maracaibo and other cities. The reforms were modified.

The MBR-200 repudiated the Caracazo and accelerated its preparation for a coup d'état against the Perez government.[27] In 1992, there were two attempted coups in February and November. Pérez was later accused of corruption and removed from the presidency. Chávez, a MBR-200 leader and an organiser of one of the coups, was found guilty of sedition and incarcerated. However, he was subsequently pardoned by Pérez's successor, Rafael Caldera, and he went on to be elected president after the latter. Chavez later explained that after the event, "the members of the MBR 200 realized we had passed the point of no return and we had to take up arms. We could not continue to defend a murderous regime."[27]

InvestigationsEdit

 
Military response to the rioting.

In 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the government's action and referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 1999, the Court heard the case and found that the government had committed violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings. The Venezuelan government, by then headed by Chávez, did not contest the findings of the case and accepted full responsibility for the government's actions.[20]

In August 2009, Defense Minister Italo del Valle Alliegro was charged in relation to the Caracazo.[28] In July 2010, the Supreme Court overturned an appeal court ruling, which had declared the case covered by a statute of limitations.[29]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Riots leave Venezuela short of coffins; Up to 700 reported dead while hospitals say most of the injured were shot: B1". The Gazette. 5 March 1989.
  2. ^ UN, Venezuela: Wound Still Gaping 20 Years after ‘Caracazo’, By Humberto Márquez, Caracas, Feb 27 2009 (IPS, http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/02/venezuela-wound-still-gaping-20-years-after-lsquocaracazorsquo/
  3. ^ a b c d e f Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, Venezuela, One-sided Violence, Government of Venezuela – civilians, http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/gpcountry.php?id=167&regionSelect=5-Southern_Americas# Archived 2014-01-15 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b Crisp, Brian F. (1998), "Presidential Decree Authority in Venezuela", in John M. Carey and Matthew Soberg Shugart (eds, 1998), Executive decree authority, Cambridge University Press. p157
  5. ^ a b Venezuela exhumes unnamed dead in riot investigation, Reuters, 22 September 2009.
  6. ^ UN, Venezuela: Wound Still Gaping 20 Years after ‘Caracazo’, By Humberto Márquez, Caracas, Feb 27 2009 (IPS),http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/02/venezuela-wound-still-gaping-20-years-after-lsquocaracazorsquo/
  7. ^ a b Amnesty International, March 1990, Reports of Arbitrary Killings and Torture:, February/March 1989 , AI Index: AMR 53/02/90, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr53/002/1991/en/
  8. ^ Minster, Christopher. “Colombia's Legendary Riot of 1948.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 24 July 2019, www.thoughtco.com/the-bogotazo-april-9-1948-2136619.
  9. ^ Griswold, Deirdre. “Venezuela's 'Caracazo' and Imperialist Hypocrisy.” Workers World, 19 Feb. 2019, www.workers.org/2019/02/41118/.
  10. ^ Griswold, Deirdre. “Venezuela's 'Caracazo' and Imperialist Hypocrisy.” Workers World, 19 Feb. 2019, www.workers.org/2019/02/41118/.
  11. ^ Griswold, Deirdre. “Venezuela's 'Caracazo' and Imperialist Hypocrisy.” Workers World, 19 Feb. 2019, www.workers.org/2019/02/41118/.
  12. ^ “CIDOB.” Edited by Roberto Ortiz De Zárate, CIDOB, 24 Jan. 2019, www.cidob.org/en/biografias_lideres_politicos_only_in_spanish/america_del_sur/venezuela/jaime_lusinchi.
  13. ^ “CIDOB.” Edited by Roberto Ortiz De Zárate, CIDOB, 24 Jan. 2019, www.cidob.org/en/biografias_lideres_politicos_only_in_spanish/america_del_sur/venezuela/jaime_lusinchi.
  14. ^ Fastenberg, Dan. “Carlos Andrés Pérez.” Time, Time Inc., 10 Jan. 2011, content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2040189,00.html.
  15. ^ Fastenberg, Dan. “Carlos Andrés Pérez.” Time, Time Inc., 10 Jan. 2011, content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2040189,00.html.
  16. ^ Maya, Margarita López. “The Venezuelan Caracazo of 1989: Popular Protest and Institutional Weakness.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 2003, pp. 117–137., doi:10.1017/s0022216x02006673.
  17. ^ Wikipedia, Editors of. “1980s Oil Glut.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Sept. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980s_oil_glut.
  18. ^ Maya, Margarita López. “The Venezuelan Caracazo of 1989: Popular Protest and Institutional Weakness.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 2003, pp. 117–137., doi:10.1017/s0022216x02006673.
  19. ^ a b c "Thirty Years after Venezuela's 'Caracazo': A Conversation with Livia Vargas". Venezuelanalysis.com. 2019-03-23. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  20. ^ a b c El Caracazo Case, Judgment of 11 November 1999, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, accessed 1 May 2007
  21. ^ a b Crisp, Brian F. (1998), "Presidential Decree Authority in Venezuela", in John M. Carey and Matthew Soberg Shugart (eds, 1998), Executive decree authority, Cambridge University Press. p150
  22. ^ Nelson, Brian A. (2009). The silence and the scorpion: the coup against Chávez and the making of modern Venezuela (online ed.). New York: Nation Books. p. 24. ISBN 1568584180.
  23. ^ Kozloff, Nikolas (2007). Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 45. ISBN 9781403984098.
  24. ^ "Carlos Andrés Pérez", Wikipedia, 2019-11-20, retrieved 2019-11-21
  25. ^ Bush Presidential Library, 3 March 1989, Memcons and Telcons, https://bush41library.tamu.edu/files/Press--Meetings%20with%20Foreigners%201989.pdf
  26. ^ "Meetings with Foreign Leaders"   (Bush Library)
  27. ^ a b Hellinger, Daniel (2014). Comparative Politics of Latin America: Democracy at Last?. Routledge. ISBN 9781134070077.
  28. ^ BBC, 18 July 2009, Former Venezuela minister charged
  29. ^ Latin American Herald Tribune, 2 August 2010, Venezuela’s Ex-Defense Chief May Face Charges for ‘89 Repression