Sunday, August 2, 2015

Los Saqueos de San Felix

Venezuela (Mar 17, 2006)

On April 11, 1817 the Second Republic of Venezuela was at a decisive point in its fight against the Spanish oppressor. Manuel Piar, the only general of mixed ancestry in the young rebel's army, was finally confronting the Spanish brigadier La Torres leading the larger loyalist army. The battle, fought in the plane of Chirica near the town of San Felix, only lasted half an hour. During that short time the outnumbered and untrained infantry of Piar managed to route the Spaniard forces, and thus secure the freedom of the province of Guyana from the colonial rule. Piar itself, however, didn't live long to reap the benefits of his hard won victory: faithful to the end to his black and indian soldiers, he demanded equal political and social rights for the colored population of Venezuela, dominated by the white oligarchy of european descent. He was accused of treason and executed by a firing squad in front of the Cathedral of Angostura (present day's Ciudad Bolivar). The libertador himself, Simon Bolivar, was behind the order to terminate Piar's life, in his mind a necessary act to prevent the feared black insurrection against the white rule. Upon hearing the shots that ended the life of his former companion, Bolivar is rumored to have said: "He derramado mi sangre" (I shed my own blood).

San Felix, today, is part of the larger Ciudad Guayana, the largest city of the Bolivar state in the vast virgin south of the country. It is a land rich of natural resources: primarily mines of iron and bauxite (aluminum), but also vast hydroelectric resources captured by huge dams on the Orinoco river. The area of Ciudad Guayana, a "planned city" built with the aid of architects from MIT and Harvard, is the hotspot of Venezuelan heavy industry. San Felix and Puerto Ordaz, on the two sides of the Orinoco River, are the historical and modern centers of this city with over 1 million inhabitants. A worker's city, where in better times most of the population was employed in the manufacturing industry that made Venezuela one of the most economically advanced countries in latin America.

A "buseta" in Venezuela
It is in San Felix that, on July 31st of 2015, at 5 in the morning, the most recent of Venezuelan riots happened. The occasion was the increase in the cost of a bus ticket, from the 10 Bolivars set by the government (1.6 US dollars at the official exchange rate, but less than 15 cents at the actual market value) to the 50 Bolivars charged by the driver attempting to make an actual living wage out of his job. The riot rapidly propagated to nearby stores, looted in search of precious items such as corn flour, a bathroom sink and some clothes. By the time the National Guard was called, the whole neighborhood was in a state of chaos. Firearms were shot: a 21 years-old boy met the end of his life when his chest was hit by a rogue bullet. By the end of the day eighty protesters were arrested, and four stores were looted in the Avenue named after Manuel Piar himself. In today's Venezuela the looting in San Felix would be unremarkable, if it wasn't that for the first time this kind of social unrest happened in a region that is at the core of Venezuelan working class. Despite the claims of authorities, the crowd that rebelled in San Felix has nothing to do with the right-wing opposition that had been promoting last year's revolts in the border state of Tachira. The people rioting and looting in Guyana were prompted by their own desperation for the unsustainable chronic scarcity that has been afflicting the country. The troubles in San Felix could be the first sign that the Venezuelan Government may be losing the core support it has so far enjoyed from the popular classes. Violent changes may be coming to Venezuela, and there is no guarantees that the outcome will be a peaceful and democratic society.

Venezuela (Mar 17, 2006)

No comments:

Post a Comment