Report from Ground Zero Venezuela...
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Arrived last Sunday for my third trip down here to Caracas this year and was immediately encouraged to see the new optimism evident everywhere and so universally embraced that, finally, Hugo Chavez was soon to be history. And, hope everywhere that this embarrasing embracer of dictators and terrorists the world over, along with his economically devastating regime at home, could be sent packing... and soon. This attitude has been confirmed all this week by the popular marches and protests expanding well beyond the capitol to include the whole of the country this time and the successful general strike now even impacting significantly the vital petro sector.
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Support for Chavez is now under 20%, where even the lower clases have tired of his five years of empty rhetoric and promises. All the Venezuelan TV stations, except for sole govt owned station, are now openly and eagerly anti-Chavez. One has a regular nightly comedy section as part of their news report called ¨Chavez vs Chavez¨ with Rocky theme music for the background as they show one clip of Chavez from the past making some declaration and then another, more recent, clip that is in direct contradiction to his earlier pronouncements. His lies and deceptions have caught up to him and his active support has largely shrunk to only those with a vested interest in his power maintaining theirs. With a Chavez packed/picked 11 to 9 Supreme Court, there are now over 20 strong merit Constitutional abuse and corruption cases against him languishing for lack of proper action by the Supreme Court ... Any one of which would, upon conviction, have him automatically removed from office. The people here have gone the legal route, know the facts of these cases clearly, know also what is going on in the stonewalling of those cases by his appointees, and this along with economic and military revelations (detailed below) has been the motivation for many to have now taken to the streets en mass and so effectively. The resulting anti-Chavez popular movement is made up of a large cross section of the population with many middle and upper class, clean cut and well dressed, energetic citizens and families of all ages. You would be proud to have them and their enthusiasm join in with any USA Patriot event!
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Unfortunately, though, this new success, and now for-real potential for eventually accomplishing it's goals, has also tragically been confirmed last night by the desperation asserted via Chavez's unleashing violence here that is now being called the "Altamira Massacre" at the Altamira Plaza, also referred to as the Francia Plaza by some, and for those occupying it now, they call it the Plaza de Libertad.
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At 7:10 PM local time last evening, in one of those 'never forget where you were when' moments, I heard what I figured were just some more fireworks from the festivities, speeches, energetic flag waving and loud cheering crowds so normal down below our hotel rooms overlooking the Altamira Plaza. Before I got to the window to look, and had barely got out of my mouth to my company here that 'I hope it's only more fireworks', a dozen stacatto shots came, and screams quickly followed and the first view I had was of hundreds of panicked, running, and diving for cover, unarmed civilians; the full spectrum of young and old, with lots of couples and families with children.
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This was the festive place I'd passed through, and paused in, numerous times each day this week here and had enjoyed sharing in it's peoples round-the-clock, energy, optimism, and pride in their country. Especially, remembering as all stood at attention riveted reverentially to their National Anthem being played, and when cheering and waving their flags in approval of the latest pronouncement from the podium, but now this Plaza clutched about 30 victims as a reminder to all that securing freedom isn't free.

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At this time; 5 dead and 29 wounded, is the official report, but what I'd not want to miss also having reported, is that less than 40 minutes after the last shot, and while the threat of more gunfire was clearly possible and actually happened later on, about a third of the original crowd of 2,000 local patriots, both from on stage and in the audience, came back out in the open defiantly resuming their program and loudly proclaiming that they would not be intimidated by Hugo Chavez and his cowardly hired thugs! The intense sense of historical purpose in doing so was inherently understood by all still there. What it required of them at that annointed time was evident in their energy and determination and would have surely made our own founding fathers proud! The last victims had only just been removed and the blood upon the Plaza was still wet and glistening, yet these Venezuelans had a in-your-face & up-yours message to deliver to Chavez that could not wait and only makes me more eager to see them successfully deliver it!
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Cameras caught and relayed this scene all over the nation, hopefully it will be later seen as the turning point for the end of the Chavez regime, and no further violent escalation will surpass it, but I am afraid martial law and repressive media clamp downs and then unfettered (no camera evidence) abuses will be unleashed. Maybe, if lucky, Chavez will give it up and go retire to his home in Cuba that he has established there and been having shipments made to/for, but not counting on it, not yet anyways.
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Four of the attackers from last night were promptly caught, two confirmed as govt employees. Some others firing from elevated positions and still others suspected of employing silenced weapons are still being sought as miles of video tape is studied here.
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The risk of state sponsored violence was not unknown to this crowd last night (Friday). The 24/7 Plaza events and military encampment here has supporters day and night and early Friday morning, at 2:50 AM I awoke to shots being fired into the Plaza from drive-by assailants. Fortunately, no injuries reported and the capable security teams here pursued and captured them and they were discovered to be two card-carrying DIM (Division de Intelligencia Militar) agents. They were turned over to the local police, who are also overwhelmingly anti-Chavez, but with the aid of a Chavez appointed judge were promptly ´absolved´ and are now gone.
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This morning (Saturday) at about 10 AM local time, the security teams captured another two more potential assailants coming into the Plaza. They were armed with a five shot revolver and Taurus 9mm. I examined the ID carried by both and they are Chavez MVR Party members and one is a MVR political appointee, a Comisario, which I have been told, is like a constable in the US. He was from the state of Anzoategui, which is about 6 hours away, long ways from home.
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Altamira Plaza has rightly become the focus of this struggle because it was here that the dis-spirited and fragmented efforts left over since the April Coup debacle become whole again, focused, and re-energized. That credit clearly goes to the Venezuelan military high command that has recently been quitting Hugo Chavez's regime in protest over his unconstitutional usurpations of power and Cubanization plans. They not only quit, but then vowed to stay together and continue to occupy and protest at the Altamira Plaza until Chavez leaves. But, it gets better, all of this has happened over the last 46 days and these are the top 30 generals, plus about a hundred of lesser ranks, Colonels, Majors, etc. and they've only just recently come out from Chavez's regime and know what he's really up to that had them quitting in protest and are eager to tell us all why!
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We are talking here about the overall head of all the armed services, and the Commanding General of the Army, the Commanding Admiral of the Navy, the General over the National Guard, etc., etc. See an impressive list of most of them here... <BR>
<A HREF=http://www.MilitaresDemocraticos.com/sp/oficiales.html target=new>http://www.MilitaresDemocraticos.com/sp/oficiales.html</A>
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The list includes Military Attache for Chavez in Washington, Enrique Medina Gomez, Former head of the navy, Hector Ramirez, ex-U.N. attache for Venezuela, Carlos Alfonzo Martinez, inspector general of the National Guard, and nearly 30 other generals.
In addition, the group also has unconditional support from a number of high-ranking generals who are NOT on the list because they chose to not physically live in the Altamira Plaza, however. These "non-residents" include:
Chavez' first Secretary of Defense and former ambassador to Spain, Raul Salazar; Efrain Vasquez Velasco, Chavez' supreme commander of the Army earlier this year; Manuel Rosendo, general and commander general of the Army; Guaicapuro Lameda, general, ex-president of PDVSA the state oil company, and Chavez' former Secretary of the Treasury; Rommel Fuenmayor, president of CAVIM, Venezuela's state-owned arms manufacturer; Marcos Ferreira, former boss of Oni-Dex, the ID-card and citizen registration system.
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In addition, there's another 15,000+ officers, NCO's, and enlisted that they've instructed to stay inside the military while awaiting orders, but, in the meantime, to continue feeding additional intel out to the officiers that have already left and are there at the Altamira Plaza. (Look for entire garrisons to renounce and dissert Chavez dramatically en mass and leave to join the anti-Chavez forces soon.) BTW, on a slow day, before this week, additional officers quit Chavez daily, came to the Plaza and gave their testimonial of conscience to the cheering crowds here daily.
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The Venezuelan people responded quickly to the conscience-based protest these military men represented in risking arrest or worse to come out from under Hugo Chavez and reveal all. For many, too, they'd been with him for a long time and know where a lot 'of the bodies are buried'. One General related what he felt was an embarrasing story to me and that he says he regrets his actions in it to this day. He claims he was with Chavez right before he was taken into custody in the April Coup and said Chavez was so despondent that he had had to physically wrestle a pistol out of his mouth pleading with Chavez not to take his own life. He says, shaking his head slowly, that he wishes today he had not restrained him then.
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For the public, these military officers are true heros, often signing their flags and regularly up on the stage in their pressed uniforms, giving speeches, updates, and introducing new officers and public officials now joining the cause.
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Shortly after they commenced their media rich activities here in the Plaza, the TV was covering them daily, frequently and in a positive light, as well as the other splintered anti-Chavez organizations, too, that are all now represented here with their own booths. And, that military lead is what is really the behind this effective rejuvination to get Chavez ousted with this new concerted and focused effort.
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The Venezuelan peoples' motivation for most all along, has been primarily economical complaints, such as a 40% devaluation in the local currency (the "Bolivar") since the 1st of the year, but since the military has been enlightening everyone, this past month and a half, more are also discovering how Chavez Cubanization goals are much more than just the crazy rhetoric they had written it off to before. And they see, too, that they risk Venezuela being seen by the world as a terrorist state and shunned by the USA.
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To understand how appaling this prospect is to them, it is important to realize where the Venezuelan people stand and their attitudes. They enjoy, largely due to they being the worlds' 5th largest oil producer, the most modern lifestyle of all the South American countries. From the best interstate highway system in South America (with plenty of newer cars and 24 cent/gallon gas) to the French made modern subway system below Caracas, both of which I have personally travelled extensivelly, to the only nation-wide and cheap cell phone coverage down here, along with modern and comprehensive media (cable TV, broadband internet, satellite, etc.). Bottom Line, they are very well connected with lots of their kids going to school in the USA, too, and are eager to stop the erosion in the quality of their lifestyles from the past five years of Chavez rule.
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Attitude-wise, we could hope here in the USA for no better allies than the Venezuelan people. According to the just published 2002 Global Attitudes Survey by the Pew Research Center in Washington; 82% have a favorable opinion of the USA, and that is amongst the highest ratings of all the 44 countries surveyed. And, in regard to supporting the US led war on terrorism, 79% favor it while only 20% oppose it!
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Clearly, no country in South America holds more promise for being a strong and effective ally and supporter of the USA, perhaps none better in this entire Hemisphere, *when* Chavez is gone and remnants of his regime are fully rooted out. Also, though,there is no current government in this hemisphere that is a more "Clear & Present Danger" to the USA with the continuation and expansion of Hugo Chavez type innitiatives...
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#1 - "Free" oil to Castro 'in trade' for Cuban advisors running secret 'internal security' training camps here.
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#2 - FARC/ELN Columbian revolutionists, that US is fighting, are supported materially in exchange for lucrative drug trade that's transported via official health dept vehicles here across Venezuela with Puerto Rico as the foreign destination.
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#3 - Relationship with Gaddafi has secured Katushka missles and their Libyan technicians here.
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#4 - Relationship with Saddam Hussein has produced both support and material trades with his regime.
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#5 - Chavez donated 1 million $'s to Al Queda in Afganistan shortly after 9/11. He also publicly excused his Chavista supporters burning USA flags then by saying USA brought 9/11 upon itself.
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#6 - Has deposited 4.5 Billion $'s into Chinese banks and has visited China more frequently than any US President. Also, China has made larger ¨investments¨ in Venezuela than in all other South American countries combined, even if Mexico is also included.
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#7 - Thursday, military informer reported, small unit of National Guard ordered by Cnel.(EJ) 2do. Comandante of the Reserve Orlando Zurita Ramirez, who was following orders originating by Chavez, to go to an armory to load up 750 FAL's along with 1.8 million rounds of ammo and transport them to poor neighborhood west of Caracas called "23 de Enero". There they were distributed to local gang of about 1,000 strong called "Caraoaica y Tupacamaro". The Generals told me here that this sort of desperation agitation to create additional street violence by Chavez is to be expected as the precursor and excuse for eventual martial law. This is clear insight and indication of why Chavez is so comfortable with the likes of Saddam Hussein, and Chavez is a whole lot closer!
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#8 - Remember brief mention in media recently about accusations Castro had a bio-weapon lab in Cuba? Well, don't bother looking for it there anymore, it was airlifted out by a Chavez C-130 in a rush/hush mission shortly after that news story broke. It's here, still largely crated and being watched, awaiting final destination along with Cuban technicians that came with it.
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#9 - As if all the above wasn't enough, and now after Chavez has embraced all the worlds greatest living dictators and their regimes as something to emulate here in Venezuela, he has found, yet another 'hero of the people' to serve up. He has been petitioning the French government to give him 'Carlos The Jackal', currently incarcerated there, so he might 'serve out his term' here in his home country and where his brother resides, Raphael Ramirez, who is Chavez Minister of Energy & Mines.
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Most of the above stories with details, and many more related to govt corruption and political shenanigans, can be seen now or will be soon published here...
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<A HREF=http://www.MilitaresDemocraticos.com target=new>http://www.MilitaresDemocraticos.com</A>
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Currently only in spanish, but english version web site being worked on right now, and coming very soon. Live web cam overlooking the Plaza is going in soon, too, and when up/running it will be announced on front page there, too. I've asked them to also add sound via the web, too, this crowd is impressively vibrant and just plain loud.
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The Plaza, scene of the massacre less than 24 hours ago, as I write this here now, is again filling up for this evening, too!
These folks are willing to risk it all, for me an awesome and indescribable inspiration, and personally I am humbled and consider myself fortunate to be able to help in their effort in any small way.
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Regarding oil, many have inquired from US about export situation, tanker movement and refinery production here; Current breaking story here is a contingent of National Guard was just sent to take over and drive the tanker trucks at a refinery in Carabobo State and owners deferred to Constitionally protected property rights in refusing them and Commandant tried to get a judge to issue some sort of emergency order overiding the Constitution and, in the meantime, his rank/file soldiers decided now was as good a time as any to dissert and proclaim that they refuse to act unconstitutionally and they did so en masse and the cameras caught it. Quick as I saw it on TV here, I could hear the crowd erupt below in the Plaza as they announced it from the stage there, too.
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In other oil news, all but two of the PDVSA board of directors has quit in protest and the strike within the oil sector will go on at least through a good part of next week, though many members of the industry could carry on much longer.
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Regarding the stalled tankers, 11 of the 14 are still halted in-place. The Navy has boarded many, but is not convincing their capitans/crews to crank them back up and the Navy is shy about taking the responsibility themselves and piloting them, so no movement.
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Events and developments from across the country continue moving ever faster here now, will update ASAP, also check that web site above for latest/best info, too.
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Never boring here...
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-Shane
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