Camera-shy monsters

The use of flash photography while we shoot you is strictly forbidden

The use of flash photography while we shoot you is strictly forbidden

One of the things that jumps out of the Human Rights Watch report is how our human rights violators seem to be fearful of appearing on video. As the report states:

  • “In 13 of the cases we investigated, security forces targeted individuals who had been taking photographs or filming security force confrontations with protesters.” (P. 3)
  • “In these cases—as well as others involving the detention of protesters and bystanders—national guardsmen and police routinely confiscated the cell phones and cameras of the detainees. In the rare instances when detainees had these devices returned to them, they routinely found that their photographs or video had been deleted.” (P. 12)
  • “As the guardsmen fired teargas and rubber bullets, journalists Méndez and Rodríguez took shelter in the entranceway to an apartment building. Shortly thereafter, three National Guard motorcycles stopped in front of them. Méndez and Rodríguez were both wearing gas masks; Méndez was wearing a bulletproof vest that said, “PRESS,” in large, white letters; and Rodríguez was carrying a professional camera. They yelled that they were journalists and raised their hands above their heads. One of the guardsmen yelled, “You’re taking photos of me! You’re the ones that send the photos saying ‘SOS Venezuela.’ You cause problems for the National Guard.” (P. 41)
  • “After firing on them, a guardsman approached Méndez and asked why she was wearing a bulletproof vest. When she responded that it was because she was a journalist, the guardsman said, “You’re not a journalist, you’re a bitch made of shit.” (No eres una periodista, eres una perra de mierda.) The guardsman pulled off her gas mask and then Rodríguez’s. He pointed a rifle at Rodríguez’s face, saying, “Give me everything you have.”
    The guardsman took Rodríguez’s backpack, containing his IDs and press credentials, demanded the memory card of his camera, and left. Within minutes, a third wave of guardsmen arrived on motorcycle, firing teargas towards the doorway where Méndez and Rodríguez were still trapped, now without gas masks. A guardsman took Méndez’s cell phone and her bulletproof vest, and detained the two journalists.” (P. 42)
  • “Holdack was filming civilians beating demonstrators when approximately four men—whom he told Human Rights Watch were officers—grabbed him by his hair, beat him, and detained him. When he arrived at the CICPC headquarters, he was thrown to the floor, where officials kicked him. One of them said: “We don’t want those videos circulating in social networks.”” (P. 54)
  • “The guardsmen grabbed Osorio by the arms, picked him up, and one of them hit him with the back of a firearm in his head. Osorio fell to the ground again, and felt another blow on his head, while six guardsmen, all of them with their faces covered, surrounded him and started kicking his head, body, and testicles. He told them again that he was a journalist and one of the guardsmen simply responded: “The camera!” and attempted to take it away from him. One of the guardsmen then pulled his backpack to try to take it away and could not do so—because Osorio had tied two of the strings across his stomach—so he started pulling Osorio backwards on the street, while the rest continued to kick him.” (P. 69)
  • “On February 20, 2014, Óscar Tellechea, a 27-year-old communications student who works for a news agency, was taking pictures and covering a peaceful demonstration in Valencia that turned violent after security forces used force to disperse it, Tellechea told Human Rights Watch. Tellechea, who said that at the time he was wearing a hat with the name of the agency he works for and had his press credentials visible, told Human Rights Watch that a member of the National Guard stopped him, pointed a shotgun at his head, and ordered him to delete all pictures he had in his camera.” (P. 72)
  • “On February 24, 2014, Marvinia Jiménez, a 36-year old seamstress, was attacked by a member of the Guard of the People after she filmed officials using her cell phone as they shot teargas canisters at protesters.” (P. 72)
  • “González was taken to a police car nearby, where officers threatened to kill him, saying, “So you are going to throw stones? You’re going to be sorry.” Police took his cell phone, wallet, keys, and backpack and held him incommunicado in the Helicoide jail until the following day, during which time he was handcuffed together with two other individuals.” (P. 75)
  • “According to Montilla, who is a Rastafarian and had dreadlocks that reached his waist, a guardsman pulled his hair, threw him to the ground, and took away his bag. Despite the fact that he said he was a journalist, the guardsman took away his camera and detained him. He was driven in an official vehicle to a military installation. When he arrived, Montilla was taken, handcuffed, to a kitchen, where a guardsman told him they would cut his hair “so he becomes a man” (para que seas un hombre). The guardsman cut off his hair, while
    the others laughed, even though he explained to them the dreadlocks were closely associated with his religious beliefs as a member of the Rastafari movement.” (P. 76)

This strikes me as very odd behavior. From what we know, human rights violators love to be filmed doing their deeds. There are thousands of pictures of Holocaust atrocities (Godwin alert!), as well as proud pictures of FARC guerrilla fighters. Without going too far from home, the colectivos are many things, but camera shy ain’t one of them.

The attitude of the National Guard and the National Police is baffling. If their intent is to scare protesters, then why not pose for tons of pictures? The more viral the repression, the likelier the chance they will deter future protests, right?

There may be several things at play here. One is that the government does not really want to deter the protests, and that is why they repress in hiding, away from the cameras. But the more likely explanation is that, deep down, these men (and some women) are embarassed of what they are doing. As much glee as they show toward abusing their fellow countrymen, deep down there has to be an element of shame involved. Something deep inside (a conscience? an escuálida grandmother?) is telling them that what they are doing is wrong … so much so, that they don’t want video proof of it.

It’s a strange phenomenon: the henchmen (and women) of the revolution as tropical Greta Garbos, hiding the proof of their attacks on civilians. Your explanation for this is as good as mine.

45 thoughts on “Camera-shy monsters

  1. The regime knows how costly negative photography is to its survival. It learned from the Fujimoristas how a videotape of Vladimiro Montesinos toppled a government. Moreover, after the chavista regimes invested thousand$ (a too-modest estimate) in propaganda, abroad, over a 15-year period, so as to bolster saintlihood, it wouldn’t do to show the contrary through evidentiary photographs.


    • Agree to a point. A clear different are the mindsets involved. Colectivos are essentially street gangsters, common criminals who are not afraid of the judiciary, therefore they do not really care if they are filmed or not. PNBs and SEBIN cops are to a point the same, and I am not trying to be cynical. National Guards however, are a little different. They need to spend years in an academy to graduate, so they are exposed to some education. Contrary to colectivos and PNBs, GNBs are subjected to military courts and military law, which in general is perceived as more severe and efficient than the ordinary one. They usually come from better functional families, so they may express more regret consistent with stronger family values. Lastly, I knew back in the 90s that at least the military academies were very aware of the consequences brought upon by experiences of HHRR violations in South and Central America by active military personnel. I do not know if Chavez was able to change that in all these years, but it could be another reason to explain this behavior.


  2. It’s not that valid to compare what happened so many years ago in another circumstance with today.Conditions are vastly different and the collective unconscious is also ” another animal”‘.

    When in doubt apply Occam’s Razor: They hide because they do not want their actions publicized, and the reasons for that are pretty self explanatory : proof being one of them.


  3. A weird post, Juan. Their attitude is the norm, specially in these times. Not for nothing there are the publications there are about journalists getting killed all over the world.

    The GNB are aware of the repercussions abroad. That’s why I have often said now the students (and others) need to develop strategies to film things with hidden cameras.

    I don’t know why you had to use the Nazi comparison. The taking pictures of atrocities
    during WW2 was NOT the norm. There were over 5 million soldiers and SS and the like with the Germans and the Axis in general over a 6 year period over all of Europe.

    You can start by reading this, about Hitler but containing quite a lot of information about how the Nazis managed their propaganda during the different periods. Sure, there were soldiers taking pictures of atrocities but it was usually prohibited, Nazis wanted to deny what was going on.

    What do you think the thugs under Pinochet were doing in pre-Internet, pre-digital camera times? Those of Trujillo? On one side they wanted to scare people, on the other they were aware they couldn’t be doing that so openly.


    • By the way: I read the articles that appeared on Spiegel about the investigation on Wehrmacht atrocities. That does not contradict in the least what I said. On the contrary.

      Here part of what the English version of Spiegel (it might be abridged but I am not sure) wrote on that:

      “transcripts of covertly recorded conversations between German officers in which they talked about their wartime experiences with an unprecedented degree of openness. ”

      As for the pictures: it was, as I said, it is not surprising we have some of them as there were millions of soldiers and other murderers terrorizing Europe (and other places) for so many years…in most cases taking pictures even by “pals” was punished (and, of course, victims or the enemy soldiers couldn’t be taking pictures of the Nazis)

      Same goes for other conflicts. So here we don’t see anything new, a repressive regime, no matter what repressive, tries to hide the flow of information about its abuses and that has been so since probably 1919.

      The exception to this is when they wanted to show the execution of people accused of treason, but again, I don’t know why you need to link Chavismo, with all its repression, to those extremes. We are talking about orders of difference.


      • The Germans during the Holocaust routinely posed for pictures to document their atrocities. It is one of the reasons for the extensive photographic record of the Shoah – these pictures were in these people’s homes, and in their photo albums. They were proud of it. See, for example, Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” for documentation of this.

        Human rights violators, acting with total impunity, are not always embarassed of what they do because … well, they have impunity!


        • Juan, again: I think it is obvious there is a huge difference between the repercusions of having pictures sent home (which, by the way, was prohibited) in those times that preceded in decades computers and satellites and so much more.
          You did not see those pictures in the WSJ, in the NY Times, not in Pravda, not in Izvestia.
          Although there is still a huge discussion about the extent in which X% of Germans and others knew about those atrocities, although there were open appeals by the Jewish community and others to warn about the extent of those crimes, although the US and British forces had got intelligence reports about a lot – although not all the key- mass murdering mechanisms of the Nazis and the Japanese etc, the extent of those atrocities was not clear to the vast majority of people.

          Really, the comparison is senseless.

          Right now if we get a couple of compromising pictures those pictures are in 1 second in Alaska, in South Africa, in Chile and in Norway, we can compare those pictures with a thousand other pictures from different angles of the same area, sound, we can add a Google map take and so much more.

          And besides: what the Venezuelans are doing is what a lot of other governmental groups are doing in Africa and, to some extent, in Mexico and Colombia: shoot the journalist.

          I thought that was obvious. There is a lot, an incredible lot of work by a zillion journalists about repression against journalists covering events across the Globe right now.


        • Am with Kepler. These were mostly private fotos.
          The nazis tried very hard to control the information. There was a reason that most concentration camps were in polish or czech territory. The germans knew about concentration camps and mass murder of civilians especially in the Eastern Front mostly by oral accounts of soldiers on furlough. The letters were often read by some authorities. And there were harsh punishments, when they wrote stuff they shouldn’t.

          And I really believe Fernando Jorge Matthei Aubel, that he didn’t know what was going on in the cellars of the Academia de Guerra Aérea he was commanding. Without any cynicism. He did not want to know and it was dangerous to do so.

          Evil regimes always try hard to hide their evilness.


        • The cops seize videos because they don’t want it widely known what they are doing. The Nazis, too, tried to keep their crimes secret; that’s why they called it Final Solution rather than Kill the Jews. We have archival footage today, sparse though it is, because their secrets became public when the government collapsed.


    • But why? It’s not like evidence counts for anything. And evidence of being a brute is something they want on their resumé!


      • Maybe they have a realistic understanding of the longevity of this giant scam of a revolution.


        • Would agree with this, an element of risk aversion. Consider that more solid and entrenched regimes have recently been toppled, the probability of future prosecution is not zero, hence they fear photographic evidence. Homo criminalis-economicus


  4. Why do the hate being documented perpetrating their brutality?
    Their propaganda cultivates a righteous persona. Beating unarmed people for the world to see is hard to reconcile to their message.


  5. They don’t need photos or videos to circulate to deter protesters. Every person in Venezuela knows the violence you risk facing if you protest against the government.

    They don’t want the photos/videos because they can be spread around the world and contradict the government’s claims of security forces respecting human rights except for a few bad apples.

    I apologize if you’re post was some sort of sarcasm and I’m not getting it.


    • Yes, probably, which points to a fundamental problem of chavismo: it is evil, and it is at odds with how regular people operate. Deep down, being a chavista often means going against your basic nature. It can’t last.


  6. I don’t think it’s that simple. In a nation with total impunity, where loyalty to the revolution is prized above anything else, where there are ZERO costs to violating the opposition’s fundamental rights and many benefits … wouldn’t you WANT to appear in these videos?

    Think of the woman who beat up Marvinia Jiménez. Don’t you think she will show up as an Ambassador or a Minister some day? Hell, the head of the Tupamaros was seated at the dialogue table in Miraflores!

    This is a revolution where the bigger the thug, the bigger his wallet. That is why it’s surprising to me, this obsession with trying to hide their revolutionary badges of honor.


    • There is a huge difference between the story Chavegarchs can tell about the she-thug who beat up Jiménez and about other thugs like the Tupamaro one or the ones shooting at people from the Laguno bridge. The Tupamaro is already a fuzzy case for most foreigners…one could say: “where are the proofs linking him to something concrete against a civilian?”. The case of the Laguno murderers is messed because of the confusion in those events (something the author of the Scorpion’s portrayed well).
      But in the case of Jiménez’s beating: we have pretty much a lot of information showing Jiménez is a civilian who was disarmed, we have lots of pictures from different angles of the street, which didn’t have as many people as those back then in 2002. I – or any other Valenciano with some geographic sense- could even show you with Google Earth exactly where Jimenez was coming from, where the thugs were, at what time,
      and we could link to a series of Youtube videos where the whole thing was shown from every angle.

      And because of that we can make a clear case here, where I am right now, in Brussels, in Berlin, in Den Haag, in NY, in Santiago, about how the Chavezgarchs attack innocent civilians.

      They know it.


    • Impunity is over 90%, yet kidnappers don’t want to be seen by their victims… jut in case something goes awry. It is, IMHO, the natural reaction.


    • Juan,
      I’ve had a similar thought process with regard to cover-ups, following atrocities committed. You wonder: If these thugs are so convinced that they and their movement are God’s gift to humanity, thereby cloaking themselves with total impunity, why then do they go ape sh*t when their trophy actions are documented and circulated to the world at large?

      It, too, brought to mind comparative behaviour among Nazis. That is, long before they feared invasion by the US armed forces. For, hearing a real-life story and actually finding the location, in a Polish forest, where atrocities were not only committed, but hidden, I wondered: If the Nazis thought themselves as the Master Race, i.e., having total impunity, why would they bother burying or burning the evidence? I’m not referring to the burning of bodies after forced gassing, starvation, or otherwise, simply to avoid a feared outbreak of typhoid. I’m referring to this true vignette:

      Early in the War years, convoys of gas vans would travel through the northern (Polish) countryside, carrying the result of killings enroute. In preparation for the arrival of these gas vans, in the forest, prisoners had already excavated pine saplings. The gas vans would dump their cargo in the created pits only to be covered over with the same excavated pine saplings, as though nothing had ever happened.


  7. IMO the regime is not as strong as we give it credit to be. Media helps it being SEEN larger than life.

    I would not doubt they are actually happy big productions like Marvinia and the helmet woman, or the first student being shoot while running, or the beauty pageant girl being carried on the motorcycle are frowned upon. Good footage to terrorize would be protesters.

    In reality, the cuban occupation and the paramilitary groups would have a hard challenge to control the population when they loose the fear and decide to topple this regime. Their hope is that the win first by breaking the fighting spirit of the people.

    Eventually, if they succeed in this, they will be more censoring on what gets filmed and distributed.


  8. The regime prizes its image , tries to make itself look like a model govt , take pride in appearing as the goody goody guys , thats why they have been hurt so much by what the filming an photographing of the protests savage repression and its appearance in so much of the international media , its seriously has hurt their international standing as a democractic regime , they know it !! ultimately that has consequences which dont make themselves felt inmmediately but some point in the future can have a very harmful practical impact .

    Its legitimacy as a democratic government has deteriorated these last few months specially because of what those filmed and photoed images show . no surprise them at the aggresiveness they show against people who make videos of their repressive behaviour . They know they live under a double standard , one which applies inside their groups and another which applies to their image before the public and the world .


  9. (Tal vez) Si aquellos en el Gobierno Central piensan que sus probabilidades de dejar ser gobierno en el corto-mediano plazo están aumentando, entonces la evidencia cobraría mayor valor presente. Si esto fuese así, el desagrado no vendría por lo que la evidencia pueda lograr ahora, sino por lo que significaría en un probable futuro en el que estos personajes no tendrían una capa institucional que los pudiera proteger.


  10. Could it be that in spite of following orders, the guardsmen know that if they are implicated, with evidence, the government could easily throw them under the bus?


    • Roy, I think what you said is part of it. But they’re not ashamed of what they’re doing, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much brutality as we’ve seen. Also, as many people have commented, it’s a matter of image — “La Revolucion Bonita”. Something that affects them not just internationally, but also at home. If you read in the Aporrea forum the comments on the marches or guarimbas, most people seem to thing that the GNB and/or PNB maybe were just trying to defend themselves because in their heads there’s no way this revolution can do harm or wrong. With all the control on the press, many chavistas “del pueblo” don’t ever see what’s really happening, and the government wants to keep it that way.


  11. “The attitude of the National Guard and the National Police is baffling. If their intent is to scare protesters, then why not pose for tons of pictures? The more viral the repression, the likelier the chance they will deter future protests, right?”

    My own theory diverges from yours completely. My theory is that the sadistic behavior shown by the GNB and the PNB is a consequence of a hatred speech, in which they feel ‘just’ or ‘vindicated’ when they punish those who oppose the revolution. If you actually go past the security lines in a marcha you can hear the officials dumping a hate speech on to the soldiers. Right before every repression they are told how we (the protesters) threaten the revolution.

    In their own twisted rhetoric they know how the ‘punishment’ is ‘just’, but that with the pictures is taken out of context and transformed in something harmful against the revolution. This must be then avoided. Punishment has to be dispensed without its side effects. It side effects being reports like that of HRW.

    Understand this, many soldiers are in the 18 – 24 age bracket. They probably were recruited in their teens by the armed forces and given some education and food. They come from the poorest of all sectors and they have been fed the revolution kool-aid for at least 8 years. For many teens, joining the armed forces, like in medieval times, was the only way to escape poverty. Families feel relieve of the burden of feeding an extra mouth and are also comforted with the idea that their children is receiving an education they didn’t have access to. The armed forces of course target the poorest to do this recruiting.

    There are additional tones to the violent behavior that obeys more a dark side of human nature in which we crave power over others. In these situations, these GNB and PNB who pretty much never had any control over their lives or those of others, find them self with a tiny amount of power that they pursue to exercise to a full extent regardless of morals or principles.

    In all, sadism. A troubling symptom of a very ill society.


      • Why has our friend Betty – I wonder if Betty has a clue why you call her Beto- been so silent on this thread?
        The writing style seems different from Get a Clue/Chris Carlson.


      • I think Rodrigo shows he’s in the place. I am not there but I have seen some of the videos of students who got near the cops when these were being prepared by their “coaches-bosses”, I have also heard from some people there, everything seems to fit with that picture.


  12. The third item answers the question. The pics and videos “cause problems for the National Guard.”


    • I agree Jau.


      We are living in different times…that is obvious.

      Now there is social media .Also we are living in the day of disguised dictatorship.They need some protection from accusation, that Nazi Germany did not need.

      It is not about conscience, but rather about necessity and image.

      If they had consciences they would not be committing their abuses in the first place.


    • Why is that baffling, jau? I believe that what Juan is getting to lies in the morality card, a very fine subset that underscores the self-righteousness of those committing the atrocities.

      Seems to me that the answers to this grey and shifting area are multiple, touched upon by various and sundry commenters.


      • JC is the one baffled by the fact that these guys do not want evidence.

        To me its clear that the GNB/PNB/Colectivos know that they are committing a crime and, like all criminals, they do not want any proof or evidence about it. And it does not matter if they feel good or bad about it, or if they hate or not the people that they are hitting, the thing is that they know that eventually, if the regime falls, they could end up in prison or dead or at the very least fired from the GNB/PNB.


  13. The underlying truth is that those who are perpetrating the crimes surely do not want it publicised’ as most people said, they want no proof if, or rather when, the moment of truth/justice finally comes.

    It’s hard to deny when there is a picture/video of you beating the living crap out of a student or journalist or grandmother….


  14. One other thought. In the former communist east block, it was the protesters that did not want to be photographed. This was because the film could be confiscated and used to track people down, punish collaborators in all sorts of creative ways, and identify leaders. If you showed up at a demonstration with a camera, people would give you harsh looks, tell you to get rid of it or go away.

    There may be something of that going on in Venezuela, the authorities using clips to track people down, although I am skeptical that they have the competence to do that to any large degree. But I think what JC summarizes here also shows how social media has changed the nature of social protest, and how it is now a powerful force. Now in some respects, if you are a protester and your identity is going to be known to a few, you want it known to the whole world, rather than try to remain anonymous. Anonymity is now the friend of the authorities; for the rebel there is more safety in being known.


  15. Why are we even discussing this? Don’t any of these reporters know about instant upload? Qik, Synology, Gynazo… it’s gone before the GNB can even get there. I know we’re not talking about high resolution here but if I was a reporter and I wanted to get my reports out, this is how I would do it.


    • Two things
      First even when is a fact that venezuelan people likes technology is more a matter o fashion than of purpose. Many don´t know about that kind of technology.
      Second data coverage is sketchy no matter what the government says. There is even reports of internet and cell phone coverage blackouts.
      Having a camera, a gas mask and a vest is all that a reporter think it needs to take to the streets. Is a very expensive equipment requirement .to take another charge with a modem and change the camera to a net capable one


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