The lingering question as we conclude Human Rights week is – why? What are the authorities looking for? Are they looking to stoke the protests? Do they want them to tire out? Is the goal to physically disappear key protestors? Or, perhaps, to repress completely, to simply take away Venezuelans’ fundamental rights thoroughly, such as was done in Cuba?
I think all of these explanations fall short. The goal of what we have seen is to instill fear.
Whether it is by shooting people who are already in custody, driving them around the city before leaving them in detention centers (called “ruleteo,” a common practice in express kidnappings carried out by criminals), denying them access to legal counsel, releasing them on parole by forcing them to come back and sign at the courthouse, preventing detainees who are acquitted from leaving the country, or flaunting their complete impunity, the message is clear: we want you to be afraid of us.
There is a name for this: a state-led terror campaign. Someone, somewhere decided that the government’s response to protests is for the population to fear the government.
We knew this was going to happen. Way back when Chávez died, we realized that Chávez’s charisma meant that heavy-handed repression was kept under control. But Maduro isn’t Chávez, and he is much more trigger-happy as a consequence. In theory, what we have witnessed should come as no surprise.
Still, the expected can sometimes be quite shocking.