A graphic video surfaced on social media Wednesday showing a Venezuelan military tank in Maracaibo, Zulia state, chasing and attempting to run over a journalist covering protests against the socialist government.
Madelyn Palmar, of the local outlet Venezolano News and Unión Radio, ran away from the tank and managed to hop over a road guardrail as the tank appears to violently careen in her direction. The tank is clearly labeled “GNB,” the Spanish language initials for the “Bolivarian National Guard” – typically dictator Nicolás Maduro’s preferred vehicle for civilian repression. A male voice can be heard in the video shouting, “Made, get out of there!”
Fellow journalist Lenín Danieri, also in town to cover the protests, is attributed with taking the video.
#9Ene La periodista @Madepalmar, sufrió ataques directos durante la cobertura de la represión por parte de efectivos de la Guardia Nacional Bolivariana a comerciantes del casco central. Vídeo Cortesía: @LDanieri pic.twitter.com/0X8qt5vkzX
— VPItv (@VPITV) January 9, 2019
Palmar later responded to tweets asking about her wellbeing that she escaped the incident unscathed, but that it was a “big fright.”
Prior to the attack, Palmar had published photos of Venezuelan soldiers attacking unarmed protesters, relaying the protesters’ complaints. Most are “informal workers,” men seeking job opportunities with merchants or construction crews, or merchants. The merchants, according to Palmar, “assert that, in order to secure a place in the new market, the market is demanding between $500 [730,240 bolívars] and $1500 [2,190,720 bolívars].” The current monthly minimum wage in the country is 4,500 bolívars (about $3).
Continua enfrentamiento entre comerciantes informales y GNB en el casco central de Maracaibo. Aseguran que para lograr un puesto en el nuevo mercado les estan exigiendo entre 500 y 1500 dolares. pic.twitter.com/B62hbfhqCM
— Madepalmar (@Madepalmar) January 9, 2019
The informal workers also complained of bribes, not to the government-owned markets but to the police. Speaking to NTN24 News, one of the workers lamented that they needed to pay police to get jobs, often more than the payment the jobs would net them. Police charge between 10 and 12 million bolívars ($6.847 – $8.216) for the opportunity to look for work, one worker said.
#AHORA “Aquí para poder trabajar hay que pagarle a la policía por la mercancía. Están cobrando entre Bs. 10.000.000 a Bs. 12.000.000”, dijo un trabajador del mercado Las Pulgas que protesta por las medidas gobierno regional (Vídeo:@LDanieri) #9Ene https://t.co/Lpb1M217ek pic.twitter.com/2nVtcWGWBG
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) January 9, 2019
Venezuela’s flagship independent newspaper El Nacional reported that Palmar’s experience was the most dramatic in a series of similar repressive acts against journalists in Maracaibo on Wednesday. The newspaper cited an incident against another woman journalist, Nataly Angulo of La Nación, who national guard soldiers reportedly confronted personally, threatening to assault her and take her cell phone away if she kept recording the protests. The offense that triggered Anguo was the recording of a violent arrest of an elderly man participating peacefully in the protests, the newspaper added.
Citing local journalists, Miami’s El Nuevo Herald, which confirmed Palmar’s identity, reported that Maduro sent in large numbers of soldiers into Zulia state on Tuesday in anticipation of protests. The soldiers attacked protesters with tear gas in addition to physically assaulting them, leaving at least nine injured, all merchants. Police also reportedly destroyed much of the merchandise that the protesters were trying to sell, ensuring that they could not attempt to make money at all.
By Thursday, reports documented violent exchanges with police that included protesters throwing rocks at soldiers and tanks as well as attempts to make fires to block the tanks from reaching protesters. The government also imposed a new ration limit on the amount of gasoline that residents can buy legally, limiting it to 30 liters. Venezuela is an OPEC nation and home to one of the world’s largest known oil reserves; gasoline was traditionally cheap and easy to purchase before the rise of socialism.
Maduro will “take office” in a fabricated inauguration ceremony on Thursday cementing his “victory” in a national election last year in which he banned opposition leaders from participating. Most Latin American states have declared they will not recognize Maduro as a legitimate head of government. Only four heads of state – from Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador – will attend the event. The Venezuelan government is also touting the presence of the “president” of South Ossetia, a Russian-occupied region of Georgia that is not a sovereign state, at the “inauguration.”
Opposition leaders from the group “Wide Front Free Venezuela” have called for protests nationwide Thursday against the inauguration ceremony. After being led by a group called the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) for years, which featured among its leaders members of the Socialist International, the Venezuelan opposition movement all but collapsed in 2018. Rather than participate in protests, many Venezuelans chose to boycott national elections or simply leave the country. The new group has called for a reanimation of organized street protests against Maduro demanding free and fair elections.