Tuesday, March 15, 2005

History repeating?

I'm back after a somewhat prolonged absence -- apologies to my readers! As so often happens, I was busy with events in my... other? real? physical? wetware? life. But things seem to have quietened down a bit now on that front, and I'm hoping to post more regularly in the future.

An interesting observation about the current developments in Venezuela is how often one has the impression that a low point has been reached, and that things should now begin to improve -- only to be shown time and time again how the Chávez regime manages to outdo itself once again, plumbing new depths every few months.

Events this past week have continued that trend. Two young soldiers were burnt while being held in a military confinement cell. They died of their injuries yesterday, after their conditions had reportedly started improving. It is hard to believe that this was an accident. There are presumably not that many flammable substances in a prison cell (the mattresses?), nor that many ways of lighting them (or are Venezuelan military prisoners issued with matches and petrol?). And incidents of this type are, as far as I know, not common in other parts of the world.

The agony of being caught with a fire in a confined space, with no way to escape, must be indescribable. What makes it even more terrifying, not to mention suspicious, is that this was not the first time that something like this happened. Almost exactly a year ago, on 30 March 2004, a similar incident occurred at Fuerte Mara, a military base in Zulia state. Eight soldiers, who had reportedly signed in favour of the referendum to revoke president Chávez and who were being held in a confinement cell, got burned. Two of the soldiers died, one after his condition had already been improving and he had stated to the media that the fire had originated outside the holding cell.

After the first fire, the authorities promised a complete investigation, the results of which were inconclusive, except that an army general (General Usón) was condemned to five and a half years in prison for daring to state on TV his belief that the fire could have been caused by flamethrowers. Needless to say, the authorities have again promised a complete and full investigation into the more recent burning. Odds are that they will again present no concrete findings, but will use the investigation to target anyone who dares disagree with them.

Finally, even if we assume that both of the burning incidents were accidental, would it then not behoove the government authorities to undertake steps that would prevent such a thing happening again? Of course it would. Like so many other examples, these events show that the Venezuelan government is characterised above all by an intransparent mix of criminal negligence and just plain criminality.

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