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Venezuela's Military Can Now Legally Use Firearms Against Demonstrators

Foto de protesta el 15 de febrero de 2014 en Caracas, Venezuela. Foto de la cuenta de Flick de Andrés E. Azpúrua usada bajo licencia Creative Commons.

Demonstration on February 15, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo from Flickr by Andrés E. Azpúrua used under Creative Commons.

Venezuela's Ministry of Defense has authorized the military to use firearms against demonstrators as a last resort in the demonstrations taking place in the country.

Released through a regulation published in the Official Gazette on 27 January, the measure seeks “to avoid disorder, to support the legitimately constituted authority and to reject any aggression, facing it immediately and with the necessary means”. 

While some people supported the measure, opposition politicians, human rights activists and citizens condemned the announcement, especially through social networks: 

What should be done if demonstrators use firearms? “Venezuela Is Asked Not to Use Firearms” http://t.co/z77TRHsmSI

Even before firearms were authorized to suppress protests in #Venezuela, there were 43 deaths in February… http://t.co/Fu4WO8L8ve

The Venezuela's Constitution expressly prohibits the use of firearms and toxic substances for controlling demonstrations or public meetings. The text of the Magna Carta states:

Artículo 68: Los ciudadanos y ciudadanas tienen derecho a manifestar, pacíficamente y sin armas, sin otros requisitos que los que establezca la ley. Se prohíbe el uso de armas de fuego y sustancias tóxicas en el control de manifestaciones pacíficas. La ley regulará la actuación de los cuerpos policiales y de seguridad en el control del orden público.

Article 68: Citizens have the right to demonstrate, peacefully and without arms, without other requirements than those established by law. The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The law shall regulate the actions of the police and security forces for maintaining public order.

The coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, Delsa Solórzano, reported that a request will be filed before the Supreme Court to overturn the regulation, which she considers “abominable” and unconstitutional; she also made arrangements in the United Nations, which yesterday condemned the regulation.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López said that those opposed to the regulation are part “of an offensive that has tried to put the people of Venezuela in distress”.

Se han dedicado a extraer y a descontextualizar ese documento hermosísimo, de profundo respeto a los derechos humanos, a la vida y a los manifestantes.

They have focused on extracting and de-contextualizing the most beautiful document of profound respect for human rights, life and demonstrators.

Venezuela's ombudsman Tarek William Saab offered his support on his Twitter account for the regulation:

5) Res 008 610 MD in article 24 allows “progressive and differential use of force when the use thereof is required” for peace

At a press conference, opposition leaders read a statement against the measure. “We call on the National Armed Forces to fulfill their institutional duties… do not turn arms against the people,” said Caracas's Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

The Student Movement of the Catholic University Andres Bello (UCAB) also rejected the proposed measures, demanding that the government of Venezuela address the crisis in the country and urge the government to stop the persecution of students.

In the first quarter of 2014, Caracas and other cities in Venezuela were the scene of several demonstrations against the government of President Nicolás Maduro that resulted in 43 dead and over 800 injured, according to figures from the Venezuelan Penal Forum (FPV). From February 4, 2014 until January 7, 2015, 3,414 arrests were reported. 

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