Venezuela: Thousands commemorate slain revolutionaries, Uribe banned from country

October 10, 2014
Mourners accompany the coffins of Robert Serra and Maria Herrera through the streets of Caracas on October 6.

The Venezuelan National Assembly swore in grassroots leader Juan Contreras to assume the vacant post of the late deputy Robert Serra on October 7. Serra, a 27-year-old socialist deputy, was stabbed to death alongside his partner Maria Herrera in their Caracas home on October 1.

Legislators also voted to ban former right-wing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe from entering Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accused Uribe of being linked to the killings.

On October 6, thousands of Venezuelans flooded the streets of Caracas to mourn Serra ― who was Venezuela's youngest-ever parliamentarian ― and Herrera during their funeral procession. The day before, the male winner of an annual Caracas marathon, Mervin Blanco, made headlines after crossing the finish line with a poster of Serra in his hands.

In an October 7 ceremony at the presidential palace Miraflores, Maduro named the Youth of the Homeland Mission after Serra. The mission aims to address regions of extreme poverty through youth leadership and employment initiatives.

Serra's replacement, Contreras, had been elected to assembly as an alternate in 2010 by popular vote. A well-known organiser from the famously politically militant Barrio 23 de Enero, he said in an interview that day: “I never thought that I would have to take this post in this way, in the midst of the pain and the sadness caused by the loss of a good friend.”

Contreras added: “From this point onward, what matters is making the revolution irreversible, just as Robert said last week.”

Government officials and Venezuelans alike have rallied in a collective cry for justice. It is widely believed the murder was a premeditated and politically-motivated assassination.

Serra was a lead advocate for the investigation being carried out against Lorent Saleh, a right-wing extremist. Saleh appeared in leaked videos calling for the “social cleansing” of Chavistas (supporters of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution).

In the videos, Saleh advocated bombing public institutions and discussed a hit list of at least 20 unnamed politicians to be assassinated. Saleh has documented ties to Colombian paramilitaries and, reportedly, Uribe himself.

In the aftermath of Serra and Herrera’s deaths, Maduro reacted by saying the perpetrators belonged to a “band of criminals that ex-President Alvaro Uribe has directed all of his life”. Maduro said the assassination orders came from international terrorist groups based in Colombia and Miami.

The director of the Union of South American States and former Colombian president Ernesto Samper also expressed concern that the crime reflected “infiltration of Colombian paramilitarism” in Venezuela.

In an October 7 radio broadcast, justice minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres listed all the terrorist activities that have taken place against Venezuelan political actors since 2002. He added: “Incidentally, that’s the same year Uribe won the elections.”

National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello said the masterminds of the assassination of Serra and Herrera have already been identified, though he gave no further details. Shortly after, a group of parliamentarians handed a petition to the assembly asking that Uribe “be tried for crimes against humanity … and terrorism not only against Venezuela but … throughout Latin America”.

After a vote, Uribe was declared a persona non grata in Venezuela. This means the former Colombian president is no longer welcome on Venezuelan soil.

Opposition leaders, such as former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, have expressed doubt that the murder had political motives. They point to the country’s high crime rates and blame the government for what they believe to be proof of evident failures in civil security.

However, Rodriguez Torres pointed out that Serra’s briefcase, laptop and other valuables were not removed from his home, indicating the crime was not a common robbery. “We are dealing with an intentional murder, planned and executed with great precision,” he said.

In 2012, Serra’s bodyguard, 25-year-old Alexis Barreto, was shot dead under equally suspicious circumstances. Though Barreto was shot cleanly through the back of the neck, no sign of a struggle was recorded, and his wallet and mobile phone were left untouched.

In Serra’s case, his body showed dozens of stab wounds and signs of torture.

Communes minister Elias Jaua reiterated calls for peace, saying it was unwise to manipulate the killings to justify further polarisation.

Jaua said the murder was strategic, particularly in the way it “paved the way for dangerous days … where rage and a desire for vengeance is stirred against the others”.

“While constitutional justice should be done for those materially and intellectually responsible for this crime,” Jaua said, “the greatest justice will be a triumphant revolution, and our victory will be peace.”

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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