Reinaldo Iturriza: “We Must Always be Against Class-based Police Violence” (Interview)

What is your opinion about this campaign from leftist groups in the face of classist police violence and why did the Surgentes collective use the name of Chavez in a hashtag?

In the first place, I believe that it is a timely and strategic campaign, in the sense that we, in principle, must always be against police violence of a clearly classist nature, it is a police violence that fundamentally affects, as well as it always has, the youth of working class barrios. One of the things that the campaign makes clear, despite the enormous difficulty of having official statistics, is that, according to the same official figures, in recent years there has been an increase in police violence, extrajudicial executions against young people in poor neighborhoods. Thus, the worst thing that can be done is to keep silent about an extremely serious situation, and that has to be the subject of public debate in Venezuelan society. We can not, under any circumstances and under any pretext, to become distracted by such a dangerous situation, that flagrantly undermines the right to life.

The use of the image of Chávez is absolutely justified, as much as can be justified, in quotes, in the case, for example, of the extraordinary audiovisual materials of the people of Tatuy TV Comunitaria. We cannot use Chávez, instrumentalize him, in the worst sense, extracting his quotes with tweezers, decontextualizing him and building a Chávez to our needs. Chavez was what he was and is what he continues to be, precisely because he raised the most uncomfortable and difficult issues, even if they were painful for us, the most traumatic things, as a matter of principle. Chavez on several occasions referred to this phenomenon of police violence of a classist nature and, beyond police violence, of a profoundly undemocratic character and excluding the entire justice system. I find that Chavez absolutely vindicable. I think they appeal to the image of Chávez because his complaint is still absolutely valid, much more when the official figures show an increase in police violence. On the other hand, it makes absolute sense that they appeal to the image of Commander Chavez and his words because they are comrades who are Chavistas. They have explained it very well in a document they made public, in which they respond in general to many of the criticisms, the vast majority of them very unfair and very out of place, regarding the campaign they are carrying out. We are talking about comrades who have militated in the field of human rights and in the field of the revolutionary left since the 1980s, let’s say they are partners who are beyond suspicion, if you want to use that word. Not only do they have a very long track record in the struggle for human rights and in the revolutionary struggle, but they are currently still active in the revolutionary field. Among other things, they are among the main animators of an extraordinary popular organizing experience in Caracas, the most important currently in Caracas, which is the Cooperativa Unidos San Agustín Convive, which among other things, in alliance with the people of the Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, guarantee the possibility of access to food, mainly vegetables, from producers directly to consumers in the San Agustín parish. Part of the work of the comrades, and precisely because of their militant trajectory in human rights and in the revolutionary left, they have been witnesses and have been able to know first-hand, precisely, these human rights violations of which they have been victims’ relatives, sons, daughters, but above all boys, young people, of some of the “compas” that make up this cooperative.

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These colleagues made an investigation, which is precisely what they presented last week in a public forum, quite fruitful by the way, in which there was a difficult, controversial, but very necessary discussion. It seems to me that it was an extraordinary exercise of public debate, they are spaces that cannot be missed. In that activity last week in San Agustín, in La Ceiba, they presented the results of the inquiry and finished explaining and offering details about the motivations of the campaign.

They are not making inappropriate use, so to speak, of the figure or the words of Commander Chavez. Rather, one would have to ask on what account are people who claim the right to administer the figure of Commander Chávez. Both his image as a leader, as a political figure, as a revolutionary, as all the things he raised, are the property of the entire Venezuelan people, and all the Venezuelan people, to be inspired by his example, have absolutely the right to resort to his word to raise all the things that need to be raised at this time, and in this case in particular on the subject of police violence. We cannot validate practices that clearly attempt against the right to life.

In principle, the campaign began based on the figures of a report published by the Open Society Foundation, which is funded by a man named George Soros who calls himself a philanthropist, but we all know he is a right-wing activist and they also use figures from a Keiner Ávila’s work that is a person linked to Súmate for a long time, of course, then they correct it and use official figures given up to 2017; And then with those figures up to 2017 published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs Justice and Peace, why is the campaign launched now in 2019 and right now? Some journalists, for example José Roberto Duque, say that there is no candor there, but that he sees it suspiciously and points out that the campaign is launched right now, precisely, to distract attention from what is happening in Latin America so that the media and international public opinion once again sets eyes on Venezuela. What do yo think about it?

Look, no, I think you are posing it incorrectly. And really, with all my heart, I hope you pick up on my words as I am posing them to you. It is an incorrect way to ask it, as you are formulating the question to me. It is not that they corrected and then released other figures. They released both figures simultaneously, and they are “compas” who have the decency, the virtue, of recognizing as a political error to have published data of an investigation that is carried out under the auspices of the Open Society. That was also publicly clarified in this document that I referred to right now. But it is not that they corrected it, say, taking that information out of circulation and then publish another one that goes to  2017. They also published that at the time. What should be asked is why nothing at all is said about these official figures. That silence seems complicit, almost embarrassing. I, publicly, manifested myself against the use of this information. But I did what I believe that for a matter of principle we must do, and that is to put the center of attention on what has to be the center of attention, which is the situation to which the official figures refer. What should be asked is not why they are launching that campaign at this time, but why no one else had launched a campaign before. Why had nobody else done it? And if it was because there were no official figures about it, what we should ask our government is why it had not made these figures public before. That is what you have to ask yourself.

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And the other thing, that they are “compas” of the kind that must be held in suspicion, because they launched the campaign right now, that they intend to divert attention from what is happening in Latin America: that is to attribute to the compas of Surgentes a power that obviously they do not have. I insist, I think it is a way of diverting attention, of pointing out and stigmatizing very unfairly some colleagues who have a very long trajectory in the struggle for human rights, the revolution and of Chavista political trajectory. It is not the first time and it will not be the last, unfortunately, that instead of discussing what is central, which is the deeply classist and anti-popular nature of police violence, which official figures show, I must insist . . . The Venezuelan government should rather demand not only the figures  to be updated and make them public, but to participate in the public discussion about this very serious situation. We should rather show solidarity with colleagues who, at all risk, have decided to take the step of publicly discussing this situation.

But what I was telling you, to complete the previous idea, is that it will not be the first or the last time, unfortunately, that instead of discussing the core, we proceed through an attack on the compas who undertake an action. It seems to me a very disturbing sign of what is happening internally in Chavismo today. The virulence with which the response is made confronting the compas’ campaign does not correspond to the seriousness of the situation being denounced. I am completely against that kind of moral lynching of companeros. I think that in a democratic society, but above all in a society that claims to be in revolution, things have to be discussed publicly, without prejudice to the people who participate in the discussion. That tendency to point to fellows as infiltrators, as traitors, seems to me that makes the Bolivarian revolution very weak, and it is a behavior that we should, although it is unanimously impossible, at least most of us, condemn and fight. Things have to be able to be discussed publicly, without ceding to the blackmail according to which it is not the right time. We are constantly being told that it is not the right time to discuss the central issues of Venezuelan society. The same argument is used to, for example, not to discuss the economic issue. What is it that in revolution then we cannot argue about the things that our government does or does not do? Or can we only raise our voices to criticize and question the sworn enemies of this process? And what about the most serious mistakes and internal contradictions? If the bet is to democratize Venezuelan society, democratizing it implies that all voices are heard, however uncomfortable they may be.

People always finger human rights defenders for always defending the bad guys but never the police, it is a trend that exists and it is always good to clarify to people why they defend human rights, I would like to know your personal appreciation of the campaign, you already told me your thoughts on fellow Surgentes as those who lead the initiative, but I’m interested in your opinion particularly, what do you think of always defending the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable people?

Undoubtedly, to conceive the campaign in this way, as if it is a campaign in defense of thugs, is a wrong way of conceiving it. It is not a campaign of defense of bad guys. On the one hand, because the young people who are killed by the police are not even all mean, they are not even in all cases boys who are involved in crimes or immersed in the world of crime. And if that were the case, obviously there are rules, procedures and laws that should govern police action. It is those rules, procedures and laws that are being overlooked. Imagine if police officers were given carte blanche here to kill all the criminals. imagine where we would stop, the frankly intolerable levels of discretion to which the police would turn. That can not be allowed. But I insist, and this is the core of my approach: this is not a campaign of defense of thugs. In part the complaints have to do with the fact that there are murders of young people who are not even involved in criminal acts, which speaks precisely of the levels of discretion with which the police bodies are currently acting. Executions of boys in the street, in front of their relatives. Those are things that cannot be allowed in a democracy.

And on the issue of human rights in general, precisely, campaigns in defense of human rights are campaigns in defense of the legally vulnerable, and revolutionary militants, in theory, and if we are consistent also in practice, we by a basic criterion of justice, will always put ourselves on the side of the legally vulnerable. But not only young people who are victims of police violence, we are talking about people who cannot enjoy the right to housing, the right to health, the right to education, and in general rights, not only civil rights, but economic, social, cultural, of all natural rights. The Bolivarian revolution can be understood and conceived as a gigantic and monumental campaign in defense of the right of the Venezuelan people to exercise precisely those rights, and to demand that the State guarantee the free exercise of those rights. That is the Bolivarian revolution. So, this goes far beyond that restricted vision of a campaign in defense of “malandros” (thugs). It is a campaign for the right to life, for the right of every citizen to have police bodies respectful of human rights, the rights that we have all and all citizens who live in this country.

Source URL: EL Otro Saber y Poder

Translated by JRE/EF