|Date||began on 27 February 1989|
|Attacks on unarmed civilians|
|Perpetrators||Government of Venezuela|
The Caracazo or sacudón is the name given to the wave of protests, riots, looting, shootings and massacres that began on 27 February 1989 in the Venezuelan capital Caracas and surrounding towns. The week-long clashes resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, thousands by some accounts, most at the hands of security forces and the military. The riots and protests began mainly in response to the government's economic reforms and the resulting increase in the price of gasoline and transportation.
The word Caracazo is the name of the city plus the -azo suffix, which denotes a violent knock. Its translation could therefore be "the Caracas smash" or "the big one in Caracas". The name was inspired by the Bogotazo, a massive riot in neighboring Colombia in 1948 that played a pivotal role in that country's history. Sacudón is from sacudir "to shake", and therefore means something along the lines of "the day that shook the country" (see Spanish nouns: Other suffixes.)
Due to a fall in oil prices during the mid-1980s an economic crisis had taken hold in Venezuela, and the country had accrued significant levels of debt. Nevertheless, the administration of the Left-leaning President Jaime Lusinchi was able to restructure the country's debt repayments and offset an economic crisis while allowing for the continuation of the government's policies of social spending and state-sponsored subsidies.
Lusinchi's political party, Democratic Action, was able to remain in power following the 1988 election of Carlos Andrés Pérez as president. Pérez then proposed a major shift in policy by implementing neo-liberal economic reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This program, known as the paquete (the "package"), was contrary to statements made during Pérez's populist and anti-neoliberal campaign in which he had described the IMF as "a neutron bomb that killed people, but left buildings standing" and had said that World Bank economists were "genocide workers in the pay of economic totalitarianism".
Measures taken by Pérez included privatizing state companies, tax reform, reducing customs duties, and diminishing the role of the state in the economy. He also took measures to decentralize and modernize the Venezuelan political system by instituting the direct election of state governors who had previously been appointed by the president. The most controversial part of this economic reform package was the elimination of the gasoline subsidies, which had long maintained domestic gasoline prices far beneath international levels (and indeed beneath the production costs of gasoline). When the subsidy was eliminated, gasoline prices rose by as much 100%, and subsequently, the costs of public transportation rose by 30%.
Protests and rioting
The protests and rioting began on the morning of February 27, 1989, in Guarenas (a town in Miranda State about 30 kilometres (19 mi) east of Caracas) due to a steep increase in public transportation prices. The protests and rioting quickly spread to the capital and other towns across the country. A lack of timely intervention by authorities (some police were under orders not to take action) led to the Metropolitan Police quickly being overwhelmed. Despite initial debate within the government over how to manage the situation, a heavy-handed approach was implemented and a state of emergency and martial law was imposed.
On February 28 President Carlos Andrés Pérez suspended a number of articles of the Constitution, including Article 60 (right to individual liberty and security); Article 62 (inviolability of the home); Article 66 (freedom of expression); Article 71 (right to gather publicly and privately), and Article 115 (right to peaceful protest). These rights were not completely restored until March 22, and in the interim, there was no official decree or resolution defining how government authority would be exercised in the absence of those constitutional rights.
The subsequent crack-down against the protesters included "widespread incidences of soldiers firing wantonly into residential buildings and crowds of people, killing unarmed civilians." Tactics used by security forces included raids on homes, disappearances, the use of torture, and extrajudicial killings.
Allegations of extrajudicial killings of known criminals have also been made.
Aftermath and consequences
On March 3, 1989, President Pérez spoke with U.S. President George H. W. Bush. President Bush offered President Pérez a US$450 million emergency loan. President Pérez thanked the President Bush and asked him to support a change in debt policy toward Latin America, stating, "I want to tell you if there is no change in [international] debt policy then whatever we may do here may be useless." President Pérez told President Bush that he had sent him a letter several days earlier and that he would appreciate it if he would read it.
The clearest consequence of the Caracazo was political instability. The following February, the army was called to contain similar riots in Puerto La Cruz and Barcelona, and again in June, when rising of transportation costs ended in riots in Maracaibo and other cities. The free-market reforms program was modified. In 1992 there were two attempted coups d'état, in February and November. Carlos Andrés Pérez was accused of corruption and removed from the presidency. Hugo Chávez, an organiser of one of the coups, was found guilty of sedition and incarcerated. However, he was subsequently pardoned by Pérez's successor, Rafael Caldera, and went on to be elected president after him.
In 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the government's action and referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 1999, the Court heard the case and found that the government had committed violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings. The Venezuelan government, by then headed by Chávez, did not contest the findings of the case and accepted full responsibility for the government's actions.
In August 2009, then-Defense Minister Italo del Valle Alliegro was charged in relation to the Caracazo. In July 2010 the Supreme Court overturned an appeal court ruling which had declared the case covered by a statute of limitations.
- Margarita López Maya, "The Venezuelan Caracazo of 1989: Popular Protest and Institutional Weakness", Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol.35, No.1 (2003) pp. 117–37.
- "The President's Telephone Conversation with President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela on March 3, 1989." George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Archives, Memcons and Telecons. Accessed October 26, 2011.
- Uppsala Conflict Data Program Conflict Encyclopedia, Venezuela, One-sided Violence, Government of Venezuela - civilians, http://www.ucdp.uu.se/gpdatabase/gpcountry.php?id=167®ionSelect=5-Southern_Americas#
- UN, VENEZUELA: Wound Still Gaping 20 Years after ‘Caracazo’, By Humberto Márquez, CARACAS, Feb 27 2009 (IPS, http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/02/venezuela-wound-still-gaping-20-years-after-lsquocaracazorsquo/
- Venezuela exhumes unnamed dead in riot investigation, Reuters, 22 September 2009.
- UN, VENEZUELA: Wound Still Gaping 20 Years after ‘Caracazo’, By Humberto Márquez, CARACAS, Feb 27 2009 (IPS),http://www.ipsnews.net/2009/02/venezuela-wound-still-gaping-20-years-after-lsquocaracazorsquo/
- Amnesty International, March 1990, Reports of Arbitrary Killings and Torture:, February/March 1989 , AI Index: AMR 53/02/90, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR53/002/1991/en/4e4929fa-ee43-11dd-99b6-630c5239b672/amr530021991en.pdf
- Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, Jaime Lusinchi, (Spanish) http://www.cidob.org/es/documentacion/biografias_lideres_politicos/america_del_sur/venezuela/jaime_lusinchi#2
- Carlos Andrés Pérez, Obituary, Time Magazine, Jan. 10 2011
- El Caracazo Case, Judgment of 11 November 1999, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, accessed 1 May 2007
- Crisp, Brian F. (1998), "Presidential Decree Authority in Venezuela", in John M. Carey and Matthew Soberg Shugart (eds, 1998), Executive decree authority, Cambridge University Press. p150
- Bush Presidential Library, 3 March 1989, Memcons and Telcons, http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/pdfs/memcons_telcons/1989-03-03--Perez.pdf
- BBC, 18 July 2009, Former Venezuela minister charged
- Latin American Herald Tribune, 2 August 2010, Venezuela’s Ex-Defense Chief May Face Charges for ‘89 Repression
- El caracazo - Referencias Periodísticas
- Dossier Caracazo
- Gallery of Caracazo photos
- George Ciccariello-Maher "The Legacy of the Caracazo: The Fourth World War Started in Venezuela"
- Judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (PDF)
- A Tale of Two Massacres: Tiananmen Square & Venezuela’s Caracazo (2014-06-09), Daniel Kovalik, CounterPunch