The Caracazo or sacudón is the name given to the wave of protests, riots and looting and ensuing massacre that occurred on 27 February 1989 in the Venezuelan capital Caracas and surrounding towns. The clashes resulted in a death toll of hundreds of people with some reports of 3,000 dead mostly at the hands of security forces. The riots and protests were mainly against free market reform and increases in gasoline prices.
The word Caracazo is the name of the city plus the suffix -azo, which implies a blow and/or magnitude. It could therefore be translated as something like "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.)
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In the context of the economic crisis that Venezuela had been going through since the early 1980s, President Carlos Andrés Pérez proposed to implement free-market reforms in his second presidential term (1989–1993), following the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Pérez belonged to the Acción Democrática (AD) party (social-democrat). This programme was known as the paquete — the "package".
His cooperation with the IMF followed rather quickly after his victory in the 1988 presidential election, during which he ran a populist, anti-neoliberal campaign describing the IMF as "a neutron bomb that killed people, but left buildings standing" and 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 (previously appointed by the President). But the most controversial part of this economic package was the elimination of the gasoline subsidies, which had long maintained domestic gasoline prices far beneath their 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 in Guarenas (a town in Miranda State, some 30 km east of Caracas) on the morning of 27 February 1989, due to a steep increase in transportation costs to Caracas. They quickly spread to the capital and other towns across the country. By the afternoon, there were disturbances in almost all districts of Caracas, with shops shut and public transport not running. Scenes involving the slaughter of desperate Venezuelan people on the streets were widely kept from widespread international media coverage. In the days that followed there was widespread international media coverage of the looting and destruction caused by outraged Venezuelan people.
Overwhelmed by the looting, the government declared a state of emergency, put the city under martial law and restored order with the use of force. Some people used firearms for self-defence, to attack other civilians and/or to attack the military, but the number of dead soldiers and police came nowhere near the number of civilian deaths. The repression was particularly harsh in the cerros — the poor neighbourhoods of the capital. The initial official pronouncements said 276 people had died. Many estimates put the number above 2000.
On 28 February 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 only completely restored on 22 March, and in the interim, there was no official decree or resolution defining how government authority would be exercised in the absence of these constitutional rights.
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 programme 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-defence 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.
See also 
Further reading 
- 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.
- Venezuela exhumes unnamed dead in riot investigation, Reuters, 22 September 2009.
- Victims of Venezuela's Caracazo clashes reburied bbc.co.uk
- 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
- 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)