Photos showing Venezuelan children holding what look like assault weapons at a pro-Chavez event in Caracas have sparked a controversy in the country, in a reflection of the political polarization of Venezuelan society.
On January 23, a left-wing community organization known as Colectivo La Piedrita celebrated the anniversary of the end of the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958. This week, photos of the event appeared on the internet which appeared to show children wearing bandanas over their faces and holding M-16 assault rifles. They were seated in front of a mural depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary holding Kalashnikovs.
As InSight Crime reports, other photos which appear to be taken at the same event show that Venezuelan lawmaker Robert Serra was present. Serra is a member of President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, suggesting at least some level of official support for the incident. Serra denies that he was at the event, claiming that the pictures of him were taken on a previous occasion.
La Piedrita, for their part, claims that the weapons were actually made of plastic, and that the photos are being taken out of context by counterrevolutionaries.
Since the photos emerged, the Venezuelan opposition has used them to blast Chavez, who has promoted the development of civilian “militias” in the country. Zulia state governor Pablo Perez, for instance, criticized the display by saying "Instead of guns, these children should have a computer, a book, a bat, a ball, a glove, or a musical instrument.”
In response to such criticism, the Chavez administration has condemned the incident. On Tuesday Interior Minister Tarek El-Aissami called it “morally reprehensible,” and yesterday Chavez himself said that it was irresponsible, claiming that such images hurt his Bolivarian revolution.
This is not the first conflict that Chavez has had with his more radical supporters in Colectivo La Piedrita. In 2009 he called for the arrest of the group’s leader Valentin Santana after the latter publicly threatened several members of the opposition. Back then, he warned that the group had potential to develop into a state of its own, into “a terrorist group that goes around making death threats.”
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