15 years ago, on 11. April 2002, a peaceful protest of around 1 million people against the then unpopular government of Hugo Chávez ended in the violent deaths of 19 people. Until this day, the government has blocked any independent judicial investigation and destroyed much-needed evidence.
There is thus still much doubt about the chronology of these tragic events. For the documentary, Venezuela in Context, I researched it again. These are my findings.
Sun angles and time
It’s pretty agreed upon that the first people of the opposition march reached the neighbourhood El Silencio around the presidential palace between 1:30pm-2pm. In his investigation, Brian Nelson offers an illustrative 360° shot of the situation in Baralt between the corners Pedrera and Muñoz.1 Let this be our moment of reference.
Looking at the bottom picture, you see (1) the shade of the building «La Nacional» clearly reaches the cornerstone on the other side of Baralt, and (2) the shade of the armoured vehicle of the Metropolitan Police to the left (a rinoceronte) is at least as long as the vehicle is tall. Actually, you can measure the angle of the sun.
I added this triangle in a 3D program (Blender, its free). The angle of the sun should be roughly 41.8º. Given the camera angle and the uneven surface, this is not an exact science, but better than nothing. There are also other reference points, like the shade of «La Nacional» (2) above.
Given that we know the sun angle, the exact location and the date we can calculate what time it is. I plotted which times these angles belong to on sunearthtools.com and crosschecked with other such sites. This reveals: in this image, the time is roughly 3:45pm. 2
To further verify this finding, I downloaded SketchUp, which simulates the shading of buildings with respect to location and date also, but it additionally takes into account the terrain. I modelled blocks of about the height of the building «La Nacional» as seen on Google Earth (left image) and created a human-sized block (right image). Here are the results (and here is the file.)
Remember above (2) we said the shade just about reached the cornerstone? Well, if I haven’t messed up, again, that’s between 3:30pm and 4pm in the left picture. Furthermore, remember we said in the picture the shade is a little longer than the rhinoceronte is tall? That looks like the same time in the right picture. So I’m pretty sure the time is around 3:45pm.
With reasoning like this, I’ve extracted footage from several documentaries on YouTube.
|Frames extracted and analyed from videos.||Description and video links.|
|Before the confrontation Brian begins with, the Metropolitan Police blocked the opposition march between La Gorda and Pedrera (angles are roughly 51°, or just after 3pm), but…|
|…but the MP was shot at (roughly same angle). In the same shot, you can see that the shade of «La Nacional» just about reaches the cornerstone. So, clearly, it happened before the 360° shot.|
|In reaction, the MP chased the Chávez supporters (interspersed with gunmen) up to Muñoz with the two armoured vehicles seen later in the picture Brian uses. Again, the shade of «La Nacional» just about touches the cornerstone. The MP doesn’t seem to fire shots here. An important detail, they drive up to Muñoz directly and position themselves in Pedrera as seen later.
The angle? Roughly 44.6º, or 3:25pm.
|More police follow on motorbikes and on foot. Up in Muñoz, they find Tony Velasquez dead.
Roughly 42.2º, or 3:40-3:45pm
|Then they come back down to Pedrera. The shade of «La Nacional» is sadly mostly covered by Mr. Lameda and police officers, but it now just about reaches the green box on Pedrera.|
|Then follows this scene showing a policeman of the MP shooting towards the north and later the injury of Magdalena Sauce. It seems like a cloud was covering the sun at first and diffused the shades, so I’m not entirely sure how long this situation lasted. After a cut, the shades are clearer again, but we don’t see the green box as a reference.
Still, I think it makes sense: The two vehicles were never in this position before, and soon after (as we’ll see), people from both sides came much closer to Pedrera.
|So it’s after this all happened that the moment in Brian’s 360 degrees shot occurred. And this was, in turn, moments before the killing of Jesús Arellano and the killing of Jorge Tortoza and the injury of Malvina Pesate on Pedrera. Again, you can establish that order by the shades, especially in relation to a piece of garbage lying on Pedrera (red arrow).
Francisco Olivares of El Universal says this video identifies the shooter of Jesús Arellano. If you have a higher quality version that identifies the gun more clearly, please let me know!
Roughly 41.5º, or 4:45pm
From this point onwards, I think Brian’s chronology on Baralt is correct. After the deaths of Jesús Arellano and Jorge Tortoza the MP pushed back up. They then got involved in a firefight mostly from Muñoz with gunmen interspersed in the Chávez supporters under and on Puente Llaguno.
There is footage of the MP up in Piñango. In thsi footage, note the first frames: The MP is visible and we see in the corners of the image that there are people leaning against the railings. Maybe this was before the MP started shooting people on Puente Llaguno?
Government-friendly documentaries (The revolution will not be televised, Puente Llaguno: Keys to a massacre, War on Democracy, and South of the Border) and Otto Neustadtl’s testimony, which he later said was misused, all claim that the admirals and generals around Vice Admiral Hector Ramírez Pérez had announced or recorded a denunciation of deaths before there were deaths in the streets. The alluded implication, obviously, is that these deaths were part of an orchestrated coup.
Brian and Alfredo Romero (of the Foro Penal Venezolano) both maintain that Arellano was shot around 2:30pm. In our interview, Brian said his conclusions are based on more than 10 testimonies. He interviewed, among others, Malvina Pesate and her partner Gorka Lacasa. Alfredo Meza and Sandra Lafuente in their book El Acertijo de Abril say it happened after 3pm.3 They also assert that Otto Neustadtl’s claim to have received a call the evening before has never been proven, that other journalists present at the recording (Javier Ignacio Mayorca, Mayela León, and Adrían Ciscaut) affirmed the militaries knew at least of Jorge Tortoza’s death, and that that’s why they talked of deaths in the first place.4 Additionally, they add that at 3:15pm preparations for the recording were still under way.5
Then there are the watches in the situations of Sauce’s injury, Tortoza’s death, and Pesate’s injury presented in Puente Llaguno, which Brian cautions is «a propaganda film that was made with the support of both the Venezuelan and Cuban governments.» In our interview, Brian added, again, that his conclusion are based on more than ten testimonies of people present, including Pesate herself and her partner. The same, I’m sure, could be said about Alfredo Romero, who I haven’t talked to yet.
Brian and I also talked about Pesate’s watch. Brian pointed out that, actually, if you look closely, it doesn’t look much like 3:50pm at all. At 3:50pm, the hour and minute hands are almost in a perfect line (as seen on the Tortoza watch). Again I reproduced this in a 3D program and, indeed, the hands look more like 2:50pm. But it’s very blurry. If you have an HD version of this video, please contact me!
But now I was in real trouble. Remember, Pesate was hit a few seconds after Tortoza. It seems he was picked up pretty directly, while Pesate’s partner told Brian they carried her further away (which is seen in the video) after around 10 minutes. So, unless one watch is broken, or they are outright faked in the videos (which I don’t think), it’s impossible for them to be an hour apart. Pesate’s watch should show a time around 10 minutes later than the Tortoza watch.
According to the reasoning with sun angles outlined above, by 3pm the shade of my La Nacional reconstruction clearly doesn’t reach the cornerstone of Pedrera. That only happens between maybe 3:30 to 4pm, which matches the watches as presented by Puente Llaguno.
The watches (with the slight uncertainty of Pesate) and the sun coincide that Arellano and Tortoza were killed around 3:45pm, lest I made a grave error somewhere in my reasoning or execution. By all means, validate it!
Having said all this, the synthesised picture for Baralt I have so far is the following: As this excellent article by Brian shows, it was the governments plan to use the Bolivarian Circles in conjunction with the National Guard to defend the palace; the NG was present in the side streets, but didnt create a buffer between the marches as in Sucre and in Sur 8 (in the latter using live munition); and handguns were distributed near Puente Llaguno.6 Two only groups seen on any videos or photos firing guns in Baralt are pro-government gunmen and the Metropolitan Police. I agree with Brian in that its the gunfire between these two groups that killed people.
According to the videos and reasoning shown above (together with all the footage Ive seen), the MP holds back the opposition march until 3pm, then is shot at by the pro-government gunmen. The MP then pushes up to Muñoz the first time, comes back down, and at least then fires the first shots too (~3:30pm). The pro-government gunmen come back down and fire not only at the MP, but also the demonstrators, killing Arellano and Tortoza, and wounding Sauce and Pesate. Then the MP pushes back up again, and from around 4pm a wild fire fight erupts killing people on both sides.
That’s how far I’ve gotten so far on Baralt. Any help is appreciated!