The Wall Street Journal reports that a retired general’s resistance to the Chavista regime has defeated efforts to effectuate his arrest and set an example for resistance.
A gun-toting retired Venezuelan general has become a folk hero to the country’s opposition and galvanized a protest movement by defying the government of President NicolÃ¡s Maduro, engaging in a Rambo-like standoff with security forces sent by the president to arrest him.
Angel Vivas has been holed up in his home in a hilly Caracas suburb since last weekend, when Mr. Maduro, on live television, ordered his arrest for having backed student protests that have convulsed this oil-rich nation.
When black-clad officers from military intelligence went to the retired Army general’s house Sunday morning, he emerged wearing a flak jacket and armed with a semiautomatic rifle and pistol, warning that the only way he would be taken was in a body bag. Scores of neighbors came out in support of Gen. Vivas and heckled security forces, who eventually backed down.
“I have a right to self-defense,” Gen. Vivas said in an interview inside his bunkerlike home, which is decorated with family pictures and mementos to his 40-year career in the army, including old rifles and swords.
“At no time did I order anyone to commit violence,” he said, after the government said his tweet giving defense advice caused a death. “I was helping unarmed civilians defend themselvesâ€¦.A priest recommends prayer, a doctor recommends medicine, a military man recommends how to defend.”
In the days since, Gen. Vivas has become an inspiration to many of the protesters, who have risen up in past weeks against what they see as an increasingly authoritarian government and an economy savaged by high inflation and scarcity. …
Gen. Vivas’s Twitter account, where he regularly blasts the Maduro government as “illegitimate” and a stooge for Cuba, which has close ties to Caracas, surged to 233,000 on Wednesday from some 50,000 followers on Saturday. His 16-year-old daughter Natalia’s account went to 15,000 followers, from 200, after she posted YouTube videos of the standoff.
“He has the guts that a lot of people lack,” said Anessa Cafferata, a 21-year-old engineering student who takes part in daily protests across the capital. “He’s protecting his home, and we students are protecting the country.”
The short and stocky 57-year-old general symbolizes some of Venezuela’s deep divisions that have only hardened in recent weeks as protestersâ€”largely backed by the middle and upper classâ€”square off against a populist government.
In the upper-middle class enclave where the general lives, there is little affection for the government, blamed for a crumbling economy where ordinary goods are scarce on store shelves.One neighbor complained that he went four months without toilet paper. Another said car batteries were now a favorite target for thieves because Venezuela lacks the dollars to import new car batteries. The local school has been closed for two weeks due to the protests.
Neighbors take turns standing guard outside the general’s home, ready to raise the alarm if the government returns to arrest him. Access to the neighborhood is cut off by barricades manned by protesters, who have piled garbage, old tires and tree branches at main intersections to stop government officers from returning.
“He’s a one-man military rebellion,” said Ivan Monroy, an amateur historian who visited the general’s house this week to deliver a copy of his book.