By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Venezuela's National Police threw rocks at a peaceful demonstration Thursday, as inventories of tear gas seem to be running low in Venezuela, due to embargoes by materiel-producing countries and a decline in the price of oil, the commodity that brings in more than 90% of all hard currency.
Each hour of heavy tear-gas action costs Maduro around $17,000 according to figures from "Voto por Venezuela", an anti-Maduro group. That comes to some 300 grenades at around $50 a pop, according to a posting by the group Thursday.
When it comes to keeping million-people demonstrations under control, it seems like embattled President Nicolas Maduro is running out of options. Government-affiliated gangs known as “colectivos” have also been trying to lend a hand to keep Maduro in power, according to former Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva, by threatening, beating up or even killing demonstrators.
"Colectivos" are blamed for the murder of two anti-Maduro protesters Wednesday. Not a very effective crowd-control method for a democratic government, especially not now, when both the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) have warned Maduro, specifically, about the use of armed gangs of civilians for law enforcement purposes.LET’S ROCK
What used to be just cops returning some rocks thrown at them by violent demonstrators has turned into a tactic, journalists in the field have been able to ascertain. But there’s a more somber side to the rock-throwing: cops cannot legally use expired tear gas, and Venezuela has not acquired any such new materiel in a long while.
Venezuela has not purchased any tear gas since at least 2011, according to data from Control Ciudadano, a local NGO that monitors Venezuelan defense spending.
Data from the Jane’s defense publications corroborates that.
The typical tear-gas grenade has a shelf life of two to three years. At the start of the latest round of protests, on April 4th, anti-Maduro demonstrators posted pictures of expired grenades. And that, according to the 1998 Rome Statutes of the International Crime Court, can be seen as a war crime.
In its report for Venezuela 2016, the Jane’s defense-analysis group of publications has Maduro spending less and less on defense because he has less and less money, due to a decline in oil prices. Venezuela went from being the South American country with the third largest defense budget before 2013 (when Hugo Chavez was still alive) to the fifth ranked in 2016, according to Jane’s. However, the report notes that the crowd-control needs of Maduro not only remain, but tend to get more and more acute.WAR CRIMES
The Rome Statute codes what constitutes an offense prosecutable by the International Criminal Court (ICC). And throwing expired gas grenades at demonstrators is forbidden, according to all available information. “The Rome Statute makes it a war crime to employ “poison or poisoned weapons”” in law enforcement, including crowd control situations, according to a recent analysis by the International Law and Polilcy Institute.
So, the National Guard, or Police -- the two main corps attempting to control anti-government demonstrations entering their second week -- are moving into the dangerous territory of being labeled war criminals.
“The use of chemical weapons is subject to comprehensive prohibitions under international law. Not only is the use of chemical weapons implicitly prohibited by the general rule of distinction under international humanitarian law (IHL), most imaginable uses of chemical weapons would contravene the proportionality rule under human rights law”, the ILPI warns in the same post.