THE CARACAS city police shot dead Oscar Gomez and Jairo Moran on Friday of last week. Their 'crime' was to demonstrate in support of the elected government against an upper middle class mob trying to besiege the Venezuelan capital's military barracks.
The 9,000-strong armed police force is controlled by the city mayor. He supports the business and media interests who have been trying to provoke a military coup with a six-week 'civil stoppage'. The mass of the country's workers and shanty town dwellers oppose the stoppage, despite the support of some corrupt union leaders. But the oil industry management and merchant navy officers are enthusiastically taking part.
Thousands of bitter government supporters joined the funeral procession on Saturday, marching behind red flags as well as the national flag.There were chants against the rabidly pro-government TV networks-'murderers, murderers. The people know the media are guilty.' They were again attacked by the police.
Chavez has carried through reforms aimed at improving the condition of the poor, and they defend him against the opposition. But there is growing feeling that he has not taken the strong measures needed to defend those reforms.
For a time last month, the government took control of the Caracas city police and stopped them being used against its own supporters. But when the opposition-controlled Supreme Court told it to hand control back to the mayor, the government meekly did so.
Now some of the government's supporters are beginning to take things into their own hands. An MP for Chavez's MQR party says, 'If the government does not take action, it runs the risk that popular movements will begin to form popular action commandos.' With neither the government nor the country's rich prepared to give ground, civil war is becoming a serious possibility.
The country is the world's fifth biggest oil producer. What is happening has enormous international implications as left wing presidents take over in Brazil and Ecuador, and the political and economic crisis remains unresolved in Argentina.