December 6, 2002: Gun attack in Venezuela

A Portuguese immigrant killed 3 and wounded 29 at an anti Chavez demonstration in Caracas in December 2002

A Portuguese immigrant killed 3 and wounded 29 at an anti Chavez demonstration in Caracas in December 2002.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Sometimes attacks come from the oddest of corners.

The regime of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is no more. Many are grateful for the demise of the mercurial president/dictator, who ruled the South American nation for 14 years (1999-2013).

In the beginning Chavez was popular enough. He promised to end corruption, long a scourge in Venezuela, and eliminate poverty, both admirable goals. Alas, as is so often the case, neither came to pass and the country, today under his acolyte, Nicloas Maduro, is in even worse shape.

As his reign continued and the economy faltered Venezuelans began to take to the streets in mass protests. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans demonstrated for better conditions and the ouster of Chavez: he is still hated by many as a 2017 takedown of a statue in his honour demonstrated.

At one of these uprisings a terrible act of violence occurred. A Portuguese immigrant, Joao de Gouveia, opened fire on a crowd with a Glock pistol, killing three and wounding 29. He was grabbed by demonstrators at the square after his gun appeared to jam and only rescued from a lynching by the police who took him into custody.

I thought he was going to be lynched on the spot. One big guy said ‘we can’t put up with this any more, we’ve got to stand up for ourselves‘.

Eyewitness to the shootings

De Gouveia never disclosed a motive for his act and may have suffered from some form of mental illness. The opposition suggested that he had been hired by the government or its supporters to intimidate the opposition (a tape showed him the day before the killings at a pro-Chavez rally), while, not surprisingly, the government said that the opposition had hired the gunman as an agent provocateur to create the climate for a military takeover.

It is thus not certain that he had a political axe to grind for his act. Still, for those protesting Chavez’ rule it was without doubt a terrifying moment.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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