The homes of several outspoken critics of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro were defaced in late February in San Antonio del Tachira, a town located on the Colombian border. Unknown assailants used red spray paint to splash a circle with a diagonal line through it, similar to a "null" symbol, across each of the houses. Locals denounce what they say is an attempt at intimidation and blame the colectivos -- groups of Maduro supporters who are often armed.
The homes were vandalised during the night of February 27, just days after a large protest was held in San Antonio del Tachira on February 23.
On that day, hundreds of people headed to Simon Bolívar International bridge, one of the main crossing points between Venezuela and Colombia, to demand that Venezuelan authorities let in convoys of international humanitarian aid trapped at the border. Venezuelan soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. There were no serious injuries.
"Warning: Illegal groups in San Antonio del Tachira marked the homes of some of our leaders and teams on the night of February 27, 2019, as if to threaten them. We are afraid for their lives,” wrote this opposition politician on February 28.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to two people whose homes had been tagged, as well as a person whose neighbours were targeted.
All three said they believed that the grattifi was connected to the demonstration held on February 23, since the homes targeted all belonged to people who either helped to lead this demonstration, or were well-known members of the opposition. They also said that this was the first time something like this had happened.
Photo of a symbol spray-painted on the night of February 27 in San Antonio del Tachira.
"It’s clearly an attempt at intimidation"
Jose Rozo, former president of the San Antonio del Tachira chamber of commerce, was one of the residents who found a symbol spray-painted on his home.
The door of my home was spray-painted around dawn. I didn’t feel anything when I saw it. I wasn't even surprised, since I knew the authorities were keeping an eye on me because of my position as public figure who has always been critical of this government's economic policies. But it is clearly an attempt at intimidation. I covered up the tag the same day.
I think that the colectivos are behind this graffiti because, during the protest on February 23, some of them fired shots. The authorities didn’t do anything to stop the colectivos or to protect people. It’s important to note that the mayor of the town belongs to the same political party as Maduro [Editor’s note: United Socialist Party of Venezuela].
Photo taken after a symbol was spray-painted on people’s homes on the night of February 27 in San Antonio del Tachira.
"We felt targeted, a bit like Jewish people under the Nazis”
Johana Eugenio is a member of Voluntar Popular (Popular Will), the party of self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido. Eugenio’s home was also defaced with the barred circle symbol.
I was away in Colombia when my home was tagged, so it was my family who saw it when they woke up. None of the other homes in our neighbourhood were defaced. We’ve since covered up the graffiti.
I was one of the so-called leaders of the protests and other people in my position also had these symbols painted on their homes.
After the incident, several of my family members fled to Colombia because they were afraid. They felt like something much worse could happen. We felt targeted, a bit like Jewish people under the Nazis. I know two other families and two other individuals who also went to Colombia after their homes were targeted.
Like Rozo, Eugenio thinks that the colectivos were the ones who painted the red circles on people’s homes. We also spoke to a third person, a resident of San Antonio del Tachira who also has ties to the opposition, who wanted to remain anonymous.
They know who is in the opposition and they know where they live. Back in 2017, when graffiti first started appearing around town, it was always the same image: a man in black firing a gun with a message saying that the colectivos were going to defend the revolution.
This resident also confirmed that many people were very afraid when they discovered the graffiti left on their homes: "Some people didn’t even cover it up or went to stay elsewhere because they were afraid of being attacked.”
It’s hard to estimate how many homes had this symbol spray-painted on them. Rozo claimed that there were a hundred homes targeted, while Eugenio said she knew of about 20. The third person interviewed said that around 13 or 14 homes were targeted. Our team looked at the photos circulating online and counted at least a dozen different homes affected.
"We’re flagging these images of homes marked by paramilitary groups in San Antonio del Tachira !"
According to two opposition members of parliament, Karim Vera and Franklyn Duarte, this same symbol was spray-painted on homes in the towns of Rubio and Urena, also located in Tachira state. However, the three people who spoke to our team said they had only heard about this happening in San Antonio del Tachira.
This story was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).