Violence in Venezuela continues to escalate with at least two protesters killed in recent clashes between the police and demonstrators.
Venezuela is tearing itself apart with anti-government and pro-government positions colliding in the streets of Caracas. At least two people were killed Wednesday during protests. The killings mark the zenith of unrest in the South American country since President Nicolas Maduro was elected last year.
Venezuela has been deeply divided socially and economically since the death of former President Hugo Chavez. The South American OPEC nation has faced shortages, economic instability and is the latest country to see student protests in an escalating throb of violence in the streets.
Government officials said a Maduro supporter was killed during the anti-Maduro protest. A rally supporting the socialist leader was just a few blocks away in the city center when the violence erupted. The National Assembly President, Diosado Cabello, described the victim as a comrade assassinated “…by right-wing fascists.” Both sides are blaming each other for the violence, but there has been no official confirmation from Venezuelan law enforcement.
Twenty-three people were injured and five arrests were made as four police carriers were destroyed. The day also saw government offices vandalized. As night came to Caracas, soldiers fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who blocked the main avenue of the upscale “barrio” or neighborhood of Chacao.
Using the slogan “The Exit,” hardline opposition groups have been conducting protests around the country for the last fourteen days. Complaining about rampant crime, economic struggles and government corruption, the group wants to hasten Maduro’s departure, or exit.
Some of the protests started peacefully, but slid into rock throwing battles with government security forces. This is the first sustained violence that the country has seen since last year’s riots which killed 6 people following Maduro’s election. “We’re staying in the streets until this government falls,” said one protestor with a bandana tied around his face to protect him from the gas used by police to hold back the protesters.
As violence in Venezuela continues to escalate, authorities are expecting to see more than just the two killed.
Maduro, 51, is a former bus driver and union activist who has built his administration on the principles of the late Chavez. Maduro blames right-wing “fascists” for the problems in Venezuela, feeling they are trying to topple him and overthrow his government.
“A Nazi-fascist current,” Maduro calls the opposition. In daily, televised speeches, Maduro claims the opposition is endeavoring to take the country deeper into violence and chaos.
Chanting “We don’t want a Cuban dictatorship,” and blowing horns, opposition protesters marched towards government buildings. One banner held by members of the Venezuela University psychology department read, “You need therapy to live in Venezuela!”
Approximately 45 protesters have been arrested since the call went out for street protests two weeks ago. Opposition leaders said pro-government supporters belonging to “colectivos” have attacked and shot people protesting an “oppressive regime.”
The marches were held as part of Wednesday’s “Youth Day” that commemorates the participation of students on February 12 1814 in a battle against colonial authorities during the Battle of La Victoria.
On that day, Jose Felix Ribasled let a young army that stopped the Spanish loyalist troops in a town called La Victoria. The Ribasled troops were inexperienced and young, with many being as young as twelve. The battle is marked with a ceremony and activities much like July 4th in the US.
Venezuela, the world’s second largest supplier of natural gas, may see violence escalate as more people take to the streets after two were killed in protests against the government.
By Jerry Nelson