As the death toll continues to increase after more than 14 days of protests, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he is willing to meet with leaders of the opposition and the student protesters. In an address that was broadcast across the nation, the president called on former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles to hold talks. An open invitation was issued to all who wished to participate including the students, the Catholic Church, public and private entities, artists and actors.
Opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez who was imprisoned after the protests began, has expressed skepticism at the invitation which he says is insincere, and has already refused to attend meetings with Maduro until some respect is shown for the schedule that was developed by mediators.
The situation Venezuelan appears to be increasingly tenuous as Maduro has blamed the US for Venezuela’s troubles. He believes that the US is backing factions in the opposition, have joined with the students, who are angry with the shortage of goods and high inflation, and are attempting to overthrow his government that came into power two years ago.
Meanwhile the economy continues to crumble with an inflation rate that approaches 56 percent. China has reduced its $20 billion loan facility, while the deficit soars by almost 50 %.Venezuelan bonds have recently been downgraded to junk by ratings firm Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s. The currency called the Bolivar Fuerte by former president Hugo Chavez, is virtually worthless and requires 87 units for 1 USD, making imports prohibitively expensive.
The death total is now 18 and 261 have been injured since the protests began more than two weeks ago in the capital Caracas. Interestingly, as the violence increases, Maduro hopes that by extending the annual Carnival celebrations by two days to include March 3 and March 4, the dissonance and criminal activities may be diffused. At the same time, activists continue to call for more protests after the arrests of 41 people who were involved in street battles against government. The Government denies all responsibility in the killings, and reports continue to differ as Luisa Ortega Diaz the Attorney General has said some of the dead were shot by police while, others were killed by gunmen who have not been identified.
Violence is not new to Venezuela. The murder on Jan 6 of popular actress and former Miss Venezuela, Monica Spear, who was killed in front of her 5-year old daughter was one of the catalysts for the eruption of violence, and the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, which is a NGO estimates that almost 25000 were murdered in 2013.
With no breakthrough in sight, US secretary of State John Kerry has urged Maduro to have a dialogue with protestors instead of engaging in violence. He also stated that the US was becoming involved with Columbia and some other neighboring countries to assist in mediation. It also appear that the US is considering other options, as the senate is considering a proposal to revoke and deny visas , in addition to freezing the assets of Venezuelans who may be linked to the repression demonstrated by the Venezuelan government.
Written By Dale Davidson