Venezuela president, Nicholas Maduro, has declared his main opposition leader to be a fascist, terrorist, and a murderer in the latest installment of their continuing clash. Calling him the “face of fascism,” Maduro called for Leopoldo Lopez to turn himself in to authorities. Maduro accused Leopoldo Lopez of orchestrating confrontations at demonstrations last Wednesday. Lopez, according to Maduro, continued trying to destabilize the country as part of a right-wing coup similar to the one that briefly unseated Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, from leadership in 2002.
The government issued an arrest warrant for Harvard-educated López, for murder. Other political opponents were also accused of instigating the recent violence. Lopez accused the government of making unfounded accusations out of desperation.
Lopez, who has become the leader of a hardline group within the opposition alliance, has tweeted that he was still in Venezuela. He declared that he would “stay in the streets.” Lopez hinted that Maduro is a puppet of Havana, capital of one of the few remaining Communist countries in the world.
In a display of knowledge of international current political events, Maduro declared that Venezuela “is not Ukraine,” and that street protests would not be permitted. However, this did not deter student protestors around the country who ignored the ban. They gathered in several cities on Friday after blocking roads and burning tires. Several people were injured and arrests were made during the continuing clashes between students, members of the opposition, and Venezuela government leadership supporters.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on Saturday voiced concern at “senseless violence” and reports of political arrests. Protesters have demanded the release of about 100 students and opposition activists detained in almost two weeks of demonstrations. In his statement, Kerry also voiced concern about an arrest warrant issued against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Lopez has clashed with his own political affiliates, protesting the current Venezuela leadership under the slogan “The Exit,” referring to Maduro’s departure from power. This fiery rhetoric has caused a split within the opposition. Some fear the rift even threatens to politically destroy the opposition completely. Fellow opposition firebrand, María Corina Machado, has also made political waves. She encouraged continued unrest, telling supporters that her group would not stop until it changed the government.
Meanwhile, the opposition’s more moderate leader, Henrique Capriles, denounces any coercive measure to remove Maduro. He stated that a coup was “out of the question.” Capriles seems to follow the statements of analysts who warn that overly aggressive criticism has the opposite effect of what is intended. Former-president Chavez was able to flip criticism from conservatives, and paint them as self-serving, anti-democratic right-wingers.
José Miguel Vivanco, the head of Human Rights Watch Americas, urged reconciliation between the two opposing sides. However, he specifically addressed the government, imploring it not to engage in censorship, after it had halted a broadcast about the country’s problems.
In spite of a growing list of problems throughout the country, the ruling Socialist party enjoys the support of its more impoverished citizens. Moreover, the military seems content, so any kind of coup is unlikely at this time.
The country has suffered terribly from dwindling economy, spikes in violent crime, and political frustrations. Meanwhile, it appears to some that leadership in both camps in Venezuela thrives on continued clashes with their respective opposition, in order to maintain their own support. Reconciliation efforts have emphasized the viewpoint that for the country to heal itself, it must be in the interest of those in power to do so.
By Ian Erickson