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Posts tagged ‘Defiant Land of Venezuela’

2 dead as Venezuela protests turn violent outside capital

May 16, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A day that began with largely peaceful protests against Venezuela’s socialist government took a violent turn Monday as fierce clashes between state security and demonstrators killed at least two people.

Thousands hauled folding chairs, beach umbrellas and protest signs onto main roads for a 12-hour “sit-in against the dictatorship,” the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations that have resulted in dozens of deaths.

Protests in Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro remained mostly tranquil, but outside the capital demonstrators clashed with police and national guardsmen. In the western state of Tachira near Venezuela’s border with Colombia, two men were reported dead in separate demonstrations: Luis Alviarez, 18, and Diego Hernandez, 33.

Witness videos showed a man identified as Hernandez lying lifeless on the pavement, his eyes wide open, as a bystander ripped open his shirt, revealing a bloody wound underneath. “They killed him!” someone cries out.

Elsewhere in Tachira, demonstrators threw rocks and set an armored truck on fire. Several buildings were set ablaze and dozens injured, including one young woman standing on the street, her face covered in blood.

In the central state of Carabobo, three officers were shot, including one left in critical condition after being struck in the head, authorities said. In Lara, a vehicle ran over three protesters. The violence added to a mounting toll of bloodshed and chaos as Venezuela’s opposition vows to step up near-daily demonstrations and Maduro shows no intention of conceding to opposition demands. More than three dozen people have been killed, including a national guardsman and a police officer, hundreds injured and as many as 2,000 detained in nearly seven weeks of protests.

International pressure on the troubled South American nation is continuing to increase, with the Organization of American States voting Monday to hold a rare foreign ministers’ meeting later this month to discuss Venezuela’s political crisis. The Washington-based group only convenes such meetings to address most urgent affairs.

“We ask the world to look at what’s happening right now in Venezuela,” opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said after Monday’s violence. “A deranged regime that represses and kills its people.” Venezuela announced in late April that it would be leaving the OAS, which seeks to defend democracy throughout the hemisphere, and its representative was not present at Monday’s meeting. Maduro contends the OAS is meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, infringing on its sovereignty and trying to remove him from power.

The fiery Venezuelan president is vowing to resolve his nation’s crisis by convening a special assembly to rewrite the nation’s constitution, while the opposition is demanding an immediate presidential election.

Polls indicate the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin, with triple-digit inflation and shortages of many basic foods and medical supplies.

The wave of protests were triggered by a government move to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March, but the demonstrations have morphed into a general airing of grievances against the unpopular socialist administration.

As demonstrations take over Caracas almost daily, normal life has continued, but the atmosphere is suffused with uncertainty. At fancy cafes, patrons show each other the latest videos of student protesters getting hurt or defaced statues of the late President Hugo Chavez on their phones. Working class people who have to traverse the capital for their jobs have adjusted their schedules to account for traffic shutdowns and take siestas to wait out clashes between protesters and police.

On Monday, demonstrators assembled a giant rosary with balloons hanging from a Caracas highway overpass. A group of flamenco dancers dressed in black performed for the crowds. Others simply sat and held signs declaring their resistance.

Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the opposition would take its protests “to another stage” as Maduro continues his push to rewrite the nation’s constitution. “We are against this fraudulent process,” Capriles said on his radio broadcast.

Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, whose job is to protect citizens’ rights but who has been tagged the “dictator’s defender” by the opposition, said on Twitter that he was pressing for an exhaustive investigation into Alviarez’s death Monday to determine who was responsible and ensure they are held accountable.

Maduro blames the opposition for the violence, claiming its leaders are fomenting unrest to remove him from power. The opposition maintains state security and civilian-armed pro-government groups known as “colectivos” are responsible for the bloodshed.

Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Christine Armario reported from Bogota, Colombia.

Venezuelans again shut down capital to protest government

May 15, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Protesters are hauling folding chairs, beach umbrellas and coolers onto main roads for a national sit-in. The “sit-in against the dictatorship” is the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro. Many Caracas businesses were closed Monday and taxi drivers suspended work in anticipation of a city-wide traffic shutdown.

Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections. Polls show the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin. The European Union is also calling for Venezuela elections. EU foreign ministers said Monday that “violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country.”

And the U.S. has expressed grave concern about the erosion of democratic norms in the South American country.

Protesters march in Venezuela, destroy Chavez statue

May 07, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Women banged on pans and some stripped off their white shirts Saturday as they protested Venezuela’s socialist government in an event the opposition billed as a “women’s march against repression.” As they marched, local media carried a video showing people toppling a statue of the late President Hugo Chavez the day before in the western state of Zulia.

Thousands of women took over streets in major cities all around the South American country. Wearing the white shirts of the opponents of country’s increasingly embattled government, the women sang the national anthem and chanted, “Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Freedom!”

Some sported makeshift gear to protect against tear gas and rubber bullets. Others marched topless. One woman came in her wedding dress. As they have near-daily for five weeks, police in riot gear again took control of major roads in the capital city. Clashes between police and protesters have left some three dozen dead in the past month.

Local news media carried a video circulating on Twitter of the Chavez statue being pulled down. The media reported that students destroyed the statue as they vented their anger with the food shortages, inflation and spiraling crime that have come to define life here.

Several young men could be seen bashing the statue that depicted the socialist hero standing in a saluting pose, as onlookers hurled insults as the late president. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez on Friday denounced the protest movement, and said opposition “terrorists” were attempting a kind of nonconventional warfare.

The protest movement has drawn masses of people into the street nearly every day since March, and shows no sign of slowing. On Saturday, some of the women marchers approached soldiers in riot gear to offer them white roses and invite them to join the cause.

“What will you tell your kids later on?” one woman asked. In a call with the president of Peru, U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. A statement from the White House’s Office of the Press Secretary said Trump underscored to President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that “the United States will work together with Peru in seeking to improve democratic institutions and help the people of Venezuela.”

Maduro decrees Venezuelans will write new constitution

May 02, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s embattled president issued a decree Monday for writing a new constitution, ratcheting up a political crisis that has drawn hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters into the streets.

President Nicolas Maduro gave no details on how members would be chosen for a planned citizen assembly to produce a new charter, though he hinted some would selected by voters. Many observers expect the socialist administration to give itself the power to pick a majority of delegates to the convention.

Opposition leaders immediately objected, charging that writing a new constitution would give Maduro an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election that was to be held in 2018. Polling has suggested the socialists would lose both those elections badly amid widespread anger over Venezuela’s economic woes.

Speaking hours after another big march demanding his ouster ended in clashes between police and protesters, Maduro said a new constitution is needed to restore peace and stop the opposition from trying to carry out a coup.

“This will be a citizens assembly made up of workers,” Maduro said. “The day has come brothers. Don’t fail me now. Don’t fail (Hugo) Chavez and don’t fail your motherland.” If the constitutional process goes forward, opposition leaders will need to focus on getting at least some sympathetic figures included in the citizens assembly. That could distract them from the drumbeat of near daily street protests that they have managed to keep up for four weeks, political analyst Luis Vicente Leon said.

“It’s a way of calling elections that uses up energy but does not carry risk, because it’s not a universal, direct and secret vote,” Leon said. “And it has the effect of pushing out the possibility of elections this year and probably next year as well.”

The constitution was last rewritten in 1999, early in the 14-year presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, who began Venezuela’s socialist transformation. The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, called the idea of a constitutional assembly a “giant fraud” by Maduro and his allies designed to keep them in power at any cost. Borges said it would deny Venezuelans the right to express their views at the ballot box, and he urged the military to prevent the “coup” by Maduro.

“What the Venezuelan people want isn’t to change the constitution but to change Maduro through voting,” he said at a news conference in eastern Caracas, where anti-government protesters once again clashed with police Monday.

Anti-government protests have been roiling Venezuela for a month, and Borges said more pressure is needed to restore democracy. He called for a series of street actions, including a symbolic pot-banging protest Monday night and a major demonstration Wednesday.

Earlier Monday, anti-Maduro protesters tried to march on government buildings in downtown Caracas, but police blocked their path — just as authorities have done more than a dozen times in four weeks of near-daily protests. Officers launched tear gas and chased people away from main thoroughfares as the peaceful march turned into chaos.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Olivares was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and was led away with blood streaming down his face. Some demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs and dragged trash into the streets to make barricades.

A separate government-sponsored march celebrating May Day went off without incident in the city. At least 29 people have died in the unrest of the past month and hundreds have been injured. People of all ages and class backgrounds are participating in the protests. The unrest started in reaction to an attempt to nullify the opposition controlled-congress, but has become a vehicle for people to vent their fury at widespread shortages of food and other basic goods, violence on a par with a war zone, and triple-digit inflation. Maduro accuses his opponents of conspiring to overthrow him and undermine the country’s struggling economy.

The move to rewrite the constitution underscored many protesters’ chief complaint about the administration: That it has become an unfeeling dictatorship. Sergio Hernandez, a computer technology worker who attended Monday’s protest, said he would not return to his normal life until Maduro’s administration had been driven out.

“We’re ready to take the streets for a month or however long is needed for this government to understand that it must go,” he said.

Venezuela’s Maduro hikes minimum wage amid rising protests

May 01, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hiked wages and handed out hundreds of free homes Sunday amid his efforts to counter a strengthening protest movement seeking his removal.

On his regular television show, “Sundays with Maduro,” the president ordered a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage starting Monday. It was the third pay increase the socialist leader has ordered this year and the 15th since he became president in 2013.

It is small solace to workers who seen the buying power of their earnings eroded by a sinking currency and the world’s highest inflation — forecast to accelerate to 2,000 percent next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

With the latest wage increase and mandatory food subsidies, the minimum take home pay for millions of Venezuelans now stands at 200,000 bolivars a month — or less than $50 at the widely used black market rate.

“We’re here to take care of the workers, those who are most humble, and not the privileges of the oligarchs,” Maduro said. In addition to the pay hike, he announced a special “economic war” bonus to retirees to make up for what he says are attempts by the opposition to sabotage the economy.

The president also watched as officials in several states handed over the keys to hundreds of new apartments, some built with Chinese funding, bringing to 1.6 million the number of public housing units built by a program started by the late President Hugo Chavez.

The announcements came as government supporters and Maduro’s opponents prepared for rival marches to commemorate May Day on Monday. Twenty-nine people have been killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,300 arrested during a month of protests that are the bloodiest to hit Venezuela since anti-government unrest in 2014 resulted in more than 40 dead.

Protesters accuse Maduro of taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, unrest triggered by the government-stacked Supreme Court stripping congress of its last vestiges of power. They are demanding early elections and freedom for dozens of political prisoners as a way out of the stalemate.

The opposition blames the recent deaths on security forces and pro-government militias for the deaths. The government has complained of what it considers biased media coverage that will pave the way for some sort of foreign intervention in Venezuela.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez met with foreign correspondents for a second straight week to present the government’s case. Rodriguez sought to “completely disprove” the opposition’s claim that security forces fired a tear gas canister which hit the chest of 20-year-old college student and killed him died during a protest in Caracas last week. She said there were strong indications that the youth, Juan Pablo Pernalete, might have been killed with a cattle stun gun used against him by fellow protesters.

As political tensions have mounted, Maduro, a former bus driver, has worked hard to reinforce his everyman image. In recent days he has appeared on state TV tossing a baseball around with aides, rapping with a hip-hop group and taking first lady Cilia Flores on a popular tourist gondola to the top of Avila Mountain overlooking Caracas.

But the campaign to project business as usual has sometimes backfired. For example, last week he posted to his more than 3 million followers on Twitter a video showing him driving a car at night through a neighborhood that hours earlier experienced street clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces. It didn’t take long before someone noticed that passing by the open passenger window was a large graffiti scribbled on a wall that read “Maduro: Assassin of students.”

Maduro on Sunday repeated his call for dialogue, which the opposition has rejected after Vatican-sponsored talks collapsed in December with little progress. He also repeated a pledge to hold gubernatorial elections soon, perhaps as early as this year.

Many in the opposition consider Maduro’s offer of gubernatorial elections an empty concession and are pushing for an early presidential vote after the government cancelled regional races last year. Maduro’s allies currently govern in 20 of Venezuela’s 23 states but polls indicate the opposition would likely win the next election after it took control of congress in December 2015 by a landslide.

Venezuelans march in memory of those killed in unrest

April 23, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of Venezuelans dressed in white marched in the capital Saturday to pay homage to the at least 20 people killed in anti-government unrest in recent weeks. Protests have been roiling Venezuela on an almost daily basis since the pro-government Supreme Court stripped congress of its last powers three weeks ago, a decision later reversed amid a storm of international rebuke.

But for the first since the protests began, demonstrators managed to cross from the wealthier eastern side of Caracas to the traditionally pro-government west without encountering resistance from state security.

Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara, relishing the feat, likened the protesters’ arrival in the city’s more humble neighborhoods as “crossing the Berlin wall.” Once assembled outside the headquarters of the Roman Catholic bishops’ confederation, religious leaders led the crowd in a moment of silence and asked God for strength. Then a string of political leaders passed around a megaphone and from the back of a pick-up truck repeated their demand of recent days for immediate elections and freedom for dozens of jailed government opponents they consider political prisoners.

“Let it be heard: The dictatorship is in its final days,” said Maria Corina Machado, who was stripped of her seat in congress in 2014. The crowd responded with shouts of “Freedom! Freedom!” Many Venezuelans blame the socialist policies of President Nicolas Maduro’s administration for triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of food and medical supplies.

Among the demonstrators gathered in Caracas was Andres Ramirez, a 34-year-old agricultural engineer who marched with a giant cross draped in the Venezuelan flag. “I am here carrying this cross for the peace of all Venezuelans,” he said beneath a punishing sun. “We ask God to protect us in these moments of crisis and suffering.”

Elsewhere in the city, smaller pockets of violent protesters, some of them with their faces covered and throwing rocks, clashed with riot police, who responded with tear gas. The opposition contends rogue armed pro-government groups have been fomenting the violence that has swirled around protests. Government leaders claim the violence is generated by right-wing opposition forces working with criminal gangs in an attempt to remove them from power.

“These are terrorist groups on a mission to sow hate and death,” Diosdado Cabello, leader of the ruling socialist party, told supporters this week.

Venezuela protesters target Maduro, vow to keep up pressure

April 11, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of protesters demanding new elections faced off with security forces who launched tear gas and stood shoulder-to-shoulder blocking roadways in the Venezuelan capital Monday.

Demonstrators covered their faces to protect against the plumes of tear gas that wafted through the streets of Caracas. A few threw rocks as they tried to make their way downtown waving Venezuelan flags and carrying signs decrying President Nicolas Maduro.

“We need to get out on the street and fight, to tell these people we don’t want them,” said Maria Guedez, a 67-year-old homemaker carrying a sign that read, “No more dictatorship.” Now in their second week, the protests initially erupted April 1 after the Supreme Court stripped congress of its last vestiges of power, a decision it later reversed. Demonstrators and opposition leaders are angered at what they see as a government that no longer respects democratic institutions and is sliding toward authoritarianism.

Authorities squashed an opposition campaign to hold a recall referendum on Maduro last year, and a date has yet to be set for gubernatorial elections that were supposed to take place in 2016. Maduro accuses the opposition of fomenting unrest and conspiring with international actors to destabilize the country. He was in Cuba on Monday for a gathering of the Bolivarian Alliance, a leftist coalition of 11 Latin American nations.

On Sunday the president called on the opposition to return to stymied efforts at dialogue and said he was eager for regional elections to take place. But opposition leaders renewed calls to take to the streets, saying Maduro’s words have no credibility until a full election timeline has been formally established.

“That’s the only way there will be peace in Venezuela,” said Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly. Socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello said on Twitter opposition members who “use violence and terrorism to impose (themselves) on the majority who want peace” should face the consequences of the law.

“Enough with impunity,” he wrote. Monday’s protest took place at the start of Easter Week, when many Venezuelans typically spend quiet time at home with family or go on vacation. Opposition party leaders urged people to put any beach plans on hold and instead get some sun while out putting pressure on the government.

Authorities shut down several metro stations citing security reasons, but thousands nonetheless walked to the march. In some previous demonstrations, government groups have roughed up several opposition leaders and fired rubber bullets and a previously unseen reddish gas at crowds. One day a small group of young protesters unsuccessfully tried to set fire to a Supreme Court office, and another group snatched a camera from journalists working for pro-government state broadcaster VTV.

A dozen people were injured in the protest Monday, and opposition leaders shared a video they said showed an infant being whisked away after being overcome by tear gas. Opposition members also distributed a picture of an expired tear gas canister they said was found detonated at a previous demonstration.

Expired tear gas chemicals and solvents inside a cartridge could potentially react with each other or oxygen in the area and degrade, forming highly toxic gases, said Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor at Duke University School of Medicine. A degraded pyrotechnic charge propelling the cartridge could also lead to uncontrolled explosions, he said.

Overall, the unrest has left one person dead and more than 100 detained. Eighteen people were detained Monday, and Venezuela’s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said officers would continue to be deployed around the country.

“The Bolivarian government stands by its commitment to guarantee the tranquility and social wellbeing of our people,” he said in announcing the detentions. International leaders and the Organization for American States have been ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela to hold general elections, a call Maduro and his allies have condemned as an unjust attempt to intervene in the Andean nation’s domestic affairs.

On Friday, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was barred from running for public office for 15 years amid an intense campaign waged by the government tying him to the protest movement that has grown into the most contentious since a wave of unrest in 2014.

“We urge demonstrators to express themselves non-violently and call on government security forces to protect peaceful protest, not prevent it,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday. Popular singer Miguel Ignacio Mendoza, known as Nacho, was among those affected by tear gas in Caracas Monday.

“The repression is not an invention of the media,” he said, his eyes irritated by the gas. “I’m here to prove it”

Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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