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Posts tagged ‘Protests in Venezuela’

All-powerful Venezuelan assembly to open amid protests

August 04, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is heading toward a showdown with his political foes, promising to seat a new constituent assembly Friday that will rewrite the country’s constitution and hold powers that override all other government branches.

Leaders of the opposition urged Venezuelans to fill the streets of the capital Friday, hoping to provide a strong showing that many people object to the assembly. The body’s 545 delegates were expected to be installed at the legislative palace in a room just yards (meters) from the chamber where the opposition-controlled National Assembly meets. Maduro, who has said he will use the assembly to punish his opponents, planned to attend the opening session.

The legislature building has been the scene of bloody clashes in recent weeks and the installation of the all-powerful assembly will intensify a political struggle that has brought three months of bloody anti-government protests to Venezuela. Maduro vows the assembly will strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, while members of congress say they will only be removed by force.

“The only way they’ll get us out of here is by killing us,” declared Freddy Guevara, the National Assembly’s first vice president. “They will never have the seat that the people of Venezuela gave us.”

The opposition boycotted Sunday’s election of the constituent assembly, arguing that the rules were rigged to benefit the government, and nearly all the candidates were supporters of Maduro’s administration.

The election has come under mounting scrutiny since the CEO of an international voting technology company said that “without any doubt” the official voter turnout number had been tampered with — a charge that Maduro and the National Electoral Council have dismissed. An increasing number of foreign governments have refused to recognize the assembly and many within Venezuela fear it will create a one-party state.

“There has been a gradual erosion of democratic practice and this is a significant line that has been crossed,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. “To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new constituent assembly is on very weak ground.”

The U.S. State Department called the assembly illegitimate Thursday, saying the election was rigged to further entrench “the Maduro dictatorship.” “The United States will not recognize the National Constituent Assembly,” spokeswoman Heath Nauert said.

On the eve of the assembly’s installation, the Spanish Embassy in Caracas was attacked with gasoline bombs. Prosecutors said two individuals on a motorcycle launched the devices, which started a fire but caused no reported injuries.

Carlos Romero, a professor and foreign relations analyst in Caracas, called the incident “extremely grave” and said it could further complicate relations between Venezuela and Madrid. Spain’s ambassador to Venezuela was among a group of legislators who visited the National Assembly on Tuesday in a show of support after the constituent assembly election.

Prominent members of the constituent assembly, such as Diosdado Cabello, the leader of the ruling socialist party, have said they plan to target the opposition-controlled congress and the country’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, a longtime supporter of the late Hugo Chavez who recently broke with Maduro. As one of its first tasks, Maduro has ordered the assembly to declare Ortega Diaz’s office in a state of emergency and entirely restructure it.

In a continuing show of defiance, Ortega Diaz filed papers Thursday seeking a court order to block installation of the new assembly. The request, filed to a lower court in an apparent attempt to circumvent the government-stacked Supreme Court, was almost certain to be denied.

She also ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations of election tampering raised by Antonio Mugica, the head of the voting technology firm Smartmatic. Mugica told reporters in London on Wednesday that results recorded by his company’s systems and those reported by the National Electoral Council show the official turnout count was off by at least 1 million votes.

Pledges by opposition lawmakers to remain in power no matter what action the constituent assembly takes have opened the possibility of two governing bodies operating side by side — neither recognizing the other.

One opposition lawmaker, Henry Ramos Allup, said this week that if forcibly expelled from the legislative palace the National Assembly could potentially hold its sessions at another site. Despite questions surrounding the vote, Maduro all but ensured there was nothing that could stop the government from seating the new assembly.

“They are bent on plowing ahead with this power grab,” Shifter said, “and this is not going to stand in the way.”

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

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Few heed call for mass protest in Venezuela’s capital

July 29, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Few demonstrators heeded opposition calls for a mass protest Friday in Venezuela’s capital against President Nicolas Maduro’s divisive push to rewrite the constitution by a constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.

Streets in Caracas were largely devoid of protests a day after Interior Minister Nestor Reverol announced that authorities were prohibiting any demonstrations from taking place through Tuesday. Opposition leaders had urged Venezuelans to demonstrate anyway in a protest they billed as the “Taking of Caracas,” hoping for a dramatic culmination of three days of protests that started with a 48-hour nationwide general strike. But the hundreds of thousands who have sometimes taken to the streets during nearly four months of anti-government protests were largely absent.

“Here we are in the streets, just like the first day,” opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares said, urging people to reject Reverol’s demonstration ban. “Let’s not be victims of fear.” There were isolated clashes between National Guard troops and small groups of young demonstrators who call themselves “The Resistance.” A few protest barricades went up in opposition-friendly eastern Caracas, but the city was relatively calms two days before Sunday’s constituent assembly election.

Maduro has deployed the military and police to clear blockades and protect a vote that he says is meant to end the power struggle with the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which he blames for Venezuela’s spiraling political, economic and social crisis. The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying the election rules have been rigged to favor the ruling socialist party and will only serve to tighten Maduro’s grip on power.

International pressure to cancel the vote intensified Friday, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reiterating in a telephone call with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez that the United States would respond with “strong and swift economic actions” if the election proceeds.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo said he would not recognize the constituent assembly, given that it has “illegitimate origins.” His finance minister also told a local radio station the neighboring nation would sanction the same 13 former and current Venezuelan officials cited by the U.S. on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of Maduro’s most vocal opponents, said in a meeting with two other U.S. legislators that he expects further sanctions if the assembly vote proceeds. Maduro appeared unconcerned by the mounting international outcry, instead paying homage Friday to the late President Hugo Chavez on what would have been his predecessor’s 63rd birthday, telling supporters that with the constitution rewrite, “Chavez is more alive than ever.”

“What would Chavez do July 30th?” he asked. “Would he call on us to sabotage the constituent assembly?” “No!” the crowd shouted back. Delegates elected to the constituent assembly will take on the task of rewriting the 1999 constitution, which was crafted by Chavez to install a socialist administration. That constitution is considered one of his principal legacies, and the move to rewrite it has drawn rebuke even from some longtime government loyalists and Chavez supporters.

Residents in Caracas lined up for hours at grocery stores and banks to stockpile food and cash before what many expected to be a chaotic weekend. The election has added fuel to near-daily protests that began in early April after the government-packed Supreme Court ruled to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last powers. The decision was quickly reversed but it sparked a protest movement demanding a new presidential election.

Deaths in the anti-government demonstrations and upheaval climbed to at least 113 on Friday. That number included a police officer slain in the town of Ejido in the western state of Merida, which has been the scene of violent clashes in recent days.

Meanwhile, Alfredo Romero, director of Foro Penal, a lawyers’ group, said that Wuilly Arteaga, a young violinist who has become a symbol of anti-government protest in Venezuela, had been detained while performing.

“They took his violin and hit him with it,” Romero said. Air service to Venezuela continued to dwindle. Avianca was offering full refunds to the estimated 13,000 passengers who had booked a flight on the now-suspended service. Delta, one of the last airlines still serving Venezuela, said on Twitter that it could not guarantee service after September. The airline declined further comment.

Venezuelan protesters, security forces clash at air base

June 25, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Young protesters broke down a metal fence guarding an air base in Caracas on Saturday before being repelled by security forces firing tear gas in another day of anti-government protests in Venezuela’s capital.

Demonstrators threw stones, and some protesters were injured. The clashes took place after a peaceful mass demonstration next to La Carlota base where a 22-year-old protester was killed this week when a national guardsman shot him in the chest at close range with rubber bullets.

Protesters also fought with security forces outside the base Friday, and activists burned some vehicles during the confrontation. President Nicolas Maduro said in an address to troops Saturday that he had managed to break up a U.S.-backed plot to oust him. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro frequently accuses the U.S. of trying to topple Venezuela’s socialist administration.

Maduro praised Venezuela’s military for standing by the government and he warned that attempts are underway to try to sow further dissent. More than 70 people have been killed and hundreds injured in almost three months of demonstrations.

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.”

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.

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