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Posts tagged ‘Protests in 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.”

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.

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.

Venezuelans pour into Caracas streets in anti-Maduro protest

April 09, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s government fired tear gas and rubber bullets at some of the thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who poured into the streets of Caracas Saturday amid a weeklong protest movement that shows little sign of losing steam.

The demonstrations in the capital and several other cities came a day after Maduro’s government barred top opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years. The ban capped a tumultuous 10 day-crackdown that saw pro-government groups rough up several opposition leaders and another seek refuge in a foreign embassy to escape arrest.

The protests were triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the opposition-controlled legislature of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid widespread international condemnation and even dissent within Maduro’s normally disciplined socialist leadership.

“Nobody can disqualify the Venezuelan people,” an emotional Capriles said from a stage Saturday as he called on protesters to march to the ombudsman’s office downtown. As the sea of protesters approached the headquarters of state-run PDVSA oil company, they were met by rubber bullets and a curtain of eye-scorching tear gas, some of it a never-before-seen red color. Mayhem ensued, with riot police racing down windy streets, dodging objects thrown from tall apartment buildings as they deployed to squash the unrest.

Later, a small group of youths unsuccessfully tried to set fire to a Supreme Court office building. The violence was condemned by the opposition leadership, who nonetheless blame Maduro’s obstinacy for fueling the unrest.

They called for another protest Monday. But with Caracas shutting down for the Easter holiday — which Maduro extended by decree for three extra days — they appeared to be saving their strength for a major demonstration called for April 19.

At least 17 people were treated for injuries, according to Ramon Muchacho, a Caracas-area mayor where the demonstration took place. Around most of Caracas, checkpoints were set up to search cars and frisk bus passengers even miles away from the clashes. As night fell, many streets still reeked of tear gas and a small group of youth burned trash and tore down street signs at busy intersections in eastern Caracas.

As the most dominant figure in the opposition over the past decade, Capriles has been at the forefront of the protests, the most combative since a wave of anti-government unrest in 2014 in which dozens of people were killed, many at the hands of security forces.

The almost-daily churn of events in what the opposition calls an “ongoing coup” by the government has energized and united the normally fractious opposition. While opposition leaders have insisted on peaceful protest, frustration built up over 17 years of polarizing socialist rule in Venezuela is running high on both sides.

As Saturday’s march began, protesters snatched a camera from crew members working for pro-government state broadcaster VTV, chasing them away from the crowd with kicks and insults. Police, meanwhile, made social media posts of mugshots of protesters taken undercover and asked for information on the unidentified “generators of violence.”

Leaders in the ruling socialist party have accused the opposition of trying to provoke a bloodbath and its own coup. The protesters on Saturday included 26-year-old Victoria Paez, who sported a baseball cap bearing the slogan “There’s a Way!” from Capriles’ 2012 presidential run against the late Hugo Chavez.

“Every day, the government gives us more reasons to leave our homes and protest,” said Paez, who earns less than $20 a month as a chemical engineer. She said she’s thinking about joining a sister and scores of college friends who have left the South American country seeking a better future.

While she said she was hopeful the world is beginning to see there are injustices in Venezuela, her father, Carlos Paez, was more pessimistic. “Unfortunately, if there has to be bloodshed for the government to change, it won’t be the first time in history,” he said.

The protest movement’s immediate goal apparently is to force Maduro to call elections. Authorities last year cancelled an opposition campaign to hold a recall referendum on Maduro and no date has yet been set for gubernatorial elections that were supposed to take place last year.

The government earlier jailed another major opposition figure, hardliner Leopoldo Lopez. With both seemingly out of the running, the government may be trying to manipulate the electoral playing field to leave the opposition with less viable options should the government bow to pressure and call elections before they’re scheduled in 2018, analysts said.

“However, it is a risky strategy that will probably backfire,” Eurasia Group said in a report Friday. “The opposition is clearly fired up and this will further their cause.”

Venezuela extends use of 100-bolivar bill following protests

December 18, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s government on Saturday extended the use of its 100-bolivar bill until Jan. 2, after its decision to pull the banknote out of circulation left the country largely without cash, and sparked protests and looting.

President Nicolas Maduro said the decision to put Venezuela’s most widely used note back in use came after the promised higher-denomination replacement bills were still unavailable because three planes transporting them were “victims of sabotage.” He did not give details of the alleged sabotage.

The “new logistics” of rolling out the banknotes, including the 500-bolivar bill, meant that their launch would have to wait, Maduro said in a televised address. Venezuela is plagued by the world’s highest inflation, and Maduro made the surprise announcement that the 100-bolivar bill would be replaced a week ago. The note had been the country’s largest denomination but its value against the U.S. dollar has dropped to about 2 cents, down from 10 cents at the start of the year.

All week, Venezuelans waited in long lines to deposit their soon-to-be-worthless 100-bolivar notes in banks. When the bill went out of circulation on Friday and the replacement bills had not yet arrived at banks or ATMs, people were forced to rely on credit cards or bank transfers, or to try to make purchases with bundles of hard-to-find smaller bills often worth less than a penny each.

Anger at having to deal with an economy even more paralyzed than usual exploded in social unrest. “Our children are going hungry,” said Lucrecia Morales in Caracas. “We are parents who earn money with the sweat off our brows. And now they say it is worthless? We need a solution.”

Authorities said there were protests and looting on Friday and early Saturday in at least six cities, including Maracaibo, where police put down looting near a bank building, and the eastern state of Bolivar, where mobs sacked several businesses. Young men waved their 100-bolivar bills in the air and chanted “they’re useless,” then turned and ran as police fired tear gas canisters. Dozens of people were arrested.

In Caracas, people banged on pots and cursed the government’s apparent lack of planning. There was no cash to be seen changing hands on the street or inside shops. On Saturday, hundreds of government supporters and ruling party members dressed in red shirts marched in Caracas to back Maduro and protest the “economic war” against Venezuela.

In addition to putting the old currency back in circulation, Maduro said he would extend the closure of the border with Colombia and Brazil until Jan. 2. He has said the move aims to thwart “mafias” who hoard bolivars, leading critics to mock the notion that gangsters would choose to keep their wealth in the world’s fastest-devaluing currency.

Only foot traffic for family visits will be allowed, he said. Despite the closure, dozens of Venezuelans knocked down barricades set up on the bridge between Urena, Venezuela and Cucuta, Colombia to cross over and buy food.

The currency chaos comes as the oil-rich nation struggles with a contracting economy and empty store shelves. Venezuela has maintained strict currency controls since 2003.

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