Tags: Venezuela | protests

Venezuelans Sustain Protests as Maduro's Carnival Holiday Ends

Image: Venezuelans Sustain Protests as Maduro's Carnival Holiday Ends
Police fire teargas at anti-government protesters during clashes at Altamira square in Caracas on March 3.

Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014 12:27 AM

Venezuela’s opposition scheduled more demonstrations today as a six-day holiday weekend comes to an end and the government prepares to commemorate the one-year anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death.

Opposition women scheduled a march for 10 a.m. in Caracas. Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, will be at the head of the group wearing white to honor Venezuelans killed in the three-week-old demonstrations and demand the release of detained protesters, including her husband. The death toll from the protests that began Feb. 12 has climbed to 18, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said yesterday.

The opposition has rejected overtures from President Nicolas Maduro to meet to discuss the crisis, while the president and his top officials have continued to accuse protesters of trying to stage a coup. United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon yesterday called for “reduced tensions” in Venezuela following a meeting with Jaua in Geneva.

“If the protests do not slow down, dialogue is the only way to resolve the crisis,” said Gregory Weeks, a Latin America specialist who chairs the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “But it is not clear who would be in the position to mediate since both sides are so polarized.”

Protesters yesterday set up barricades before sunset with chunks of concrete, trees, wire and trash in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas. Young men with their faces covered prepared Molotov cocktails near an effigy of Maduro and a sign comparing the leader to the Biblical Judas. Earlier in the day demonstrators marched to the headquarters of the Organization of American States.

Waiting in Line

The daily marches and regular clashes have been the biggest sustained challenge to Maduro’s 11-month-old government. Frustration over rising crime, the world’s fastest inflation and shortages of basic goods have fueled discontent in a country with the world’s biggest oil reserves.

Norma Romero, a 68-year-old retired college professor, says she spends five hours most days waiting in line to buy sugar and other staples.

“On a normal day, someone messages you that there’s toilet paper at this place and you run over,” Romero said. “When you arrive, there’s a line of 100 to 150 people and you have to be in line for 3 hours. Sometimes there’s nothing anywhere.”

Jailed Leader

Opposition leader Lopez, jailed two weeks ago for inciting violence, issued a statement this week demanding the liberation of all political prisoners, justice for deaths and abuses at recent protests and the resignation of those responsible for what he called human rights violations. He said protests will “intensify” if the opposition’s calls aren’t heeded.

Maduro has taken steps to address a dollar shortage that has crimped imports, causing scarcities of everything from toilet paper to medicines. Economic growth will slow this year to 0.5 percent from an estimated 1.2 percent in 2013, in both instances falling short of the Latin American average, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg in early February.

Today marks the final day of a six-day holiday weekend declared by Maduro to combine the annual Carnival festival with a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of riots in Caracas in which government troops opened fire on protesters. Venezuelans typically use the holiday to visit relatives outside Caracas or go to the beach.

“It seems the government is still trying to see whether Carnival will make the protests dissipate,” Weeks said. “My sense is that the Maduro administration is just hoping that the protest will go away, otherwise they seem to have no strategy.”

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Venezuela’s opposition scheduled more demonstrations today as a six-day holiday weekend comes to an end and the government prepares to commemorate the one-year anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death.
Venezuela,protests
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2014-27-04
Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014 12:27 AM
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