Venezuela's opposition have continued staging violent demonstrations amid calls for calm from across the political spectrum.
In an address to the nation late on February 13, President Nicolas Maduro said there were fresh reports of violent demonstrations, including attacks on government run medical centres.
He urged for national “dialogue” and said he would present a “plan of living together and peace” the next day. The president provided few details of the plan, but said he would seek support from cultural icons including sports people, poets and others.
Maduro also accused the private media of misrepresenting the violence, and denied claims security forces had repressed peaceful protests.
“Actually, we've had a lot of patience with them,” he said, referring to violent opposition demonstrators. Yet he also issued a warning that further violence wouldn't be tolerated.
“Should I allow them to burn, to destroy this country?” he asked.
As the address was broadcast live, cacerola protests started in some areas for the second night in a row. Such protests involve banging pots and pans together in the streets and inside houses. In Merida, the demonstrations prompted yet another wave of violence in the streets, with gunshots ringing out through the city.
The cacerolas followed another day of demonstrations, after right-wing leaders urged supporters to take to the streets again despite demonstrations turning deadly on February 12.
In the early hours of February 13, interior minister Miguel Rodriguez confirmed the previous day's violent disturbances claimed four lives, while 66 people wounded across the country.
The latest confirmed death was of a police officer. It can after news earlier in the day that a Chavista activist from Barrio 23 de Enero, Juan Montoya, and student Basil Da Costa had both died from gunshot wounds. (Chavistas support the process of change begun by the government of late president Hugo Chavez and continued by Maduro.)
An Associated Press report said that Da Costa was shot in the head during clashes between armed Chavistas and violent opposition groups in Caracas. The armed opposition groups were reportedly battling police when the Chavistas arrived on motorbikes and opened fire.
Maduro claimed that both Montoya and Da Costa were both shot in the head “like the sharp shooters who murdered [people] on 11 April ”. Unknown shooters opened fire on both pro- and anti-Chavez protesters on April 11, 2002, with the resulting deaths used to justify the military coup that briefly ousted Chavez.
Yet another death has also been confirmed by the mayor of Chacaco in Caracas.
More than 70 arrests had been made nationwide in relation to the disturbances on February 12, Rodriguez said.
The minister said of those detained had allegedly “burned patrol [vehicles], attacked police officers and committed a lot of vandalism”.
“The human rights of all detainees are being respected. .. however, when they go to trial they should explain the reasons for their actions and are punishable by the weight of the law,” he said.
Rodriguez also stated that the criminal investigation body CICPC has launched an investigation to “determine as quickly as possible who is responsible” for the violence.
During his statement, Rodriguez described the situation as “calm”, and said authorities were assessing damage. However, he warned Venezuelans to “be alert to destabilising plans”.
Rodriguez said violent opposition groups were planning a fresh wave of violence for February 13, and intended to “wear red shirts to commit their crimes”. Red shirts are associated with Chavistas.
He said this information had been obtained from arrested opposition activists.
He also alleged that groups responsible for the violence had received training and funding from abroad. He provided no evidence, however. There are no confirmed reports of opposition groups dressed as Chavistas that have emerged at the time of writing.
In a later announcement of February 13, Rodriguez invited students from universities in Caracas to meet at 7pm tonight to discuss solutions to the violence.
“I'm here to listen, we can talk about a peace plan in universities, to create a movement for peace and life,” Rodriguez said.
Venezuela's main opposition coalition the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has also condemned the February 12 clashes.
“The MUD unreservedly condemns violence,” MUD secretary Ramon Aveledo said on February 13. “We are people of peace. We condemn any violent demonstration.”
Aveledo welcomed the CICPC investigation into the cause of the violence. However, he urged for “extra objectivity”, and called for an investigation “without partisan passions”.
Investigations launched into far-right
Today the National Assembly's (AN) Committee on Domestic Policy called on lawmakers to launch an investigation into Leopoldo Lopez, the founder of the far right political party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), and assembly member Maria Machado.
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lawmaker Jose Javier Morales urged the AN to back the committee's call on February 13.
“While the government is promoting measures to ensure the welfare of all Venezuelans, they [Machado and Lopez] generate chaos and crisis,” he said. "Yesterday they inspired the people to embark on this wave of violence ... like during the 2002 coup.”
“It's time for the state to act against these acts of vandalism,” he said
In an unconfirmed report from conservative newspaper El Universal, this evening military counter-intelligence officers searched the offices of Voluntad Popular for a party coordinator, Carlos Vecchio.
On February 13, the Minister for Urban Transformation of Caracas Ernesto Villegas told media in the capital that a warrant had been issued for Lopez.
“The attorney general has confirmed to us the truth of the arrest warrant against Leopoldo Lopez,” the minister told broadcaster Alba Ciudad.
Both Lopez and Machado are prominent figures on Venezuela's far-right. In recent weeks, they criticised former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles for negotiating with the Maduro administration on improving domestic security.
Machado was a signatory of the Carmona Decree, which suspended the National Assembly and declared Pedro Carmona head of state during the 2002 coup that temporarily ousted Chavez.
Last June, the Venezuelan government released an audio recording that allegedly implicated her in another coup plot. Last November, she faced more allegations of involvement in a plot to destabilise Venezuela ahead of the December municipal elections.
Today Machado urged opposition supporters to remain on the streets, but blamed the government for the violence.
Although disturbances continued today in a number of Venezuelan cities, the death toll hasn't risen. Students continued to protest in Caracas, while in Maracaibo opposition groups began blocking main thoroughfares from around 11am. Universities across the country were closed.
Chavistas likewise maintained a presence in the streets in a number of Venezuelan cities today. An organiser of the ruling socialist party's (PSUV) youth wing, Sonny Sanchez told state news agency AVN that the youth organisation would remain in the streets in solidarity with the Maduro administration against “fascists, nazis, [and] terrorists that are being trained to create chaos in the country”.
In the initial epicentre of the current wave of opposition violence, Tachira, the state governor Jose Vielma Mora has also reiterated calls for peace.
Violent opposition attacks have been occurring in the state capital of San Cristobal for over a week.
Mora claimed opposition student groups in the state have been infiltrated by “paramilitaries”, and accused the groups of “terrorism”. However, he stated that violence is “only in isolated pockets of one part of the city of San Cristobal”. Later in the afternoon the governor announced that seven activists possessing makeshift explosives had been arrested. Two were minors.
After gunfire and cacerolas continued late into the night in Merida, today demonstrations again took place in some parts of the Andean city. However, the national guard has retaken a group of apartment blocks occupied by violent opposition groups yesterday.
Gunfire started yesterday afternoon as the opposition groups fired live ammunition at police, Chavistas and other civilians from windows into the streets below.
According to one witness, the scene has been calm today. However, Merida's annual carnival has reportedly been postponed due to the violence.
Along with other leading opposition figures, Capriles has also accused security forces and Chavistas of instigating the violence. The former presidential candidate claimed “there are photographs and videos” of armed Chavistas causing violence.
However, last night and tonight Maduro has blamed yesterday's violence on the opposition. During his speech last night, he alleged the disturbances were the product of “a small group of irresponsible leaders [with] violent, hateful and personal ambitions, financed from the United States by neo-fascist groups”.
The president stated that violent demonstrators would be brought to justice.
“I swear by my people that there will be justice for the blood shed in Venezuela today. I swear that I will do justice in Venezuela. I want peace and justice,” he stated.
“The Bolivarian revolution will triumph by way of the constitution,” he said.
He stated that prominent opposition figures including former ambassador to Colombia Fernando Gerbasi and Perez-era military chief Mario Ivan Carratu are facing arrest for alleged involvement in the violence.
Neighbouring governments including Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have issued statements condemning the violence.
“The government of Ecuador ... expresses its full support to President Nicolas Maduro against these acts of violence, organised by the opposition,” a statement from Ecuador's foreign ministry read in part.
Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca expressed “total rejection of any attempt of destabilisation in Venezuela”, while the Argentine called for “an investigation to determine responsibilities”.
[Slightly abridged from Venezuela Analysis. Check out www.venezuelanalysis.com for ongoing updates of the situation in Venezuela.]