Venezuela: Fresh right-wing violence despite public rejection

Friday, April 25, 2014
Violent right-wing protest in Caracas, April 20.

Hard-line opposition protests continued over the Easter weekend in Venezuela. However, a recent poll found most Venezuelans support the peace talks occurring between the government and moderate opposition.

Opposition student groups and several hard-line opposition leaders led a march on April 20 to the United Nations office in Caracas, where they demanded that the UN send a delegation to assess the situation in the country.

Protests broke out in early February after right-wing opposition leaders called for supporters to resist the government and “light up the streets of Venezuela with struggle”.

Some peaceful protests took place over issues of high crime, inflation and shortages of certain basic food products, but more radical opposition militants are pursuing a strategy of riots and street barricades to force the government’s ouster. Public buildings and infrastracture, health clinics and pro-poor cheap food stores have been attacked by right-wing protesters.

So far, 41 people have been killed in the unrest, including police, opposition activists and government supporters.

Meanwhile, citizens from poorer sectors, who in their majority continue to support the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, have not joined protests, whose attendance and momentum have ebbed since February.

On April 10, the government and less extreme opposition leaders met for peace talks, initiating a process of dialogue that is being assisted by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the papacy.

But at an April 20 protest in Caracas, hard-line opposition leader and metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma rejected the talks, arguing that the “conditions are not established” for these to take place.

However, Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces found that 90% of Venezuelans support the talks underway between the government and opposition. It found 45% of respondents felt Maduro was the most “sincere” in wanting dialogue, while 33% felt the opposition was the more sincere in its intentions.

Pope Francis used his Easter Sunday address on April 20 to call for “peace and fraternal concordance” in Venezuela. But violent clashes continued.

Groups of masked militants tried to close down a main avenue in the wealthy Chacao area of Caracas that day. In other incidents, masked activists burned a bus in the Andean city of San Cristobal, while in Merida a youth was injured by a rubber bullet during clashes with police after opposition activists tried to block a main road into the city.

Military chief Vladimir Padrino said on April 22 that the violent street blockades had moved on to a “second phase” characterised by “selective attacks and terrorist cells”. He said: “They are continuing the selective attacks on public transport units.”

Padrino said the “first stage... in the continuous coup d’etat” featured barricades and calls to high ranking military personal to remove Maduro. Three air force generals were arrested at the end of March for allegedly planning a coup.

Right-wing Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional said hardline opposition supporters met in the Catholic University Andres Bello to announce a “second stage of protests” to start on April 26.

[Compiled from Venezuela Analysis.]

From GLW issue 1006