WASHINGTON — Venezuelan protests and unrest struck the country this past week, with at least three people shot dead. These protests were worse, or just as bad, as ones that broke out last year after the disputed presidential election of Nicolas Maduro.
Reuters reported that both the Socialist Venezuelan government and the moderate opposition pointed fingers and blamed one another for the violence. Maduro recently ordered a national store chain to sell their products at low prices to appease the poor, which enraged the middle and upper class.
Venezuela is in such a state that the country has run out of toilet paper.
A year after the death of Hugo Chavez, who was Venezuela’s President and an ardent Socialist, chaos and worsening economic conditions are gripping the South American country. The recent protests show how divided the Venezuelan people are, especially a year after the closest presidential election in recent memory.
The opposition had protested the results, which put Maduro in office and left Henrique Capriles as the incumbent governor of the Miranda province (who had won his own re-election as governor). They accused the government of stacking the electoral commission with Maduro supporters and said that Maduro did not win the vote legitimately. But, their challenges were rebuffed and the opposition had to withdraw their objections.
Maduro went public and blamed the deaths on “small fascist groups” that opposed his presidency. He said that the fascists, “want to topple the government through violence … they have no ethics, no morals … we will not permit any more attacks.”
The government announced that 23 people were hurt, 25 more were arrested in addition to four police vehicles being torches and several government offices vandalized by protesters. The anti-government protesters covered their faces to avoid government scrutiny and identification and identified with the new slogan, “The Exit.” They are demanding the exit of Maduro, who has overseen the quick deterioration of an oil-rich South American country. Corruption and crime are rampant in Venezuela, which the opposition blames on Maduro and his government.
One prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, told his supporters to take to the streets to protest the Maduro government. In what seemed like a response, a Venezuelan judge issued an arrest warrant for Lopez’s actions of purported terrorism and instigating crime and murder. Lopez told local media:
“The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time … they’re blaming me without any proof … I’m innocent. I have a clear conscience because we called for peace … we won’t retreat and we can’t retreat because this is about our future, about our children, about millions of people.”
Lopez, age 42, was a former mayor of a Caracas district (the capital city of Venezuela), and whose aides would not reveal his current location.