Between student marches and demonstrations against the newsprint shortage, Venezuela has seen significant social unrest in recent days, with more protests planned for today. Civil society groups have deeply criticized the government’s handling of the demonstrations, which has included the use of firearms to control crowds and reliance on anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute protestors.
The wave of unrest sparked last week in Caracas and the western states of Merida and Tachira, with university student groups organizing relatively small but high-profile protests. Their grievances varied, ranging from the state of insecurity in the country to the accelerating inflation and high cost of living. These student protests were fueled by the police crackdown in Tachira, where students held a rally against Governor Vielma Mora. El Universal reports that four demonstrators were detained by police for allegedly throwing rocks and damaging the front gate of the official governor’s residence, and Maduro called for “no mercy” against the suspects, whom he described as “fascists.”
Meanwhile, El Nacional reports that yesterday saw demonstrations in front of government offices in Caracas organized by the National Press Workers Union (SNTP) and National Journalist Association (CNP), which protested the shortage of dollars fueling a nationwide newsprint shortage. El Universal notes that Alejandro Fleming, head of the Foreign Trade Commission, criticized the protests on national television later in the day. He did not respond directly to their demands, only promising that foreign currency would be made available to “economic sectors that really work to build a healthy economy.” More protests against the paper shortage are planned for next week.
Some 19 individuals have been arrested in these demonstrations, which have so far drawn crowds of only a few hundred. President Maduro has continued to characterize the protestors as extremist “coup seekers” attempting to undo his dialogue with moderate elements of the opposition. Reuters lends some weight to this claim, noting that opposition figure Henrique Capriles has distanced himself from the confrontational tactics of some protestors, while Leopoldo Lopez has actively endorsed them, calling for the creation of “a solid movement with irreverence and rebelliousness.”
In response to the arrests, a coalition of ten human rights organizations known as the “Forum for Life” has released a statement (available at advocacy group PROVEA’s website and picked up by the AP) framing the government’s response to the protests as a continuation of longstanding infringements of the right to peaceful protest in the country. According to the coalition, the use of tear gas and firearms against crowds, as well as the official reliance on anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute demonstrators, amount to human rights abuses and violate the Venezuelan constitution.
As El Nuevo Herald reports, more student protests are planned nationwide today to mark Venezuela’s National Youth Day, and opposition activists are hoping for a large turnout at anti-government demonstrations. However, the ruling PSUV has also organized rallies to commemorate the day, an illustration of the high degree of politicization in the country.
- In other protest-related news in Venezuela, yesterday the country’s national communications commission released a statement warning radio, television and electronic media that coverage of “recent violent acts” was a potential violation of content restrictions. El Universal reports that is a reference to coverage of protests in general, though the statement is specifically aimed at the endorsement or encouragement of violence or disruption of “the public peace.”
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