This week has seen Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, shut down due to tens of thousands of demonstrators hitting the streets in order to protest the current leftist government headed by President Nicolás Maduro, who has been accused of trying to cement a one-man rule. The protests, aligned with the National Assembly, began to clash violently with security forces on Tuesday, April 4.
The protests were met by the National Guard approximately an hour after they began. The protests quickly turned violent, with guards reportedly using tear gas and water cannons mounted on trucks in an attempt to deter the crowds. Protesters retaliated by throwing rocks at riot police. The protests also attracted armed pro-government gangs, who reportedly arrived on bikes and began shooting in the air. Ramon Muchacho, mayor of one of Caracas’s districts, has said that at least nine protesters were injured.
Far-left President Nicolás Maduro has been heavily criticised after attempting to pass legislature that would strip away the powers of Congress. This decision would have meant that Maduro’s main opposition and only apparent counter balance had no power. The move was dubbed by the opposition as an internal ‘coup d’état.’ It was described by attorney general, Luisa Ortega, as “a rupture in the constitutional order.” The decision was quickly over-ruled on Saturday, April 1, by the Venezuela Supreme Court after facing international and domestic disapproval of the move that had no constitutional basis. In particular, The Organisation of American States were especially critical of the decision.
In response to the initial move, lawmaker Julio Borgers said, “They have kidnapped the Constitution, they have kidnapped our rights, they have kidnapped our liberty.” Recent months have seen the president strengthening his hold on power, with a number of political prisoners having been detained without trial. The Penal Forum has stated that the government is holding at least 114 political prisoners.
Protests in Venezuela have been ongoing for the past several years with Venezuelans having frequently expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the economy, especially as the country is reported to be suffering from a shortage of basic foods, medicine and security. Venezuela is also suffering from dramatic inflation and has one of the world’s highest murder rates. Maduro has suggested that US-backed business elites are to blame for Venezuela’s poor economic state. He has also blamed the US government for the protests, claiming that “they give the order to the defeated fascist right of Venezuela to fill the streets with violence and blood.”
However, the movements have failed to capture the attention of Venezuela’s poorest citizens. In addition to this, Maduro has managed to keep the support of the military. However, political analyst Luis Salamanca can see this changing in the future, saying, “At this point, Maduro can’t say he’s sure of anyone’s support, including the armed forces.” Maduro’s government has previously faced big hits, with protests in December 2015 resulting in Maduro’s opposition in winning control of legislature.
There is hope that this new push of protests will do some change due to mounting international pressure and criticism over the past couple of weeks. Henrique Capriles, Venezuelan politician and lawyer, noted that “…the world can see the dictatorial path Mr. Maduro has chosen.” He has since been banned from public office for 15 years (preventing him from challenging Maduro in 2018), a move that has incited further protest.
The ongoing protests in Venezuela have caused significant disruption in communities. However, it is also very apparent that citizens across the country feel let down and cheated by their current government. International pressure ensured that the democracy-threatening bill was quickly overturned, but it does not appear that much else will done for the Venezuelan people until the upcoming vote next year.