Health Professionals Join Protests In Venezuela As Unrest Enters Its Eighth Week

Venezuelan doctors have joined the fray in Venezuela’s cities as country-wide protests continue into their eighth week, Al Jazeera has reported. Mounting frustrations with the administration of President Nicolás Maduro and rampant medicine shortages have driven doctors and other hospital staff to act, their participation swelling the ranks of a formidable opposition including university students, workers, and members of the Venezuelan National Assembly. This comes as leaders of the popular opposition movement urge restraint amongst protesters, who have seen many of their number killed and injured in clashes with security forces.

Represented by the Venezuelan Medical Federation (VMF), the doctors – decrying the alleged incompetence of the current administration’s Health Ministry – join a protest that has resulted in the deaths of at least 42, and the serious injury of many hundreds more. “The country is verging on a catastrophe,” says Fernando Gudayol, a surgeon protesting in the nation’s capital of Caracas. “The health system is a disaster. One is always afraid to come out, but we will carry on doing it until there is a change.” His sentiments echo the anger of many in the VMF, who are in many cases unable to treat their patients due to an extreme shortage of supplies.

For many Venezuelans living under the rule of Maduro, the scale and violence of these protests in nothing new. Maduro – the successor to the late Hugo Chavez – has proved to be an extremely unpopular leader. As Reuters reports, it was just in 2014 that Venezuela was embroiled in similar anti-government protests leading to the violent deaths of 43. This time, the familiar frustrations with hyperinflation and food shortages are worsened by a new irritant – a politically oppressive Supreme Court.

The National Assembly is overwhelmingly constituted of members of the popular opposition, but its legislative power has been significantly restricted by a Supreme Court that many see as serving the political interests of the Maduro administration. While the administration has promised a new 540 member ‘constituent assembly’ to better represent Venezuelans, thousands of politically motivated incarcerations and the use of military courts to try opposition leaders suggest otherwise.

Despite intensifying violence, there have been a few brief glimmers of hope from outside Venezuela’s larger cities. NASDAQ’s news service reported on scenes of relative peace in Western Tachira province earlier in April, where protesters conducting mass ‘sit-ins’ were seen playing card games and sharing food in the street until clashes resumed with security forces late in the day.

While examples like these have proved to be rare in the past two months, there is hope that with increased dialogue between opposition protesters and the Maduro administration, peace might be restored. U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric has called upon both the Government and opposition to “engage sincerely” and “reactivate dialogue efforts” in an official statement on the crisis. As the protests roll into their third month, Dujarric’s words highlight just how crucial constructive engagement between Maduro’s administration and the popular administration will be to avoid further bloodshed.

Matthew Bucki-Smith