On a day traditionally spent celebrating the independence of Venezuela from the Spanish crown, members of the opposition party were unexpectedly met with violence and terror when dozens of pro-government activists attacked and terrorized the grounds of Venezuela’s National Assembly building in downtown Caracas. The chaos began at the break of dawn on Wednesday, July 5th just outside the building premises, where protesters gathered to chant in favour of Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro. The rallying went on for several hours before some demonstrators managed to force their way through a gate that was left unattended by national guardsmen. Stones and firecrackers were thrown and politicians and journalists were attacked with pipes, sticks, and firearms during a special session in honour of independence day. Lawmakers and reporters, bloodied and disarrayed, stumbled across the assembly’s corridors and interior gardens in a state of panic, dodging flares and searching for safety. At least six politicians were injured as a result of Wednesday’s violent attack, including one opposition lawmaker who was hit on the head, fell unconscious and taken by stretcher to the hospital due to severe convulsions.
After the morning attack, a crowd of approximately 100 government supporters proceeded to trap at least 350 people in the siege that lasted until dusk. People were scared and anxious to go home, however, pro-Maduro demonstrators were too dangerous for anyone to leave. During an interview with Reuters, a distressed woman held inside the legislative palace said the following: “Stop already. We want to get out. We want to go home. We are not murderers like they are. They throw mortar at us, they throw bottles at us and security does nothing. Where are the authorities, where are they?” Opposition leaders have come out to say that they blame the breach on the Venezuelan national guard who were responsible for protecting the building. The national guard appeared to be in no rush to clear the area to allow opposition lawmakers to leave nor did they make any effort to issue arrests on violent protesters.
Over the past three months, opposition supporters have been protesting Maduro for seeking to change the constitution by the end of July. In addition, they are demanding a general election to end socialist rule and to induce a solution to the nation’s growing economic crisis. Government supporters, on the contrary, have been protesting the opposition party for allegedly conspiring with capitalists in the United states to overthrow the government.
This is not the first time opposition lawmakers have been bloodied by pro-Maduro gangs known as Colectivos. According to human rights groups, Colectivos, who claim to be dedicated to the promotion of democracy in Venezuela, often work closely with Venezuelan security forces who will direct them to attack and intimidate Maduro protesters. In April 2017, during the “mother of all marches,” protesters who gathered to stand united against the government were met by riot police and Colectivos who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. During the march, two young protesters were allegedly killed by members of Colectivos, including one 17 year old, Carlos Moreno, who was shot in the head.
The sequence of events that took place on Wednesday is yet another indication of the severity of the political unrest in Venezuela. Not only does violence during protests continue to escalate, medical supplies and food resources are diminishing at an alarming rate. Over the past three months of anti-government protests, there have been 91 reported causalities as a result of daily clashes with the police and Colectivos. There appears to be no end in sight to Venezuela’s deepening economic and political crisis.
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