Protests grow as economy deteriorates
Protests, which have been growing in Venezuela over the past two weeks, have divided international political opinion in much the same way as they have divided national opinion.
Countries such as Argentina, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have expressed their support for President Nicolás Maduro whilst others such as the United States and the European Union (EU) have been calling for restraint and dialogue. Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet has been the most openly hostile to the actions of the Venezuelan government saying that she rejects repression and has called on President Maduro to hold a plebiscite.
MercoPress reports Michelle Bachelet as Tweeting “I repudiate repression in all its forms. Venezuela must hold a plebiscite. My greatest rejection of (President) Nicolas Maduro. You do not attack the people”.
Anti-government protests started about two weeks ago and were mostly student led. They are complaining about high inflation which is currently at about 56%, food shortages with one in four basics unavailable at any one time and high levels of crime.
At the weekend President Maduro promised to address the crime problem with a 10 point plan; there have been several other initiatives in recent months.
The president has complained of a fascist plot and in a rally yesterday accused former Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe of being involved in stoking up the protests. The president has also accused the international media of giving a false image of the country and closed down local TV station NTN24 for covering the protests.
President Nicolás Maduro issued an arrest warrant over the weekend for Leopoldo López, the centrist leader of Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) for apparently instigating violence. López has announced that he has done nothing wrong and has called on protesters to march with him as he goes to the Interior Ministry this morning to give himself up.
This morning it was announced that three US Consular officials were being expelled from the country for apparently meeting students involved in the protests.
Anti-government protesters have faced police tear gas and riot police charges whilst pro-government supporters were present at a rally led by the President on Bolivar Avenue in the capital Caracas over the weekend. So far three people have died in the protests with hundreds more being arrested.
There are rumours that the government is now divided and that there is unrest within the armed forces; although local analysts say that a coup d’état is unlikely at the moment. A much more likely scenario is the continued deterioration of the economy leading to more protests.