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Death Toll in Venezuela Clashes Rises to Ten (Updated)

Mérida, 21st February 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – According to authorities and press reports a total of ten people have now died in connection with violent protests in Venezuela. The government and the opposition blame each other for the situation.

Summary of the deaths

Of the ten deaths recorded in connection with the violence so far, five occurred in the Caracas area. Three of these deaths resulted from violent clashes on 12 February between opposition activists, security forces and in a few cases, Chavistas. A Venezuelan intelligence service officer has been arrested in connection with one of the deaths. Authorities report that investigations into the events are “almost complete” and the results will be presented to the country soon.

On Tuesday Genesis Carmona, a student and former beauty queen, was shot during an opposition march in Valencia. According to national newspaper Ultimas Noticias, witnesses said an armed pro-government group attacked the march. However authorities say ballistic investigations show the woman was shot from behind “from within opposition ranks”, and claim that witnesses on the scene have confirmed this.

Five of the deaths occurred on the barricades that hard-line opposition supporters have erected in several Venezuelan cities to block the flow of traffic and pressure President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation.

On Tuesday a 17 year old student was run over by a car while trying to block a road as part of protests. The man accused of running him over has been arrested.

Meanwhile on Wednesday a public attorney, Julio Eduardo González, died when he crashed his car trying to drive around a barricade in Valencia. Yesterday a woman, Delia Elena Lobo, died after crashing her motorbike into a barbed wire street barricade in Mérida.

The ninth to die is Arturo Alexis Martinez, the brother of a socialist party parliamentary deputy, Francisco Martínez. He was shot dead in Barquisimeto while trying to clear away the burning remains of an opposition road barricade. An investigation has been launched into the incident.

A tenth person was confirmed dead this evening. Elvis Rafael Durán died in the Sucre municipality of Caracas after riding his motorbike into an unseen barbed wire barricade.

Venezuelan press initially reported another death following a shooting attack against a pro-government “march for peace” in Bolivar state on Wednesday, in which industrial workers from the region participated. However it later resulted that the worker in question had not died, but was seriously wounded. Nine were wounded in the incident, and sixteen have been arrested. A video taken of the shooting appears to show hooded figures firing at the march from a nearby building.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said today that a total of 137 people have been wounded as a result of the violence, of which 37 are members of security forces and 100 are civilians. Twenty-four people are currently being held by authorities to be charged for specific “violent acts”.

Venezuela has experienced a wave of opposition protests over the past few weeks. The demonstrations, led by pro-opposition students, began after hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called on supporters to go onto the streets and seek the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro. Demonstrators also mention food shortages, crime and corruption as reasons for discontent.

While many protests have been peaceful, others have descended into violent clashes with security forces, and on occasion, Chavistas. Meanwhile a violent element within the opposition has embarked on a strategy of burning street barricades, rioting and attacking property and civilians.

On Tuesday Lopez handed himself in to authorities, to be charged with incitement of criminal acts, among other offenses.

Debating responsibility

The government squarely blames the right-wing opposition for causing the violence, and accuses them of trying to create the conditions for a “state coup”.

“Venezuela is victim of an attack by the extreme-right to destabilise us, to take us into civil war,” said Maduro tonight. The president also alleged that the opposition has paid youths from “criminal gangs” to participate in the violent street actions.

However the opposition says the violence is being perpetrated by security forces and pro-government “paramilitaries”.

“State security forces, accompanied by paramilitary groups, have cruelly attacked peaceful and defenceless protesters…leaving a lamentable tally of citizens assassinated, seriously wounded, tortured and disappeared,” claimed the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition in a statement today.

President Maduro repeated his stance tonight that armed opposition groups, armed pro-government groups, and state security forces that fire weapons during protests will not be tolerated. “I won’t protect anyone in this country who fires during protests,” he said.

Maduro appeared to refer to an incident on 12 February in Caracas, with video evidence suggesting that several intelligence service (SEBIN) officers fired at a group of opposition protesters. All SEBIN officers were under presidential orders to remain indoors that day.

“I asked that no one go out onto the street, less so with guns. And they went out with guns. Ah, it looks a lot like the format of the state coup [of April 2002]. I’m investigating all of this, and if elements [of an inside plot] appeared I’d say it to my country…that there are plotters inside the government or that an officer has been bought. I’d say it with all of the willpower I have,” he stated.

The president also mentioned an audio recording, allegedly of a conversation between two opposition figures, which suggested that a plot was in place to create a “massacre” on 12 February.

The recording is claimed to be of a conversation on 11 February between former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, Fernando Gerbasi, and the head of the presidential guard during the Carlos Andres Perez presidency, Iván Carratú Molina. In the audio, the voice that is claimed to be Gerbasi, is heard saying, “Look, they inform me that [there will be] something very similar to 11 April [2002]…tomorrow”.

In light of the situation in the country, the government has repeated that it supports “social peace” and that it is open to “dialogue” with the opposition.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles today accused the government of “manufacturing another 11 April”, and demanded “proof” of an opposition coup plot. He also argued for opposition protests to have greater “orientation”, criticising the “exit” strategy as being an “alleyway without an exit”.

CNN warning

There is fresh controversy over media reporting in Venezuela after President Maduro argued that CNN is trying to “justify a civil war in Venezuela for a military intervention”.

Saying that the channel’s reporting represents “war propaganda”, he warned that CNN would be prohibited from transmitting in Venezuela if it didn’t “rectify”.

“Twenty-four hours a day their programming is about war. They want to show the world there’s a civil war in Venezuela,” he said last night.

CNN has since confirmed that seven of its reporters have had their press accreditation removed.

“CNN has reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela, even with very limited access to government officials. We hope the government will reconsider its decision [to revoke the credentials]. Meanwhile, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in the fair, accurate and balanced manner that we are known for,” said CNN Español in a statement.

Maduro’s warning comes after the government removed Colombian channel NTN24 from Venezuelan cable services on 12 February, accusing it’s manner of covering the violent events as promoting “ a state coup like April 2002”. The channel said the move was an attack on freedom of expression.

Maduro has been a fierce critic of international media coverage of Venezuela during the on-going protests. “In the world, we’re confronting the most brutal manipulation [of information] that the Bolivarian revolution has faced since the state coup of 2002,” he said tonight.

Published on Feb 21st 2014 at 10.30pm