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Venezuelan Opposition Protesters “Manipulated by Foreign Interests”

Merida, February 20th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Twenty-five opposition students who had been protesting in front of the Cuban embassy wrapped in symbolic chains for four days, ended their protest on Monday after President Hugo Chavez returned to the country from Havana. They claimed he returned because of their protest.

Central University of Venezuela student Emily Vera told El Carabobeno that she appreciated the National Guard and national police protection their protest had received. However other private Venezuelan media reported some violence on Thursday and seven students briefly detained.

Also, in an incident on Monday, an older man who criticised the protest was verbally abused, part of his pacemaker broken, and he was removed from the site of the protest by protesters. The incident was caught on video, and it went viral on the internet. The man responded to the protesters saying, “Is this your idea of democracy?”

The key aggressor, later identified from the video as Antonio Peralta, is a student at the University of the Andes (ULA), and a member of a group known as the "20". The group regularly organise tire burning road blockades in Merida in order to disrupt city life or demand early vacations.

Another student protestor, Vilca Fernandez, told press the “student movement” had shown it was “on the right path” and the “Cuban regime” had been defeated because their “intervention [in Venezuela] will no longer be accepted”.

“In five days we brought the Cuban government to its knees,” he said. In 2011 Fernandez, also an ULA student, sewed his mouth up with two stitches as part of a hunger strike to protest what he referred to as the “dictatorship” of Chavez and claimed that student protests were “criminalised”.

“We tell the Cubans to go home, we have enough Venezuelans here that are able to govern,” said another protestor, Gabriel Velasquez.

The students, who called their recent small protest “Operation Sovereignty”, released a statement today saying that they had aimed to “re-establish the institutional legality of the republic as the president’s absence persists”.  Though they have decided to end their protest now, they said they still demanded that the president “demonstrate his physical and mental capacity to fulfil his position” and declared their struggle would continue until “all Castro-communist interference [by Cuba] comes to an end”.

Their statement concluded that their protest had shown that when they “unite forces...nothing can stop us” and called on students and youth to unite “for the cause of freedom and the sovereignty of our country”.

Government response

Youth minister Mary Pili Hernandez said that the student protest outside the Cuban embassy was “carried out by a tiny group, manipulated by foreign interests”.

“We regret that a small group of youth are facilitating situations motivated by political media interests which could make it seem, to international public opinion, that Venezuelans don’t support the Cuban people,” she said, adding that the position of the protesting group was “minority” and that the “majority of Venezuelan people appreciate the love the Cuban people have shown caring for President Hugo Chavez”.

United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator Robert Serra said the student protest was “financed from abroad” and the students are “professional protestors who don’t know anything about the Cuba-Venezuela agreement”.

Vice-president Nicolas Maduro claimed that the opposition governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles, was responsible for the “threat” on the Cuban embassy, because it is located in his jurisdiction.

Communication minister Ernesto Villegas referred to the protest as a “picnic” and said the idea that it has influenced Chavez’s return to Venezuela was “out of proportion”.

“This protest outside the Cuban embassy wasn't the size of any of the protests of our people demanding a public service,” he said.

Last month, ULA opposition students in Merida also burned a Cuban flag and an effigy of Fidel Castro, and a small group of students also waged violent protests, destroying some property, in Tachira state. In 2007 and 2008 the student support base of the opposition was larger and more active, but apart from a few hunger strikes and small campus based protests, it has weakened over the last few years.

Published on Feb 20th 2013 at 8.13pm