Mérida, 7th March 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A motorcyclist and a National Guard officer have been shot dead on an opposition street barricade as unrest in Venezuela continues.
The killings occurred yesterday when a group of motorbike-taxi workers tried to clear an opposition barricade on a street in the middle class Los Ruices district of Caracas. While doing so, they were attacked by a group of residents from nearby buildings, who threw rocks and other objects at the motorcyclists.
The motorcyclists responded by throwing objects back at the residents, creating a “confused melee”, Reuters reported. According to authorities and local press reports, when the National Guard arrived to control the situation, shots from adjacent buildings were fired, killing a National Guard officer, Acner Isaac López (25), and a moto-taxi worker, José Gregorio Amaris (24).
President Nicolas Maduro condemned the killings and pledged that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
“This little group of guarimberos (those that make barricades) killed them. There’s going to be justice…that’s not a student movement, these guarimberos are vandals that hate the people. I have to say it, because I must call for peace,” Maduro said in response to the incident.
“The extreme right-wing has filled our country with violence in recent weeks and the whole country repudiates it,” Maduro later tweeted.
Authorities claim to have identified the apartment from where the shots were fired, and the CICPC (scientific police) are investigating the incident.
While different counts exist, authorities report that 20 people have now died in connection with the violence. Of these, 10 have been killed in connection with the street barricades, either by crashing into them or by being shot while trying to clear them from the road.
The other deaths have resulted directly or indirectly from clashes between protesters, police or government supporters in a variety of circumstances.
Over three hundred people have been wounded in the clashes, including 57 are members of the National Guard.
The unrest began a month ago after hard-line opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently under arrest for allegedly inciting violence, called for supporters to go onto the streets against the Maduro government. Some protests have been peaceful, with demonstrators complaining about high crime, inflation and shortages.
Meanwhile, a radical wing of the opposition has engaged in a strategy of riots and street barricades to try and force the government’s overthrow. While much of the country continues as normal, the barricades have been erected in the middle and upper class areas of some cities where the opposition has its core base of support.
Last Wednesday 26 February the government began peace talks in an attempt to end the political violence. While business, religious, and some opposition figures attended, the main opposition coalition, the MUD, boycotted the event.
Ramon Aveledo, the secretary of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition, yesterday accused the Venezuelan president of trying to “sow the seeds of civil war”, after Maduro called on supporters to help “ensure peace” in their communities and prevent barricades from being established.
“Fire that is lit, fire that we put out,” said Maduro during a national address on Wednesday.
However today an MUD parliamentarian formally quit his political party and National Assembly seat in response to the MUD’s refusal to engage in talks.
“Today the MUD has a platform and a political vision that isn’t concurrent with my attitude,” said Hiram Gaviria, formerly of the party Un Nuevo Tiempo. While blaming the current situation on the government for “imposing a social and economic model that has failed”, the opposition politician said “I’ll go [to talks] without conditions…to try and avoid more violence”.
Regional Peace Conferences
The government is also organising regional peace conferences to try and reduce political violence in the areas most affected by the unrest.
In the Andean state of Tachira, where barricades have brought much of the state capital San Cristobal to a standstill, government representatives are meeting with local authorities, the Catholic Church, businesses, universities, health institutions, and other groups to resolve the situation.
Minister for Justice and Interior Affairs, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, is also present at the conference. “We have a positive attitude so that the situation in Tachira improves. Beyond the violence, we want to respond to all the needs that Tachira residents have and present to us in the working groups we will set up issue by issue,” the minister said yesterday.
In the neighboring state of Mérida, socialist party governor Alexis Ramirez reported today that 79 civilians and 50 police officers have been wounded over the previous three weeks of riots and barricades. Twelve of the police officers suffered bullet wounds, while six of the wounded civilians are still receiving medical attention.
A regional peace conference has been set up in the state, however the local Catholic church, the opposition mayor of Mérida city, and representatives of the MUD have refused to attend.