London, 1st April 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan police and military forces have managed to clear militant opposition street barricades from the main avenues of the city of San Cristóbal, official and independent sources confirm.
The operation took place on Sunday night, and involved around 250 officers of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) and the Bolivarian National Police (PNB).
“We have ended with the state of exception imposed by terrorism…without victims. Forward the PNB and GNB,” tweeted Vladimir Padrino, chief of the army’s Operational Strategic Command.
After initial resistance from a group of barricade activists, who threw stones, mortars and other heavy objects, authorities were reportedly able to take back control of the city centre. Three officers were wounded and eleven militants arrested, officials reported.
San Cristóbal, located in the state of Táchira to the west of Venezuela, has been a focal point of the recent wave of opposition protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Protests began there in early February, not long after right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called on supporters to take to the streets against the Maduro administration in a strategy called “The Exit”.
While some peaceful protests took place over issues such as insecurity, high inflation and irritating shortages in some basic food products, militant opposition supporters built street barricades to bring the city to a standstill and to try and force Maduro’s resignation. A wave of political violence was unleashed, including an attack on the pro-government Tachira governor’s residence and the destruction of the UNEFA public university faculty in the city.
The opposition meanwhile blames security forces and government supporters of committing acts of violence.
The pro-opposition city mayor, Daniel Ceballos, was recently jailed for a year after ignoring a Supreme Court order to aid in dismantling the barricades. He was also accused by authorities of having helped fund “criminal and paramilitary groups” to participate in the insurrection.
On Monday Interior Affairs Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres stated that San Cristobal was “returning to normality” and had been declared a “violence free territory”.
“Public spaces are being recovered, resources have been approved for this,” he explained on his radio show.
Meanwhile the minister argued that the street barricade strategy had been purposefully planned in advance.
“We know that the planning of this is due to [opposition] political groups that know they will never reach power through the electoral route. Their only path has been violence and terrorism, psychological manipulation to reach what they couldn’t win through the constitutional route,” he said.
Along with other officials, the minister also repeated authorities’ commitment to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of all violent acts in recent weeks. There are currently 168 people in custody in relation to the violence, which has resulted in some 560 wounded and 39 dead.
Those that have died include opposition activists, government supporters, other civilians, National Guard officers and other public servants.
Further, the Attorney General’s office is investigating 81 denouncements of abuses by security forces, 75 of which are for mistreatment and 2 of which are for possible torture under custody. Seventeen officers have been arrested so far in relation to the investigations.