Edinburgh, 21st April 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Hard-line opposition protests continued over Easter weekend in Venezuela. However a recent poll found that the majority of Venezuelans support the peace talks occurring between the government and moderate opposition.
Opposition student groups and several hard-line opposition leaders led a march yesterday to the United Nations office in Caracas, where they demanded that the UN send a delegation to assess the situation in the country.
Protests broke out in early February after right-wing opposition leaders called for supporters to resist the government and “light up the streets of Venezuela with struggle”.
While some peaceful protests have occurred over issues of high crime, inflation and shortages of certain basic food products, more radical opposition militants are pursuing a strategy of riots and street barricades to try and force the government’s ouster. 41 people have been killed in the unrest so far, including police, opposition activists and government supporters.
Meanwhile citizens from poorer social sectors, who in their majority continue to support the administration of Nicolas Maduro, have not participated in the protests, whose attendance and momentum have ebbed since February.
On Thursday 10 April the government and the moderate opposition leadership met for peace talks, initiating a process of dialogue that is being assisted by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the papacy.
At yesterday’s protest in Caracas, hard-line opposition leader and metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma rejected the talks, arguing that the “conditions are not established” for these to take place.
Meanwhile right-wing politician María Corina Machado said that opposition students should maintain “peaceful protests…until democracy is re-established in the country”. Machado was a signatory to the declaration which dissolved the Venezuelan constitution during the short-lived April 2002 coup against former president Hugo Chavez. She maintains that she mistook the document for a visitors’ sign-in sheet to the presidential palace.
However in a recent a poll by private Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces it was found that 90% of Venezuelans support the talks underway between the government and opposition. 45% of respondents felt President Maduro was the most “sincere” in wanting dialogue, while 33% felt the opposition was the more sincere in its intentions.
Opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles defended the opposition’s participation in the talks, writing yesterday that they could lead to “change” by allowing citizens to compare the different models offered by the government and opposition.
Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, who is one of the UNASUR’s delegates to the peace talks, said yesterday that student groups should be incorporated into the sessions. He also warned that hard-line opposition figures such as Maria Corina Machado and protest leader Leopoldo Lopez were “not interested in dialogue to achieve peace and reach agreements”. Lopez is currently jailed and under investigation for alleged incitement to violence.
The Pope meanwhile used his Easter Sunday address to call for “peace and fraternal concordance” in Venezuela.
However violent clashes continued to occur over the weekend. Groups of masked militants tried to close down a main avenue in the wealthy Chacao area of Caracas yesterday. Police tried to disperse them with tear gas and rubber bullets, and were met with stones and Molotov cocktails.
In other incidents, masked activists burned a bus in the Andean city of San Cristobal, while in Mérida, also in the Andes, a youth was injured by a rubber bullet during clashes with police after opposition activists tried to block a main road into the city.
Interior affairs and justice minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres argued that the vast majority of Venezuelans did not join protests and spent the Easter break on holiday. Official figures showed that 24% more people travelled during the Eastern vacations compared with the same time last year.
“Once again our people defeated violence and were able to enjoy a deserved rest in peace,” the minister tweeted.
President Maduro will attempt to re-take the political agenda tomorrow and focus attention on the government’s efforts to solve economic problems. He has previously said he will make policy announcements “for production, growth, full supply and fair prices”.