Caracas, May 19, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Seven individuals were arrested for allegedly attacking Venezuelan police during a violent opposition march in Caracas on Wednesday that left five officers injured.
The march was part of nationwide mobilizations convoked by the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, protesting alleged stalling by the National Electoral Council (CNE). The CNE is in the process of validating the 1.85 million signatures collected by the coalition for a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
The MUD called for supporters to march to the CNE headquarters in the heavily pro-government city center despite being refused a permit by the El Libertador municipality over concerns of violence.
Unarmed police beaten by demonstrators
Bolivarian National Police (PNB) personnel were dispatched to prevent demonstrators from marching along the principal Avenida Libertador where they were attacked by a group of men wielding sticks and rocks.
“A group of people came to attack us. One of the citizens became violent and hit me. The shield protected me the first time, but the second time I fell,” recounts 22 year-old PNB officer Dubraska Alvarez, who suffered post-trauma capsulitis in her right elbow and multiple traumatisms.
In a video that has circulated widely on social media, another officer can be seen falling to the ground after receiving a blow from a stick-wielding demonstrator and subsequently being beaten while prostrate by five men with sticks.
Another police functionary, Genessis Llovera Mambie, suffered the dislocation of her right shoulder while officer Erick Escalante came away with post-trauma bursitis in his left shoulder and a knee lesion.
Despite international media reports of police repression against protesters, PNB personnel were prohibited from carrying armaments and were only permitted to use tear gas if authorized by superiors.
“Our only order was to prevent people from entering Avenida Libertador, and we didn’t even have any sort of arms…it was inevitable [that people entered] because we only had shields to protect ourselves physically,” added Alvarez, who declined to show her face to the camera for fear of reprisals.
Seven men suspected of perpetrating the attacks were arrested in the heart of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao on Wednesday afternoon and were subsequently transported to the July 26th Penitentiary in Guarico state where they will await charges.
According to authorities, one of the suspects, Jheremy Bastardo Lugo, is a repeat offender who was reportedly arrested during the 2014 anti-government protests that saw opposition supporters erect violent barricades across the country, leading to the death of 43 people, the majority of whom were state security personnel and passerby.
Student residences vandalized
In addition to the violent incident on Avenida Libertador, protesters are reported to have vandalized a government-constructed student residence in Plaza Venezuela, breaking windows and allegedly attempting to set the building on fire.
“With sticks, stones, and gasoline, they were going to burn down the residence and the guards. I was attacked by hooded men armed with stones and bottles,” said student resident Angel Rodriguez.
“For having a different political ideology, they broke the windows, my comrades were attacked,” another student told teleSUR.
El Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez denounced the day’s violent episodes and vowed to press charges against those responsible.
“This is the reason why we didn’t give them a permit to march to the city center,” he stated, pointing to the broken windows of the student residence.
Capriles blames “infiltrators”
Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles publicly blamed the violence on “infiltrators”, calling the incidents a “set up” by the government.
“We know the plan, but we are not going to stop protesting. We are not afraid, we will [protest] in the face of the infiltrators, because it is our duty to fulfill the Constitution,” he stated.
However, Wednesday’s protest was not the only instance in which the Miranda state governor has condoned violent demonstrations.
Last week, the former presidential candidate was also involved in his own confrontation with police, as he and his supporters attempted to physically break a police line in Miranda state.
Following his narrow defeat in the 2013 elections, Capriles also refused to honor the internationally-recognized result, urging his supporters “vent their rage” in street protests that left seven people dead and saw numerous government health clinics and food markets burned.
In the lead up to Wednesday's protests, Capriles issued a public statement to members of the Venezuelan armed forces, urging them to reject a state of exception expanded by President Maduro on Friday and oppose alleged attempts by the government to block the recall process.
“Prepare the tanks and war planes…the hour of truth is coming to decide whether you are with the constitution or with Maduro,” he declared on Tuesday.
Earlier this week, a special commission responsible for supervising the referendum process announced that 190,000 signatures collected by the opposition as part of the initial recall request belonged to deceased individuals.
The statement has been sharply denounced by opposition leaders who accuse the CNE of intentionally dragging out the process in order to prevent the recall referendum from being held this year.
Unless the referendum is held in 2016, a successful recall vote will not trigger new presidential elections, with the sitting vice-president instead taking over as president for the remainder of the term.