Venezuela Sees Third Day of Violent Protests, 1 Death

The Venezuelan government has accused the opposition of trying to provoke violence, after a day of clashes between demonstrators and state security forces.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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An anti-government demonstrator holds a police riot shield during a protest in Caracas on Tuesday. The Venezuelan opposition says its protesters are largely peaceful. (VTV)
An anti-government demonstrator holds a police riot shield during a protest in Caracas on Tuesday. The Venezuelan opposition says its protesters are largely peaceful. (VTV)

Puebla, Mexico, April 7, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – One person was killed after a third day of protests turned violent in Venezuela on Thursday.

Nineteen-year-old Jairo Ortiz has been confirmed dead by police in Miranda state. A police spokesperson told the press Ortiz was killed during a night of protests in Miranda’s Montaña Alta, in the municipality of Carrizal. Venezuela's Public Prosecutor's office announced Friday that it will promptly indict Rohenluis Mata Rojas, the officer allegedly responsible for the killing. Mata Rojas was reportedly detained on Thursday evening. 

Photos circulated online showed anti-government groups blocking a highway in Montaña Alta. One photo published by newspaper El Nacional showed a barricade comprised of garbage and a torched car.

The clashes in Miranda ended the third consecutive day of protests in Venezuela. At least nine people were reported injured on Tuesday, while the National Guard has confirmed that seven of its personnel incurred wounds inflicted by protesters. 

Thursday’s unrest began with anti-government protesters blocking a main thoroughfare of Caracas, demanding President Nicolas Maduro resign.

Police who responded to the demonstration were met with improvised incendiary devices, including molotov cocktails. Police hit back with volleys of tear gas, and by late afternoon the main protest had subsided.

While opposition supporters have accused security forces of using excessive force to quell the armed demonstrators, the government has called for peace.

“You're looking for deaths,” prominent socialist party leader Freddy Bernal said during a pro-government rally. Bernal continued by accusing opposition leaders of using their supporters as cannon fodder.

“Don't then come crying that you're being persecuted,” he said.

The opposition has hit back by accusing the Maduro administration of acting like a dictatorship.

“We’re not in a democracy, and the only way you can make a dictatorship respect the constitution is by forcing it to,” National Assembly Vice-President and hard-right opposition leader Freddy Guevara said during Thursday’s rally.

The latest round of unrest came in the wake of a controversial Supreme Court (TSJ) decision last week. In a ruling that enraged the opposition, the Supreme Court declared it could pass legislation without authorisation from Venezuela’s parliament, the National Assembly (AN). The legislature is controlled by the opposition, but for months has been in contempt of the Supreme Court. While the high court’s ruling has since been retracted, the AN has begun proceedings this week to remove Supreme Court justices.

On Thursday, Venezuela's Moral Republican Council, the country's fifth citizen branch of government charged with overseeing the judiciary, found that the Supreme Court justices had not committed any constitutional fault that would merit their removal. Despite the announcement, the opposition has vowed further protests, with more demonstrations set to take place over the weekend.

Meanwhile, government supporters have responded by holding their own rallies, drawing thousands to the streets in support of Maduro. Vice-President Tarek El Aissami has accused the opposition of seeking a repeat of the 2014 guarimbas, which saw armed right-wing groups block roads and stage attacks on government supporters. 43 people died during the guarimba violence; most were either government supporters, members of state security forces or innocent bystanders.

Speaking to state broadcaster VTV, El Aissami said the opposition are again seeking to promote the violent overthrow of the government. 

“We have arrested 30 guarimberos who tried to sow chaos in the capital,” El Aissami said.

He continued, “They said they were going to concentrate their protests along the Altamira highway, but they already had plans to reach the [Caracas city] centre to create violence.”

With additional reporting by Lucas Koerner. 

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