Pope Urges Peace in Venezuela as 6 More Die in Anti-Government Unrest

Pope Francis called for a “peaceful and democratic solution” in Venezuela over the weekend as six more people died in anti-government unrest across the South American country. 

By Lucas Koerner
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Pope Francis called for an end to civil strife in Venezuela from Saint Peter's Square on Sunday. (AFP)
Pope Francis called for an end to civil strife in Venezuela from Saint Peter's Square on Sunday. (AFP)

Caracas, July 3, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Pope Francis called for a “peaceful and democratic solution” in Venezuela over the weekend as six more people died in anti-government unrest across the South American country. 

“I call for an end to the violence and a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis,” he declared, speaking from Saint Peter’s Square this past Sunday in commemoration of the upcoming 206th anniversary of Venezuelan independence on July 5. 

During the address, the head of the Roman Catholic Church also expressed his condolences to the “families who have lost children in protests” over the past three months.

Last October, the Vatican joined the Union of South American Nations and several former presidents in mediating dialogue between the Maduro government and the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD. The talks ultimately collapsed in December when the MUD walked out, claiming their demands had not been met. 

The Pope’s remarks come on the heels of the death of six more people throughout Venezuela in the span of 48 hours.

On Thursday, truck driver Jose Luis Bravo (34) died after suffering first-degree burns on 95% of his body.

According to local press reports, Bravo was driving a Chevrolet NPR in the western city of Maracaibo when he reached an anti-government barricade where opposition militants tried to loot his vehicle.

In a bid to escape, the truck driver attempted a U-turn, was hit in the windshield by a Molotov cocktail, and ultimately collided with a motorcyclist. The collision impacted the truck’s gas tank, igniting an explosion that incinerated both men.  

The motorcyclist, identified as Alexander Rafael Sanoja Sanchez (38), was reportedly trapped by the flames and died on the scene.

Bravo was hospitalized at a special burn unit belonging to state oil company PDVSA, but the wounds were too severe and he died of a heart attack the same afternoon.

Meanwhile in Merida, 20-year-old university student Eduardo Jose Marquez Albarran died Friday of gunshot wounds he suffered on June 13.

According to the Public Prosecution (MP), Marquez was at a protest when a group of unknown subjects opened fire in the Pie de Llano neighborhood of the Andean city.

The incident occurred on the same day as the killing of Merida State Police Officer Douglas Acevedo Sanchez (45) near an opposition barricade. 

The Lara state capital of Barquisimeto was the scene of violent protests and heavy looting that left four people dead on Friday.

Days of chaos and unrest escalated Wednesday through Friday as opposition supporters reportedly looted dozens of local businesses and attacked government buildings, including two food distribution centers and a public health clinic.

Butcher shop owner Jose Gregorio Mendoza (44) was killed inside his store, which he was attempting to defend against looters, Lara Press reports.

Friday’s violence also claimed the life of 20-year-old Ramses Martinez, who was reportedly shot in the head while attempting to clear an opposition street barricade on Friday evening. He subsequently died in the hospital on Saturday morning. An activist with the revolutionary Francisco Miranda Front (FFM) since he was 16 years old, Martinez was also a social work student at the Ribas Mission and member of the Robert Serra Youth of the Homeland Mission.

The FFM has blamed the death on the opposition-controlled municipal government and state governor, accusing them of “sowing hate” and “financing terrorist acts”. The Lara State Police was intervened by the national government in May over allegations that its personnel were complicit in the violent anti-government protests that have rocked the northwestern state in recent months.

The MP has likewise indicated that Fernando Rojas (49) and Ruben Morillo (33) died “during protests” on Friday in the state of Lara, but further details regarding possible cause of death have yet to be released. 

A prosecutor from the MP’s human rights division has been assigned to the cases of Mendoza and Morillo, while the common crimes division will investigate the deaths of Rojas and Martinez

The latest fatalities bring the total death toll in three months of anti-government unrest to 99, including at least 13 deaths at the hands of authorities and 26 attributable to opposition political violence.