Thursday, February 20, 2014

Obama Denounces “Unacceptable Violence” in Venezuela

The war of words between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments continued amidst increased violence and political tensions in the South American country.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the “unacceptable violence” in Venezuela and criticized officials for not “focusing on the legitimate demands of the Venezuelan people.”

In a possible reference to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s order of the expulsion of three consular officers, Obama also called on the Venezuelan government to stop “making up false accusations” against U.S. diplomats.

“Along with the Organization of American States we call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters it has detained and engage in real dialogue,” said Obama at a press conference towards the end of a summit with the Canadian and Mexican heads of government.

Earlier today, the Venezuelan foreign ministry replied by blasting Obama for a “new and crude interference in the internal affairs of our country.”

“We await the declaration where the U.S. government explains why they finance, support and defend opposition leaders who promote violence in our homeland,” mentioned the communiqué.

The Venezuelan government and opposition sectors have accused each other of promoting unrest that has claimed the lives of at least six people over the past week.  One of these victims was twenty-two-year-old university student Génesis Carmona who passed away during an anti-government demonstration on Tuesday. Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres claimed this afternoon that Carmona was “killed by a bullet from her own ranks.”

In addition, he claimed that “motorized gangs” attacked police in Caracas and urged residents of Táchira state to “prevent being brainwashed” by the opposition.

“There are paramilitary groups with the government’s knowledge that roam the streets shooting at people,” countered former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles today. 

Capriles also blamed pro-government forces for planning an “auto-coup” to oust Maduro and replace him with legislative chief Diosdado Cabello, and rejected Maduro’s labeling of the opposition as “fascists.”

Tensions have escalated in the roughly 48 hours since opposition figure and protest leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to authorities.  At a court hearing this morning, prosecutors dropped murder and terrorism charges yet Lopez could face up to ten years in prison if convicted of arson and conspiracy.

International human rights groups have denounced the violence in Venezuela and urged the government to free Lopez.

“Venezuelan authorities must either present solid evidence to substantiate the charges against Lopez or release him immediately and unconditionally,” according to Amnesty International.

The turmoil that has hit major urban centers like San Cristobal, which some residents described as a “war zone”, is likely to continue in the short-term future.  Yet the domestic pressure against the Maduro regime may not lead to major change in Venezuela according to some analysts:
It’s unlikely the protests will force Maduro’s government to collapse the way public demonstrations did in Egypt and Tunisia, said Vladimir de la Cruz, a former Costa Rican ambassador to Venezuela.
“Protests still seem to be supported by opposition voters, and do not seem to have spread beyond this group,” Daniel Kerner, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, wrote in a report yesterday. “The most likely outcome is that the situation will get worse but that Maduro will be able to contain it and protests will probably die down in a few weeks.”
Video Source– France 24 via YouTube 

Online Sources – Bloomberg; Amnesty International; Venezuelan Foreign Ministry; El Tiempo; CNN; El Nacional;;

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