Thursday, March 6, 2014

Venezuela: Two Dead in Violent Clashes on Thursday

The unrest that has hit Venezuela over the past month has intensified with the deaths of two more people this morning.

"We have learned that a motorcycle driver was killed by a sniper and a member of the National Guard was also killed in the same place by a sniper," said Diosdado Cabello, the head of the federal legislature, in a press conference on Thursday.

According to Venezuelan daily El Universal, the incident began when protesting residents of the Los Ruices neighborhood in eastern Caracas were confronted by armed motorcycle gangs trying to break down improvised barricades.  Both groups engaged in a standoff until firemen came into the area to put out a small fire caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown by one of the motorcyclists.  The bikers fought with the firemen and then members of the National Guard and police officers brought in to bring order to Los Ruices. The authorities shot tear gas and water cannons while the gangs threw rocks and bottles at the officers.

The armed gangs are part of the colectivos and they emerged during the era of the late President Hugo Chávez.  Over the years they have functioned in order to garner support for the government and have reputedly helped run community services. Yet the colectivos have been accused of acting as paramilitaries that have harassed opposition activists and blamed for exacerbating much of the violence that has claimed the lives of at least twenty-one people over three weeks.

Last month a statement from Human Rights Watch noted that current President Nicolás Maduro claimed that he doesn’t “accept violent groups within Chavismo and the Bolivarian Revolution,” but the regime has turned a blind eye by “not taking effective steps to disarm them.”

The use of improvised barriers has also been a source of controversy with the opposition alleging that they are needed in order to protect themselves from incursions by colectivos and abusive National Guard troops.  On the other hand, Information Minister Delcy Rodríguez blamed the barriers for causing the death of a man this week amidst the chaos in the western border state of Táchira.

Beyond Venezuela’s borders, the unrest there has also had a strong effect on its ties to other countries in the Americas.  On Wednesday, Maduro cut diplomatic and economic relations with Panama and accused the Central American nation of attempting to push for foreign intervention in Venezuela. His remarks came as he and the presidents of Cuba, Uruguay and Bolivia gathered together to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Chávez.

Maduro’s Panamanian counterpart, President Ricardo Martinelli, said that he was “astonished” and tweeted “Panama only hopes that this brother nation finds peace and strengthens its democracy.”

Last week, Martinelli called for an urgent meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.  The OAS Permanent Council will hold a closed-door meeting on Thursday night that could lead to an extraordinary conference of regional foreign ministers concerning Venezuela.

Maduro called the OAS yesterday a “dying organization” heavily influenced by the U.S. and indicated today that he would opt for discussions with the Unasur bloc.

Video Source– YouTube user Franklin Salcedo

Online Sources – GlobalPost; BBC News; CNN; RTVE; Human Rights Watch; El Universal; Buenos Aires Herald

No comments: