Venezuela: A Month Of Unrest And Forecasts Of More | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Venezuela: A Month Of Unrest And Forecasts Of More

Play associated audio

As darkness fell Wednesday night in Caracas, the place where student protesters have regularly clashed with security forces was again a battleground. Altamira Square was ablaze with burning garbage, and the thud of tear gas canisters being fired echoed between the buildings.

On the edge of the square, medics treated the wounded, among them an 18-year-old protester who injured his arm as he stumbled when spray from a water cannon hit him.

Trembling with emotion, the teenager — who didn't want his name used — said "the only way this can be resolved is by continuing the struggle. We can't dialogue with an assassin. You can't extend your hand to a hypocrite who says one thing but does another."

These protests began a month ago because of anger over insecurity in the country — it has one of the highest murder rates in the world — and they have quickly morphed to include a host of other grievances.

Inflation, for example, runs at more than 50 percent, and there have been food shortages. Twenty-five people have died in the clashes, including three people who were shot in Valencia on Wednesday night.

One of the more militant opposition leaders, National Assembly member Maria Corina Machado, told the BBC on Wednesday that anti-government groups are increasingly backing the objective of regime change. And there is every indication that positions are hardening on the government side as well.

President Warns Of 'Drastic Measures'

President Nicolas Maduro took to the airwaves in a live broadcast at the exact same time the fighting was kicking off in Altamira.

"I'm going to take drastic measures with all of these sectors that are attacking and killing the Venezuelan people," he said.

More forceful measures were already on display during the day.

Opposition protesters were stopped from marching toward the government ombudsman's office to demand his resignation. Police in full riot gear blocked the way, and then the march devolved into a street battle with opposition members throwing rocks while the security forces fired water cannons.

But pro-government youths marched unimpeded, holding up signs that called for a mano dura — or firm hand — with the opposition groups.

Ana Montenegro was among them.

"There are some members of the opposition who want to overthrow the government, and they can't," Montenegro says. "Our president was constitutionally elected. They are committing acts of violence, and we are not going to allow them to do what they want."

Political polarization here is nothing new. Ever since Hugo Chavez came to power 15 years ago and instituted his Bolivarian Revolution, there has been rabid debate, sporadic protest movements and an attempted coup over the future of the country.

What is different this time is that Chavez is no longer at the helm of Venezuela and some here feel that Maduro, who only squeaked into the presidency in elections after Chavez's death, is vulnerable.

Still, these anti-government demonstrations weren't started and aren't really being led by the conventional political opposition. Like many recent movements in other parts of the world, the protests sprang up on university campuses and have spread through Facebook and Twitter.

So far, most analysts agree that the protesters haven't reached a critical mass yet. And people outside the protest movements — who are also tired of the conditions here — seem conflicted over what should happen next.

A group of motorcycle taxi drivers are standing by the road arguing over the protests. Some are against them, others are for them. None of those interviewed wanted to give their names.

One man says he's not for the protests, after complaining about the food shortages and inflation here.

"Through force, we won't get anywhere," he says. "We don't want a civil war. Change needs to come through the ballot box. I didn't agree with everything Chavez did, but the man knew how to talk and act." Maduro, on the other hand, he says, doesn't know what he is doing.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Mexican TV Icon Roberto Gómez Bolaños Dies At 85

The actor, writer and director was a staple of Mexican television comedies and children's programs for decades.
NPR

From Humble Salt To Fancy Freezing: How To Up Your Cocktail Game

You don't need to have liquid nitrogen at your next cocktail party — but it's certainly a sure-fire way to impress your guests. Expert mixologist Dave Arnold walks you through it.
NPR

Week In Politics: Hagel's Resignation, Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times about the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson and the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
NPR

Millennial Doctors May Be More Tech-Savvy, But Is That Better?

Text messages from your doctor are just the start. Millennials are the next generation of doctors and they're not afraid to say "chillax" in a consultation or check Twitter to find medical research.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.