Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas Wednesday in anti-government protests that descended into violence, claiming the life of a young man caught in a clash between protesters and government supporters.
The demonstration, dubbed “the mother of all marches”, was the latest in a string of protests since last march against President Nicolás Maduro’s government, which has been battered by scandal and its failure to respond to the increasingly dire economic plight of ordinary Venezuelans. Hopes that the protesters would be allowed to pass peacefully were quickly dashed.
The scene grew violent after Maduro put troops on the streets and gave guns to pro-government civil militias, ignoring calls from 11 neighboring countries and the United States to respect citizens’ right to protest. Soldiers sprayed demonstrators with tear gas and one student was shot and killed when a fight broke out between the demonstrators and pro-government forces.
Growing dissatisfaction with the Maduro government set off protests last month when the country’s Supreme Court’s moved to take over the function of the National Assembly, widely seen as the last stronghold of the opposition. Since then, the unrest has continued and even spilled into lower-income areas thought to be loyal to Maduro. More recently, clergy members have joined the protests despite efforts by the Vatican, which last year tried to broker talks between the government and opposition, to stay neutral. “We ask Pope Francis to do for Venezuela what Pope John Paul II did for Poland,” Father Jose Palmar told The Guardian.
The Maduro government quickly undid last month’s court ruling in a move to placate protesters. But it has mainly relied on a heavy hand to check the opposition. In February, the Supreme Court, widely understood as being controlled by the government, upheld leading opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez’s 14 year jail sentence. Then, in April, the government banned leading opposition figure and former presidential Henrique Capriles from holding office for 15 years. On Wednesday, Maduro tried to enlist supporters to defend the Bolivarian revolution against capitalism, calling pro-government citizens to the street to fight what he called a U.S.-backed coup.
But the throngs of protesters weren’t well-payed U.S. plants but Venezuelan citizens braving tear gas to protest a government that has overseen hyperinflation, food and medicine scarcity, years of recession, continually delayed elections, alleged vice presidential drug trafficking, and a president who seems unwilling or unable to respond to any of the above.
“Esta es la ruta para salir del hijueputa,” the protesters chanted. “This is the way to oust the son of a bitch.”
Photo credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images