News / Americas

    Death Toll Surges to 13 in Venezuela as Protests Resume

    Motorcyclists attend a rally in support of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2014.
    Motorcyclists attend a rally in support of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2014.
    Reuters
    Anti-government demonstrators set up barricades and started fires in Caracas on Monday despite calls from within the opposition to rein in protests that have led to 13 deaths in Venezuela's worst unrest for a decade.

    Traffic in the capital slowed to a crawl and many people stayed home as protesters burned trash and piled debris along main avenues a day after opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on them to keep demonstrations peaceful.

    “We know we're bothering people but we have to wake up Venezuela!” student Pablo Herrera, 23, said next to a barricade in the affluent Los Palos Grandes district of Caracas.

    Authorities in the convulsed border state of Tachira confirmed another death: a man who fell from his second-story apartment after being hit by a bullet from a nearby protest.

    The demonstrations are the biggest challenge to President Nicolas Maduro's 10-month-old government, though there is no sign they could topple him or affect the OPEC member's oil shipments. Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves.

    The government says 529 people have been charged over the unrest, with most given warnings but 45 kept behind bars. About 150 people have been injured, authorities say.

    Capriles, 41, was invited to meet Maduro in the afternoon as part of a gathering of mayors and governors that could open up communications between the two sides but may not be able to stem the nearly two weeks of street violence.

    He and other opposition figureheads are demanding that the government release imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and about a dozen jailed student demonstrators. They also want Maduro to disarm pro-government gangs and address national issues ranging from crime to shortages of basic goods. Hardline student protesters, though, are demanding that Maduro step down, less than a year into his term.

    “If there's one thing these violent protests have done, it's unite 'Chavismo',” Maduro told state television, using the term for government supporters coined during the 14-year rule of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

    The president, a 51-year-old former union activist who has made preserving Chavez's legacy the centerpiece of his rule, accuses opponents of planning a coup backed by Washington.

    Accusations fly

    Addressing a rally of pro-government motorbike riders on Monday, Maduro accused the opposition of bringing in “mercenaries” to fuel the violence, including one man from the Middle East who was detained with 11 telephones.

    Capriles, who has seen his leadership of the opposition upstaged by Lopez's street activism, has lashed Maduro for talking “rubbish” and said he was unsure if he would attend the meeting scheduled for the afternoon at the presidential palace.

    Prices of Venezuela's bonds surged as much as 4 percent on Monday, though this was largely due to the announcement of a new currency exchange platform that investors believe will strengthen government finances.

    The governor of the turbulent state of Tachira, who belongs to the ruling party, on Monday criticized the government's response to the protests and called for Lopez to be freed - an extremely unusual stance for a Socialist Party official.

    “It's a matter of peace; all of those in jail for political motives should be sent home,” said Jose Vielma, referring to Lopez and another well-known opposition-linked prisoner.

    Socialist Party leaders have for years avoided making comments that could appear to be breaking away from the party line, making Vielma's comment all the more uncommon.

    The protests have hit the border state Tachira harder than any other, with gangs of student demonstrators now the de facto authorities in some parts of its principal cities.

    Even though Maduro has sent in troops to restore order, transport is frequently disrupted by improvised roadblocks that charge tolls to those seeking passage and throw rocks at those who attempt to move on without paying.

    Supermarkets in Tachira are opening only for several hours in the morning, with supplies of food limited because delivery trucks cannot get through.

    The nationwide wave of protests began with sporadic demonstrations in Tachira's capital of San Cristobal due to outrage over an attempted rape, sparking student protests around the region.

    Protests grind on

    Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist and firebrand opposition leader, rode the coattails of those protests to create a nationwide effort called “La Salida” or “The Exit” meant to end Maduro's rule.

    The government said on Monday that 13 people had died in incidents directly related to the unrest, most from gunshots. Some 30 people, however, have also died from illnesses not attended to properly due to the protests, Maduro said.

    Roadblocks of burning trash and clashes between rock-throwing students and tear-gas-lobbing troops have shown no sign of forcing Maduro from power but have become an annoyance for the mostly well-to-do neighborhoods where they take place.

    “This is brutality. We are fighting for our freedom because when we go to the supermarket there's no flour, there's no sugar,” said Yesenia Alvarado, 29, an architect, at the upscale Plaza Altamira where a barricade was blocking traffic.

    As she spoke, a man driving a pickup tried to force his way through the barricade, at one point getting out and piling debris into the back of the truck. Angry demonstrators restored the barricade and prevented him from moving ahead.

    Residents of Caracas' poorer west side have staged only a few minor demonstrations, though government critics there have joined traditional protests of banging pots and pans at their windows during Maduro's hours-long television broadcasts.

    The wave of violence has shifted attention away from economic troubles including inflation of 56 percent, slowing growth, and shortages of staples such as milk and flour.

    The opposition blames these problems on Chavez's economic legacy of nationalizations, currency controls and constant confrontation with businesses.

    They say socialism has crippled private enterprise and weakened state institutions while spawning a nepotistic elite that enriches itself with the country's oil wealth.

    Maduro calls it an “economic war” led by the opposition. The former bus driver calls himself the “son” of Chavez and has vowed to continue the generous public spending that helped reduce poverty and propelled the late president to repeated election victories over 14 years.

    The White House, responding to Maduro's call last week for dialogue with Washington, urging him on Monday to begin talks instead with his own people.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Venezuela Critics Press for Progress on Presidential Recall

    Socialist government digging in its heels to stop a presidential recall vote as it fights to hold onto power amid an economic collapse

    Brazil Prosecutor Freezes $11.7M of Facebook Funds Due to WhatsApp Case

    Facebook failed to comply with court order to supply data on users of company's messaging service who are under criminal investigation

    No Amnesty for War Rapists: Colombia Peace Talks Turn to Women's Rights

    Government, FARC rebels have pledged to improve access to land for women and ensure perpetrators of sexual violence will not be eligible for amnesty as part of ongoing peace talks

    UN Asks Brazil Authorities to Investigate Journalist's Death

    UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova condemns the killing of Joao Miranda do Carmo, the third reporter to die in Brazil this year

    Venezuela Food Shortages Leave Zoo Animals Hungry

    Some 50 animals have starved to death in last six months at one of main zoos, according to a union leader

    Anti-mining Politician Freed from Jail in Peru Slams Government

    Gregorio Santos, who was freed from jail Wednesday, accuses the government of locking him up for two years in order to keep him from power