News / Americas

Holiday May Take Heat Out of Venezuela Crisis

Man arranges board with spraypainted message that reads "Carnivals 2014," at a barricade set up by anti-government protesters, Valencia, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
Man arranges board with spraypainted message that reads "Carnivals 2014," at a barricade set up by anti-government protesters, Valencia, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
Reuters
Venezuelans began a week-long national holiday on Thursday as some protests still simmer, but President Nicolas Maduro's government is hoping the break will take the heat out of the nation's worst unrest in a decade.
 
The 51-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez brought forward by two days a long weekend national holiday for Carnival when Venezuelans traditionally abandon cities and head for Caribbean coast beaches to relax and party.
 
There will be another day off for the March 5 anniversary of Chavez's death from cancer, meaning a week-long break that officials hope will dampen student-led street protests against the government.
 
In the capital, Caracas, which has seen most of the at least 13 fatalities from this month's unrest, opposition supporters gathered in wealthy eastern neighborhoods.
 
In familiar scenes from the last two weeks, when one group of demonstrators tried to block a six-lane highway that runs nearby, security forces fired teargas to disperse them.
 
“How can you enjoy carnival when people are dying?” read one banner waved by students at drivers in eastern Caracas as many people began to hit the highways for the coast.
 
In the city center, red-clad Maduro supporters rallied in remembrance of deadly price riots 25 years ago, which the president says helped propel Chavez to power a decade later.
 
The students want Maduro to quit over grievances ranging from high inflation and shocking crime rates to shortages of basic food and alleged repression of political rivals.
 
Though they have presented the biggest challenge to his 10-month-old administration and the worst unrest since street rallies against Chavez a decade ago, there is no sign Maduro could be ousted.
 
On the contrary, he seems to be regaining the initiative by offering dialog with foes and consolidating his leadership of the Socialist Party by uniting factions against a common enemy.
 
Injuries, arrests
 
About 150 people have been injured during the two-week crisis, and more than 500 people arrested, authorities say.
 
Of those, 55 remain behind bars. They are mostly protesters but also include seven intelligence agents and security officials accused of being involved in the shooting of two people in downtown Caracas after a Feb. 12 rally that sparked the worst trouble.
 
The government recognizes security forces were involved in three of the 13 fatalities. It says about 50 people have died in total due to the protests, including indirectly linked cases such as people unable to reach hospital due to blocked roads.
 
Venezuela's volatile western region, in the Andean foothills on the Colombian border, has seen the worst unrest, with students and security forces facing off day after day.

Story continues below photogallery:
  • Anti-government demonstrators wearing masks hold a makeshift shield during clashes with police at Altamira square in Caracas, Feb. 27, 2014.
  • Anti-government demonstrators shout during a protest at a barricade in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
  • An anti-government demonstrator walks behind a burning motorcycle during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 27, 2014.
  • National Guard troops fire against demonstrators during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal, Feb. 27, 2014.
  • Nuns raise their arms during a women's march protesting repression against anti-government demonstrators in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014.
  • Demonstrators fill a bottle with gasoline during protests against Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal, about 660 km southwest of Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 
  • A motorcycle taxi driver walks past burning motorcycles set ablaze by anti-government demonstrators at Altamira Square in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 
  • Men on motorcycles look at firefighters extinguishing motorcycles set ablaze by anti-government demonstrators at Altamira Square in Caracas, Feb. 26, 2014. 

In one middle-class neighborhood of San Cristobal city, demonstrators manning a barricade on Thursday in an upper-middle-class neighborhood said National Guard troops had fired teargas at them but failed to dislodge their protest.
 
A Reuters reporter saw them reinforcing the barrier, winding wire around tree branches to strengthen the structure of chain-link fencing and corrugated metal sheets.
 
“How long are we going to let them abuse us?” said one man, his shirt tied around his face.
 
He accused protesters in Caracas of lacking the strength of their counterparts in San Cristobal and elsewhere.

“The Caraquenos are only interested in parties, and not in getting rid of this joke of a government,” he complained.
 
'Spoiling Carnival'
 
Maduro accused foes of trying to wreck Venezuelans' cherished Carnival celebrations and mocked opposition leaders as part of a wealthy elite flying out for the break.
 
“There's not a single flight out left. They're all going abroad while they try and deprive the farm worker, the laborer, the student, of their Carnival,” Maduro thundered in a speech to supporters late on Wednesday. “I'm not going to allow it. Carnival 2014 is going ahead!”
 
In an attempt to calm tensions, Maduro hosted business and church leaders, and some opposition politicians, at a “peace conference” in his presidential palace on Wednesday night.
 
Shown live on state TV, the occasion gave Venezuelans the unusual sight of businessmen, whom Maduro frequently excoriates as “savage capitalists” and ringleaders of an “economic war” against him, debating with the president.
 
The attendees were each allowed five minutes to speak, with the head of Venezuela's main business chamber Jorge Roig criticizing Maduro's “failed” economic model.
 
Major opposition figures did not attend, however.
 
The main opposition leader Henrique Capriles said he did not want to take part in a “photo op” without signs Maduro was serious about making concessions or addressing real problems.
 
Firebrand protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who leads a radical wing of the opposition, is in jail on charges of fomenting this month's unrest. And the umbrella Democratic Unity opposition organization's executives declined to attend what they called a “pretend dialogue.”
 
With calls for both sides to talk pouring in from the Vatican to the White House, the opposition's strategy could backfire in terms of wider international opinion.
 
Maduro has received strong support from leftist allies such as Bolivia and Cuba, and only some relatively muted criticism from other nations including Chile and Colombia.
 
Regional heavyweight Brazil, whom Latin American governments increasingly look to for a lead, has kept quiet, saying Venezuela's problems are for it alone to resolve.
 
“The Maduro government is on a PR mission and initial indications are that it is winning,” the London-based Latinnews newsletter said in an analysis on the crisis.
 
“The 'Exit' movement seeking Maduro's resignation has lost momentum and, at the end of the day, it didn't appear to offer ordinary citizens anything politically tangible, other than a vent for their extreme frustration with the social and economic crisis,” it said. “There doesn't appear to be a 'Plan B'.”

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: DCMontreal from: Montreal
February 28, 2014 7:37 AM
Maduro's attempt to entice the protesters away from the barricades and onto the beaches for Carnivals by adding two extra holidays and thus showing the world they are not serious in their struggle seems to have failed!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Raul Castro Steps Out of Brother's Shadow With US Deal

Cuban president scores diplomatic triumph, surge in support with this week's deal that ends decades of hostility with United States
More

US Report: Immigration Officials' Apprehensions Rose in 2014

Apprehensions of Mexicans fall 14 percent; those of individuals from other countries, predominantly in Central America, rise 68 percent
More

Strife, Mutual Interests Mark Cuba-US Ties

Island nation was once a vacation destination for Americans; over years, many Cubans sought refuge across the Florida Straits
More

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change
More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings
More

Cubans Imagine New, More Prosperous Life Without an Old Foe

News of the historic shift in US-Cuban relations echoed quickly through the Spanish colonial plazas of Old Havana this week
More