Teenager dies as anti-Maduro protests continue in Venezuela

Demonstrators block main Caracas highway while international pressure grows

 Venezuelan opposition activists   protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas: Using branches, rocks and rubbish, demonstrators blocked the main thoroughfare in the capital. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan opposition activists protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas: Using branches, rocks and rubbish, demonstrators blocked the main thoroughfare in the capital. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

 

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro staged sit-ins and roadblocks across Venezuela on Monday to press for elections, sparking new unrest and a death in the border state of Tachira.

Luis Alviarez (18) was killed during protests in the volatile western state, according to the state ombudsman’s office, which did not give more details. The young man’s killing brings the death toll in six weeks of protest to at least 39.

Demonstrators have been on the streets every day since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign humanitarian aid to offset an economic crisis, and autonomy for the opposition-controlled legislature.

Trying to vary tactics and keep momentum, protesters have gone from throwing excrement at security forces to handing them letters and flowers for Mother’s Day

Mr Maduro accuses them of seeking a violent coup. Trying to vary tactics and keep momentum, protesters have gone from throwing excrement at security forces to handing them letters and flowers for Mother’s Day on Sunday.

On Monday, thousands massed from 7am local time on highways in Caracas and elsewhere, chanting slogans, waving banners, playing cards in deck chairs, engaging in impromptu sports games and sharing food.

“I’m here for the full 12 hours. And I’ll be back every day there’s a protest, for as long as is necessary,” said Anelin Rojas, a 30-year-old human resources worker, sitting with a novel in the middle of Caracas’ main highway.

“Unfortunately, we are up against a dictatorship. Nothing is going to change unless we force them,” Ms Rojas added.

Using branches, rocks and rubbish, demonstrators blocked the main Francisco Fajardo thoroughfare in Caracas.

Caracas: Demonstrators have been on the streets every day since early April to demand elections. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty
Caracas: Demonstrators have been on the streets every day since early April to demand elections. Photograph: Federico Parra/AFP/Getty

In Tachira, some farmers were striking in solidarity with the protesters. They gave away milk and cheese so it would not go to waste, witnesses said.

On Margarita island in the north, opposition politician Yanet Fermin was detained while mediating between security forces and protesters, her party said.

In Valencia, three policemen were injured, authorities said, with one mistakenly reported by the local Socialist Party governor as having been shot dead earlier in the day.

Majority support

The opposition, which commands majority support after years in the shadow of the ruling socialists, is more united than during the last wave of anti-Maduro protests in 2014. But it has been unable to stop violence in its ranks, with youths vandalising property and starting fires when security forces block marches with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons.

The deaths have included protesters, government sympathisers, bystanders and security forces, during six weeks of protests. Hundreds have been hurt and arrested.

The current wave of protests, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on some days, has drawn greater support from the poor, who backed late leader Hugo Chavez but have soured on Mr Maduro, his successor, and suffered the most from four years of recession.

But the main protests have still been in middle-class areas. Mr Maduro (54) who narrowly won election in 2013 after Mr Chavez’s death, says he is the victim of an international right-wing conspiracy that has already brought down leftist governments in Brazil, Argentina and Peru in recent years.

Government supporters say international media coverage of Venezuela has been biased, emphasising government repression and minimising opposition violence.

“Another crime CNN will unfairly attribute to Nicolas Maduro,” information minister Ernesto Villegas tweeted of the original report of the death of the policeman – which turned out to be false.

Outspoken statement

International pressure on Mr Maduro has been growing. Representatives from 18 members of the Organization of American States approved a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela’s crisis for May 31st in Washington. The European Union on Monday called for elections in its most outspoken statement yet on the Venezuela crisis.

Authorities thwarted an opposition push for a referendum last year and have also delayed state gubernatorial elections. But Maduro vowed at the weekend that the next presidential election, due in late 2018, would go ahead.

“We will thrash them,” he predicted, though pollsters widely foresee defeat for the ruling Socialist Party at any open vote.

– (Reuters)