At least three people have died in the ongoing riots against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
A woman in San Cristobal, next to the Colombian border, and a teenager – in the capital Caracas – have been reportedly shot dead. A national guardsman is also said to have been killed in the southern part of the capital.
Several people, running into tens of thousands, poured into the streets to demand for fresh presidential elections and the unconditional release of the imprisoned opposition politicians. President Maduro has claimed that the opposition attacked the police.
He also accused the protesters of looting shops, adding that over 30 people had been arrested.
The government supporters also held a parallel rally in Caracas.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called for another round of mass protests on Thursday.
In spite of the fact that Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, the country has suffered for many years from rampant crime, high inflation and a biting shortage of basic commodities.
What Is The Cause Of The Unrest?
The protests that have erupted across the country, are expected to be the biggest in three years, and aimed at exerting pressure on President Maduro to come to the negotiating table with the opposition in order to find an amicable way of mitigating the country’s economic crisis.
The anti-government protests have been dubbed Venezuela’s “second independence day,” by the protesters. IMF says that inflation is expected to hit the 700% mark this year in the country. With elections not due until late next year, the opposition claims that the country is on the brink of collapse.
The latest crisis was triggered by the Supreme Court’s move last month to formally take over power from the opposition-dominated parliament. The court was, however, forced to rescind its decision after three days. But it would appear that it was already too late for their retreat to avert a new wave of demonstrations.
The country has now experienced weeks of ugly clashes between the police and protesters. The most recent killings bring the total number of people who have died in the riots to at least eight, with scores seriously injured.
The country is deeply divided into two groups. We have Chavistas, a name referring to the supporters of the socialist policies of the late President Hugo Chavez, and those who are completely tired of the 18 years that his United Socialist party (PSUV) has been in power and can’t wait to see its exit.
After the death of the socialist leader in 2013, another PSUV member – Nicolas Maduro- took over power riding on a promise to perpetuate Mr Chavez’s policies.
Chavistas are full of praises for the Mr Chavez and is successor for utilizing the country’s oil wealth to close the gap of inequality and for getting numerous Venezuelans out of poverty.
However, the opposition claims that since the PSUV took the reins of power in 1999, the party has completely dismantled the country’s democratic establishments and mishandled the economy.
On the other hand, Chavistas argue that the opposition is elitist and in the habit of exploiting poor Venezuelans to enrich themselves.
They also claim that the opposition leaders get funding from the United States, a country that has had frosty relations in the recent past.
What Happened To President Maduro’s Popularity?
Perhaps the biggest problem Mr Maduro is facing is that he is been unable to inspire Chavistas in a way similar to his predecessor. His government has been also been affected by the plummeting oil prices.
Oil covers almost 95% of the country’s export proceeds and was used to fund a number of the government’s charitable social programs which, as per the official figures, have provided over one million poor citizens with decent homes.
The shrinking oil revenue has pushed the government to put a hold on its social programs leading to a loss of support among its most ardent supporters.
However, apart from the traditional divisions, a series of recent events have triggered the tension between the government and the opposition leading to a fresh eruption of protests. The main trigger came from the surprise ruling of the Supreme Court on March 29, that it was assuming the powers of the opposition-dominated National assembly.
The opposition claimed that the move grossly undermined the customary practice of separation of powers and they could not take it lying down. This marked the onset of the massive protests.