Deadly clashes: Venezuelan public health workers scuffled with riot police during a protest in Caracas on Monday. At least 21 people have died and 300 others have been wounded since protests first erupted. *AFP photo
Deadly clashes: Venezuelan public health workers scuffled with riot police during a protest in Caracas on Monday. At least 21 people have died and 300 others have been wounded since protests first erupted. *AFP photo

Venezuela demonstrators continue to protest against what they feel is an inept government that is not serving its own people.  The conflict has drawn the notice of other countries and US Vice President Joe Biden described the situation as “alarming”. Danny McDonald reports.

What exactly has happened?

Twenty one people have died in street protests since February 12.
UN officials have written to the government, detailing allegations of protesters being beaten and in some cases severely tortured by security forces, and taken to military facilities, cut off from communication and denied legal help.

What is everyone protesting?

Some Venezuelans are fed up with inflation that reached 56% last year and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

There has been a food shortage; people queue at supermarkets before sunrise, but sometimes there’s no essentials such as bread, milk, butter and sugar, to buy.

Who started the protests?

Fed-up students in the states of Táchira and Merida, which are located in the west of the country, launched the protests.

How has the government dealt with the situation?

This past weekend, the government deployed hundreds of government security forces to prevent a crowd from marching to the food ministry. The crowd, which caused a clamour by banging on pots and pans, was protesting food shortages. Tear gas has become commonplace, as have reports of protesters injured in clashes with government forces.

What’s been the justification of the government actions?
The government has said the marches have not been authorized, and therefore such assemblies needed to be contained.

Who exactly is running the government?

Nicolas Madura and his United Socialist Party. Madura is a former bus driver who rose to become a trade union leader. He then was elected to National Assembly and served several roles under the late Hugo Chavez’s administration, most notably and recently that of foreign minister. He became interim president when Chavez died in March 2013. The following month, he won the presidency by narrowly defeating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5 per cent of the vote.

And who is the opposition?

The opposition coalition runs the gamut from the left wing to centre right of Venezuelan politics. These are the people that opposed Chavez, and now Madura. The coalition calls itself the Democratic Unity Roundtable. In 2010, there were around 50 parties under its umbrella. Most of those, however, were regional parties.

What’s the international reaction been?

Panama has pushed for the Organization of American States (OAS) to mediate the crisis. The Venezuelan government did not like that. Maduro announced last week he was cutting diplomatic relations with Panama and ejected a quartet of Panamanian diplomats from his country. 

But that was before the OAS declared that it supported Maduro’s government’s efforts to bring a solution to the country’s violent strife. The US, Canada and Panama were the only nations to oppose the declaration. 


Sources: BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, Al Jazeera English