Venezuela’s anti-government protesters show no signs of backing down

Demonstrators in Venezuela

Demonstrators in Venezuela crash with police

The crisis in Venezuela is only getting worse. On Wednesday, just as on every previous day for the past six weeks, anti-government protests hit various parts of the country. We’re almost getting inured to the images: smoldering barricades arrayed against riot police, security forces launching fusillades of tear gas, bloodied demonstrators being rushed out by volunteer medics.

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is grimly clinging to power. He recently announced plans to scrap the country’s constitution and implement a new system that would further entrench his rule. His opponents — roused in March when the pro-government supreme court attempted to strip the opposition-dominated legislature of power — seek fresh elections, the release of political prisoners and other concessions. Maduro, the unpopular inheritor of a socialist revolution, shows no sign that he will heed those calls.

“Maduro is trapped in an electoral maze of the regime’s own making,” Phil Gunson of the International Crisis Group wrote last month. “After years of using elections as plebiscites, confident that oil revenue and the charisma of the late strongman Hugo Chávez would always ensure victory, the government can now — with Chávez gone — neither muster the electoral support nor find a convincing reason not to hold a vote.”

And so the protests continue. Dozens have perished in clashes, and hundreds have been injured. A small minority of demonstrators have resorted to violence as Maduro mobilized armed gangs of loyalists, known as “colectivos,” to counter the uprising.

The security forces, my colleagues report, “appear increasingly determined to choke the protest movement with brute force, including the use of copious amounts of tear gas. Several protesters have been killed or severely injured by gas canisters fired into crowds or allegedly dropped from government helicopters. Last week, a young man was injured when he was run over by an armored police vehicle that plowed through a melee.”

In response, protesters have adopted some unusual tactics. Many sport armor and helmets retrofitted from household goods. And, after being confronted by countless rounds of tear gas, some came to the streets Wednesday with a nasty new weapon: fecal matter. According to a Reuters report, some protesters were making “poopootov cocktails” — plastic or glass jars filled with a mix of water and human excrement.

As Maduro extends the crackdown and even hauls civilians before military tribunals, there’s a growing sense that external pressure is needed to ease the crisis. All eyes are on a meeting of the Organization of American States, or OAS, expected this month, where Venezuela will be at the forefront of the agenda. Maduro has threatened to pull out of the regional alliance, which is headquartered in Washington. If he follows through, it would make Venezuela only the second country after Cuba not to belong to the hemispheric bloc.

 

Source/More: The Washington Post

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