With the news of the situation in Ukraine dominating the news cycle, less attention is being paid to Venezuela, whose protests have raged on for the last two weeks, steadily gaining momentum and inciting smaller solidarity demonstrations in the U.S. Occasionally referred to by the day of the month in February, for purposes of specificity (for example, 12F, an abbreviated version of the Spanish date 12 de febrero), there have been slightly more than a dozen fatalities, over 200 injuries, and roughly 150 arrests. The protests began peacefully in reaction to the alleged corruption of President Nicholas Maduro’s presidency, but they have since escalated into violent conflict since riot police shot and killed several protesters. The demonstrations are in reaction to Venezuela’s high inflation, rampant crime, scarcity of basic food and medical supplies, and muzzling of free speech. The protesters are calling for Maduro’s resignation and a snap election to replace him. A CNN reporter claimed that he and his fellow journalists had their equipment removed at gunpoint, and over the weekend the Internet was disabled in order to prevent coverage of the events. In spite of the attempts to quash the protest, scores of photographs have been leaked on various social media, depicting both the severity and scale of the protests.
This is largely a student and youth mobilized protest, but many high-profile politicians, military personnel, and high-ranking officials have shown public support. According to a letter written by former defense secretary and political prisoner Ivan Simonovis, the majority of deaths suffered last year were under the age of 30. The young, vivacious former mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza, the leadership of the opposition, turned himself in on Feburary 18th on charges of arson, public disturbance, and inciting violence. In the absence created by Mendoza’s departure, former mayor of the Baruta Municipality Henrique Capriles Radonski has taken up the mantle as the leader of the opposition, and is set to meet with President Maduro on Monday afternoon with other leaders to discuss curtailing the street violence. One of the agenda items to be discussed is the release of Lopez and the handful of other student demonstrators who have since been imprisoned.
In an open letter addressed to Venezuela (translated below), the imprisoned former Minister of Defense Simonovis effectively summarized the motivations of the demonstrations and pledged his full support to the movement:
Leopoldo Lopez interprets the Venezuelan’s discontent manifested in the lack of food, medical supplies, and murder of 25,000 people during 2013 in Venezuela, where the majority of those who perished were under the age of 30. Our security is non-existent, and the young have decided to protest because they have no future, because they see the injustices and want the government takes it upon itself to correcting them.
However ardent his support for the protesters, though, it doesn’t appear that the former minister condones the recent violence; rather, he calls on the government to make the first move to end things peacefully. “The government should understand that the non-violence compromise should come from on both sides, but the first step should be from the side that holding power. Let’s sit down and discuss this.”
It is unlikely that Maduro will capitulate to the protesters’ demands, but the results of the meeting may determine whether or not the violence will ebb or intensify.