Venezuela protests continue as Maduro seeks help in Cuba

President Maduro seeks to rally support from allies amidst growing domestic and international pressures to step down.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Several hundred demonstrators gathered in eastern Caracas for the protest march.

Updated Apr 11, 2017

Venezuela erupted into the fifth day of violent protests in a week on Monday, as President Nicolas Maduro travelled to Cuba seeking support from fellow leftist leaders at a regional gathering.

Opposition supporters have been protesting a grinding economic crisis and an erosion of democracy under the leftist president, in the first sustained wave of anti-government demonstrations in three years.

"This is a battle of resistance. We will see who gets tired first: us of fighting, or them of repressing us," said the deputy speaker of the opposition-majority congress, Freddy Guevara.

The streets of Caracas and several other Venezuelan cities have been the scene of running clashes in recent days, with police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon as demonstrators hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails.

One protester was killed on Thursday. Dozens of people have been wounded or arrested.

TRT World spoke to Caracas-based journalist Juan Carlos Lamas for more details.

Economic crisis

Maduro is fighting efforts to force him from power over an economic crisis marked by severe shortages and the world's highest inflation.

His popularity, already pummelled by the three-year recession, sank further last week when he and his allies sought to tighten their grip with a Supreme Court decision to assume the functions of the opposition-led congress.

The move sparked outcry among a population already suffering from triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of basic goods.

The court later reversed the rulings amid an outcry.

But the crisis only deepened on Friday when authorities banned senior opposition figure Henrique Capriles seen as the opposition's best hope in a presidential election scheduled for next year, from office for 15 years.

Protesters led demonstrations in several cities on Monday, blocking the main highway through Caracas in the morning until they were dispersed by National Guard troops firing tear gas.

The president meanwhile travelled to communist Ally Cuba on Sunday for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a leftist Latin American bloc co-founded by Maduro's late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and several Caribbean countries are expected to issue a statement of support for Maduro at the meeting.

Opposition wants elections

The opposition is demanding a date for gubernatorial elections that were supposed to take place last year, as well as a timeline for future elections including the presidential vote, which is constitutionally mandated for 2018.

Despite the surge in protests, many Venezuelans are pessimistic that marches can bring about change, scared of violent clashes, or simply too busy trying to find food.

The government has come under increased pressure from American and European countries that have condemned violence in Venezuela and the ban on Capriles.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes called on Venezuela on Monday to restore full democracy and set a timeline for elections, increasing diplomatic pressure on Maduro.

"For the stability of this region, Venezuela needs a legitimate government," said secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, during a visit to Brazil.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies