Venezuela’s opposition scheduled more demonstrations yesterday as a six-day holiday weekend came to an end and the government prepared to commemorate the one-year anniversary of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s death.
Opposition women scheduled a march for 10am in Caracas. Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, was to be at the head of the group wearing white to honor Venezuelans killed in the three-week-old demonstrations and demand the release of detained protesters, including her husband.
The death toll from the protests that began on Feb. 12 has climbed to 18, Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua said on Monday.
The opposition has rejected overtures from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to meet to discuss the crisis, while the president and his top officials have continued to accuse protesters of trying to stage a coup. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for “reduced tensions” in Venezuela following a meeting with Jaua in Geneva.
“If the protests do not slow down, dialogue is the only way to resolve the crisis,” said Gregory Weeks, a Latin America specialist who chairs the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “But it is not clear who would be in the position to mediate, since both sides are so polarized.”
Protesters on Monday set up barricades before sunset with chunks of concrete, trees, wire and trash in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas. Young men with their faces covered prepared Molotov cocktails near an effigy of Maduro and a sign comparing the leader to the Biblical Judas. Earlier in the day demonstrators marched to the headquarters of the Organization of American States.
The daily marches and regular clashes have been the biggest sustained challenge to Maduro’s 11-month-old government.
Frustration over rising crime, the world’s fastest inflation and shortages of basic goods have fueled discontent in a country with the world’s biggest oil reserves.
Norma Romero, a 68-year-old retired college professor, says she spends five hours most days waiting in line to buy sugar and other staples.
“On a normal day, someone messages you that there’s toilet paper at this place and you run over,” Romero said.
“When you arrive, there’s a line of 100 to 150 people and you have to be in line for three hours. Sometimes there’s nothing,” she added.
Opposition leader Lopez, jailed two weeks ago for inciting violence, issued a statement this week demanding the liberation of all political prisoners, justice for deaths and abuses at recent protests, and the resignation of those responsible for what he called human rights violations.
He said protests would “intensify” if the opposition’s calls are not heeded.