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Why Is There Civil Unrest And Violence In Venezuela?

In February of 2014, protests erupted on the streets of Venezuela, causing violent clashes between demonstrators and police. Why is this crisis occurring?

Venezuela, home to about 30 million, has been the center of increasingly violent protests as of February 2014.

The protests began in response to the attempted rape of a female student in early February, and snowballed after protesters demanding better security were detained and beaten. As part of “Youth Day,” more students across the country began to protest as well, Reuters reports.

Over 1,500 students participated in marches at Plaza Venezuela and other parts of the country, where they spoke out against rising inflation, scarcity of food and public services, and record-high crime rates. Protests turned violent on February 12 when at least two were killed during demonstrations.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Since then, there have been reports of at least 13 additional deaths, and over 100 injured, the NY Times says. Student protesters have been joined by opposition politicians, such as Leopoldo Lopez, now charged for the organization of earlier protests.

Protests organized by Lopez and other opposition figures are calling for President Nicolas Maduro’s “exit” under the hashtag #lasalida.

A history of unrest

Venezuela is no stranger to civil unrest. Two coups were attempted in 1992, one lead by future-president Hugo Chavez, during which over 120 were killed.

Chavez was elected President in 1998, two years after the former president was found guilty of corruption and embezzlement, according to the BBC. In 2002, protests erupted once more killing 10 and injuring over 100, leading to a coup and contercoup that stripped Chavez from power before restoring it.

Long time leader Chavez died only two years ago, with Maduro named as his successor, a result in itself which sparked opposition. Without Chavez’ charisma, the weaknesses of Maduro’s predecessor’s regime became as apparent as the suffering economy.

Following Chavez’ death, 2013 saw inflation rates soar to 42% along with the Venezuelan bolivar’s drop in value. The country began a serious recession that is estimated to continue into 2014 with an economy shrinkage of 2.5%, International Business Times reports.

What are the different claims?

Protesting students, members of the opposition, and even some of Maduro’s political allies are claiming that the military is displaying “excess” in response to the demonstrations.

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Photo courtesy of Scoobay via Flickr.

The claims and demands of the opposition vary, with some calling for government investigation of those arrested and allegedly tortured, the BBC says. There are also claims of severe media blackout blocking the flow of information.

The government, on the other hand, is accusing the protesters of staging a coup, even implicating U.S. involvement. Maduro, who has called the protestors “fascists,” is rallying government allies for marches of support. Maduro and his supporters believe that the far-right opposition is to blame for the violence thus far.

What could happen?

Because the protesters’ objectives are still vague, with many students and leaders alike imprisoned, it is unclear just where these protests will lead. Some believe that it could boil over and topple the government, drawing comparison with Chavez’ brief coup in 2002.

On February 24th, Maduro called for a “peace conference” to end the violence. Opposition, however, namely current leader Henrique Capriles, have declined such talks until their demands, including the release of Leonardo Lopez, are met.

Photo courtesy of Free Grunge Textures via Flickr.

Jennifer Markert