Venezuela has erupted in violent protests, with students igniting fires in the streets of Caracas and other cities across the country. The anti-government tensions have boiled over since the election of President Maduro after Former President Hugo Chavez’s death in March of last year. These riots may be the beginning of the fall of the socialist government in Venezuela.
The rioters began to throw rocks at the police and the police used weapons in return. Many turned to arson, resulting in clouds of smoke and tear gas hanging over the heads of thousands of rioters across Caracas.
The tensions are heightened for many reasons. In the past year, inflation has increased and peaked at over 50 percent. The economy has been crumbling, despite their massive oil supply—the oil they do not sell on the global market. Crime rates have increased greatly, and the situation is quickly deteriorating across the country. All of these indicators point to Venezuela heading towards a social crisis. Protests have been occurring since Feb. 2, and at least eight people have died since the protests began.
The Venezuelan government has responded by attempting to control and suppress the protesters. The head of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, has been accused and charged with arson and conspiracy and is currently behind bars. He has been charged with being the main organizer of the protests and found as the guilty party.
If convicted, Lopez could be facing 10 years in prison. President Maduro has begun to crack down on opposition party members, calling them fascists and saying that they “are a disease that must be cured.”
Maduro has attempted to stop the violence in two ways: the threat of cutting off gas access in certain parts of the capitol and arrests.
Maduro’s strong stance against the protestors has done very little to quell the violence. Countless attacks on the government have taken place, but acts of vandalism and arson are not going unpunished. Maduro addressed arresting the rioters saying, “is capturing these people repression? Or is it justice?”
Even as the violence in the capital continues to intensify, many still think the government will remain in power. Much of the nation is still supportive of Maduro, and many Chavez supporters have transferred their support to Maduro. They see him as the embodiment of Chavez’s ideals and the continuation of his leadership.
Through Maduro, many “Chavistas” still maintain their socialist ideals. Maduro had gained Chavez’s support before his death and was the clear successor. The support from the Chavistas is what will keep the government in power. The primary challenge the opposition faces is how to chip away some of Maduro’s supporters. By removing them, the opposition could take away the support Maduro needs.
To bolster international support, Maduro has turned to the United States, requesting a dialogue with President Obama. Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been rocky since Venezuela’s expulsion of American diplomats a week ago, when Maduro accused them of meeting with students to aid in the protesters’ efforts against the government. Only time will tell which side the U.S. government will support: Maduro or the people.
On Sunday, Maduro called for a peace talk after three weeks of riots in Caracas and the death of several citizens. The conference for peace will be held on Wednesday and will attempt to bridge the gap between Maduro and his opponents. The government wishes for the right-wing protesters and the left-wing supporters to dialogue openly and peacefully.
This is the first act of bipartisanship since the riots began. Maduro plans to meet with an opposition leader, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who is the governor of the Miranda state in Venezuela and has publicly spoken out against Maduro. He has claimed that the Venezualan security forces have tortured students and stated that Maduro needs to end the violence, primarily by ceasing his use of government-backed paramillitary forces.
The two leaders will meet throughout the week and hopefully begin to resolve the deep-rooted tensions dividing Venezuela. The peace talks aim to end the three weeks of violence, and begin a time of peace for the South American country.