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Venezuelan Capital Sees Rise in Violent Street Bands Following Opposition Withdrawal From Peace Talks

Street violence has rekindled following a press conference held by the the opposition coalition, and announcing their withdrawal from talks initiated by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Caracas, Venezuela, February 22, 2014: Protest against police repression and government killings of civilians in Venezuela. The capital has seen a rekindling of violence since last week. (Photo: via Shutterstock)

Caracas – On Wednesday early afternoon, bands of right-wing protestors attacked the Ministry of Tourism with incendiary devices, rocks and homemade fragmentation grenades. Hours later, police arrested some 80 rock and explosive-throwers who tried to re-erect barricades in the wealthy Altamira district. This was the second day of clashes between rock throwers and the National Guard in the neighborhood.

The rekindling of street violence follows a widely publicized press conference held by the leadership of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), where the opposition coalition announced their withdrawal from the dialogue talks initiated by the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Further, by the end of last week, both houses of the U.S. Congress appeared poised pass economic sanctions and increased financial support by the U.S. government to the Venezuelan opposition.

The street clashes resulted in the shutdown of three vital metro stations and various stores in affected neighborhoods. A number of local residents expressed to their frustration and anger at the continued disruption of their lives by “the students and National Guard.”

The opposition mayor of Chacao, the municipality that includes Altamira, added his voice to the mounting alienation of the right-wing youth. “The protests have become vandalism, there is nothing civic about them. They cause chaos in the neighborhood.” And in response to the second attack on the Ministry of Tourism, the government’s tourism minister, Andres Izarra, reiterated, “This is not a civic protest, it is violet fascist protest whose objective is to destroy state institutions.”

Yet, on Tuesday, Ramon Aveledo, the executive secretary of the MUD claimed that the government was overreacting to peaceful student demonstrations and objected to the arrest of protestors— who authorities maintained had attempted to set fire to the Papal Nuncio in Caracas.

This alleged repression of demonstrators was one of the reasons Aveledo gave for boycotting peace talks, saying this would continue until the government demonstrated its “commitment to peace”.

Aveledo gave several examples of ways the opposition considers the government could prove “it is ready to talk,” such as to grant amnesty to what the opposition calls “political prisoners”, including Ivan Simonovis, the former Caracas police commissioner who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his participation in killings during the 2002 coup attempt against the Chavez government.

Other conditions were to free all demonstrators arrested for alleged violent crimes, allow all demonstrations to proceed without police “interference”, and to form a Truth Commission whose members are trusted by all. The pro-government majority in the National Assembly has established a Truth Commission to investigate “all” acts of violence since the beginning of February, and is exhorting the opposition to participate, along with members of civil society.

Despite Aveledo’s list of conditions, he suggested that the opposition could resume dialogue when ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), who are mediating the talks, arrive again in the country. He said, “There has to be some adjustments by the government…because we’re discontented with the way things are going.”

President Maduro meanwhile insisted that the government would continue its commitment to the dialogue process and emphasized that those who follow the Bolivarian process “are the majority of the nation and have been so for many years.”

“I’m not going to leave the dialogue table, and I hope that they [the opposition] also stay, as the very act of talking and debating is an important democratic advance, dialogue itself is a positive result for all Venezuelans,” he affirmed. The president added that he “recognized the opposition for their virtues and non virtues” and would “take into account” some of the ideas they had proposed in dialogue so far.

Maduro responded to Ramon Aveledo’s comments by arguing that they reflect pressures from both abroad and the hard-line opposition to destroy the dialogue process.

“I know about the pressure from extremist sectors, I know that the pressure exerted from Miami is great, including with threats. I know about the pressure that is exerted by the extremist lobby that passes its time in Washington conspiring its craziness against Venezuela,” he stated.

The Venezuelan president added that these “extremist pressures” are impelled by Miami-based self-imposed exiles who have been waging a concerted lobbying campaign in the U.S. congress for sanctions.

In addition to the threat of sanctions, the legislation that passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee authorizes intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs by “promoting internet freedom, access to information, expanding activities to train Human Rights, civil society and democracy activists…” It also pledges a minimum of $5 million in additional funding for these activities.

Maduro noted that the Congressional proposal “encourages extremist groups”.

At the same time, Venezuela’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, called the US attempt to sanction Venezuela “insolent”. She added, “The U.S. doesn’t have the moral authority to name itself a champion of human rights.”

Unlike U.S. police authorities, who United Nations Rapporteurs have found to kill and torture with impunity, Diaz announced that 19 police and military personnel have been detained for alleged abuses to the rights of demonstrators since the beginning of 2014.

The National Assembly also rejected what they called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “meddling”. Assembly deputy Elvis Amoroso, a member of the Truth Commission, noted that at their second meeting they designated a sub commission to receive complaints from any Venezuelan regarding any human rights violation by a public official. He encouraged anyone in such a situation to submit testimony and videos to the sub commission via email.

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