In Venezuela, government forces resorted to deadly violence to put down anti-government protests on Thursday, “a spasm of violence that’s unlike anything the country has experienced since 1989,” according to an opposition blogger.
At least five people have died, and dozens more have been injured and/or arrested. The best-known victim of the violence is 22-year-old college student, beauty queen, and TV presenter Genesis Carmona (pictured), who was shot in the head and killed during a demonstration in the city of Valencia.
Meanwhile, international news organizations have downplayed the burgeoning conflict, focusing instead on similar anti-government violence in Ukraine.
The students are critical of the government of President Nicolás Maduro, blaming it for increasing inflation and crime, product shortages, and repression of political opponents. Much of the violence was sparked when Leopoldo López, the popular leader of opposition party Voluntad Popular, was arrested. The 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist is facing 10 years in prison; he is accused of responsibility for three deaths during the conflict.
In an affluent neighborhood of Santiago de León de Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, police used teargas and live rounds against youths armed with Molotov cocktails. Residents banged pots and pans in their windows to protest the police presence. Such scenes have been repeated across the nation of 29 million, a population that is 54% Mestizo (combined Native American & European descent) and 42% Venezuelan of European descent.
Maduro, who took over when controversial president Hugo Chávez died in March 2013, threatened that “special measures” would be taken to restore order. “We won’t let them turn it into a Benghazi,” he said, referring to the Libyan city.
This week three United States diplomats were expelled from the country, accused of helping incite the anti-government violence. Maduro has claimed that López is working with the US to instigate a coup, and has characterized the opposition as “fascists.” Chávez was briefly ousted in a coup in 2002.
Part of the international media silence about the conflict can be blamed on the lack of media coverage within Venezuela itself. While conservatives in the US have been quick to label Chávez a “dictator” and criticize his “Bolivarian Revolution” as Communism, the regime’s human rights record has in fact been mixed. While the new constitution in 1999 added a variety of rights and guarantees for ordinary Venezuelans, Chávez and his successor have poor records when it comes to suppressing their political opponents. There are a number of independent media outlets in Venezuela, but they suffer under a variety of government rules and controls.
US President Barack Obama criticized Maduro for the violence, and urged Venezuela’s government to listen to the “legitimate grievances” of its people.