Venezuelan political crisisTuesday, February 25, 2014
Split in Maduro’s ranks amid turmoil
Táchira governor slams use of military against protests as ‘unacceptable excess’
CARACAS — A Venezuelan ruling party governor called for the release of all jailed protesters yesterday in a rare public split within President Nicolas Maduro’s ranks after nearly three weeks of deadly anti-government demonstrations.
José Gregorio Vielma Mora, the governor of the western state of Táchira where the student-led protests began February 4, also criticized the use of the military in response to the protests, calling it “a grave error” and an “unacceptable excess.”
The development came as Maduro was preparing to meet with the nation’s governors and his call Sunday for a national dialogue.
At least 14 people have been killed and 140 others injured in the protests, which have posed the greatest challenge to Maduro’s government since he was narrowly elected president last year to succeed the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez.
Forty-five people remain under arrest.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said 13 people had lost their lives as of Sunday, and yesterday a protester was killed falling from a roof as he tried to take cover from tear gas.
Vielma’s criticism carried weight because, besides being a governor, he is a former military officer who took part in an abortive coup led by Chávez in 1992.
“All those who are in jail for political reasons, send them home,” Vielma said in a radio interview. “Including Simonovis, including Leopoldo López.”
López is a prominent opposition leader who was jailed last week after the protests turned violent. The charismatic 42-year-old has been charged with instigating violence, property damage and criminal association after the shooting deaths of three people following an opposition protest earlier this month.
Ivan Simonovis is a police official who has been imprisoned for more than seven years accused of taking part in a short-lived 2002 coup against Chávez.
Maduro ordered a battalion of paratroopers last week to San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira, and had said he might suspend constitutional guarantees in the restive state.
Vielma said that would be counterproductive and unnecessary.
“I am against it. It upset me a lot,”the governor said. “It was unnecessary for military aircraft to pass over San Cristóbal.”
Capriles shuns meeting
Meanwhile, a meeting billed as a “national dialogue” for local and state officials was shunned yesterday by the most prominent member of the Venezuelan opposition, the governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles.
Capriles, the opposition candidate in the last two presidential elections, said he would not attend the meeting that was to include Maduro amid the turmoil that has engulfed the country in recent weeks.
Capriles did not say whether he would also sit out a national peace conference called by the president for tomorrow. He told reporters that going to yesterday’s meeting would appear as an endorsement for a government that he says has engaged in “repression” as troops and police have clashed with protesters.
“I am not going to make Nicolás Maduro look good ... That is what they want, that I go there as if the country was absolutely normal,” he said.
Capriles also said he would not participate while López remains jailed along with dozens of others who have taken part in anti-government protests.
López, a former mayor of a district in the capital, is being held in a military jail outside Caracas on charges that include incitement for organizing a mass opposition rally on February 12 that was followed by clashes that resulted in three deaths and set off waves of unrest that have roiled Venezuela ever since.
His wife, Lillian Tintori, said López believes the time is not right for members of the opposition to sit down with Maduro.
López “thinks that Venezuela is not going to stop, that the discontent is nationwide, that it is a little late to call for peace,” she said following a news conference to announce a march tomorrow by opposition women.
“Look at the statements from Nicolás Maduro, every time he speaks he insults us, he speaks with aggression, speaks with hate,” Tintori told the AP.
Yesterday’s session of the Federal Government Council was a previously scheduled meeting of all Venezuela’s mayors and governors to discuss social and economic problems. At a special meeting of the group in January, following the slaying of a prominent actress with her husband in a robbery, Capriles and Maduro shook hands in a rare showing of cooperation.
Vice-President Jorge Arreaza said at the start of the meeting that Maduro intended to preside over the session to discuss his peace plan for the country.
“We know that those of us who are here have the shared interest to build a peaceful society,” he told the meeting that was attended by one of the country’s three opposition governors
Protests exact ‘high price’
Political analyst John Magdaleno said tomorrow’s proposed talks are an attempt to improve the government’s image as it moves to ride out the protests.
“The government has seen how high the price is, in terms of public opinion at home and abroad, for his security forces’ actions,” Magdaleno told AFP.
“With these crisis talks, he (Maduro) is looking for some kind of appeasement,” he said, adding, however, that he was sceptical the talks would succeed — or that street protests could lead to the president’s resignation, since Maduro’s administration can still count on core support among the country's working class.
Maduro insists the protests are part of a coup d’etat plot instigated by Washington and conservative ex-Colombian president álvaro Uribe.
Herald with AFP, AP