Anniversary of venezuelan leader’s deathWednesday, March 5, 2014
Amid protests, Venezuela recalls Chávez
El comandante’s countrymen prepare to remember their late president, as social unrest continues
CARACAS — Venezuela geared up yesterday for commemorations marking the one-year anniversary of socialist leader Hugo Chávez’s death, but the preparations were set against a backdrop of renewed unrest, as thousands of flag-waving protesters took to the streets and hardline demonstrators threw rocks and firebombs at riot police in Caracas.
At least three people were detained in the clashes in a middle-class district of the capital, on the eve of the one-month anniversary since the start of nationwide protests, said the director of the non-governmental Venezuelan Penal Forum, Alfredo Romero.
At least 18 people have died and more than 260 have been injured in demonstrations that started on February 4, the government says.
Protests elsewhere in the capital were calmer yesterday. Thousands flooded the streets on a march to Petare, a sprawling slum on the capital’s eastern edge, chanting “We love you Venezuela” and “Freedom.” The demonstrators said they wanted to show that protesters are not just from the middle-class and that the capital’s poorer places are not all government strongholds.
“It’s a lie that Petare is 100 percent Chavista,” said Morela Perez, a 39-year-old unemployed resident of the barrio, which is known to include a mix of government backers and supporters of the opposition.
Earlier in the day, Venezuela’s opposition called for a fresh wave of protests against President Nicolás Maduro, amid a week of holidays and commemorations of Chavez’s death.
“We’re going to gather to pay homage to all those who have fallen as a result of the brutal repression of this dictatorial regime,”said María Corina Machado, second-in-command of the Popular Will party.
Popular Will’s leader Leopoldo López is currently being held by authorities — he is among more than 1,000 people rounded up in demonstrations against soaring inflation, fast-rising crime and the clampdown on protests that have roiled Caracas and other major cities almost daily.
Machado led a march of some 2,000 people to the Organization of American States yesterday, urging the continental body to get involved.
Meanwhile, two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles called for another demonstration on Saturday to denounce the country’s chronic food shortages.
Writing on Twitter, Capriles urged his supporters to join “a great national mobilization against SHORTAGES which affect the majority of people!”
Plans to honour Chávez
As students maintained barricades in some cities and activists held new rallies, Maduro’s government was making lavish plans to honour Chávez and his legacy today, 12 months after his death from cancer. Maduro, who announced Chávez’s death in tears to a shell-shocked nation on March 5 last year, has made preserving his mentor’s controversial legacy the guiding force of his presidency.
The president was to preside over a military parade in Caracas today, followed by a ceremony at the mausoleum housing Chavez’s remains on a hilltop shantytown. Latin American allies, including Bolivian leader Evo Morales will attend.
El commandante was, unsurprisingly, remembered fondly by government supporters yesterday.
“We were better off with Chávez. Maduro has to work harder because if not, the people who elected him will be the people who end up getting rid of him,” Evelyn Vegas, 53, a housewife.
That comment echoed a common sentiment among Chavistas, who remain loyal to Maduro since that was Chávez’s dying wish, but are far from thrilled with his government.
Maduro has received backing from his international allies, including Bolivia, Argentina and Iran, and yesterday, he reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had sent his support too. Venezuela’s Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramírez held a meeting with Putin yesterday and Maduro posted on Twitter after the meeting.
“(Rafael Ramírez) met in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, who sent a message of confidence to Venezuela; he also signed agreements on financial support,” Maduro said.
Jaua visits UN
Foreign Minister Elías Jaua appeared yesterday before the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, where ge stated that protests “have been reduced to just one percent” of Venezuela’s territory and that the country “doesn’t need the intervention of an international body.”
Regarding the presence of Marco Aurelio García, Brazil’s special adviser for International Affairs, at the Chávez commemoration today, Jauasaid that “Venezuela doesn’t need an international mediation.” He insisted that Venezuelans could “solve their problems amongst themselves.” Jaua responded similarly last week when Uruguayan President José Mujica offered to help the two sides reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez said yesterday that 43 claims of “abuse or excessive use of force are being investigated.
Ramírez underlined that her office hadn’t received any claims of torture but admitted that the Supreme Court passed on “the case of a young man in Carabobo,” who denounced he was sexually assaulted using a rifle.
Romero said yesterday that 33 “verified” cases of torture have been presented before the justice system.”
Herald staff with AFP, Reuters