Venezue­lans shut down the cap­i­tal again to protest govern­ment

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - HAN­NAH DREIER

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Thou­sands of pro­test­ers hauled fold­ing chairs, beach um­brel­las and cool­ers onto main roads across Venezuela on Mon­day for another na­tional demon­stra­tion against the so­cial­ist govern­ment.

The “sit-in against the dic­ta­tor­ship” was the lat­est in a month and a half of street protests against Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro that have re­sulted in dozens of deaths. Even be­fore the protest started in Caracas, many busi­nesses closed and taxi driv­ers sus­pended work in an­tic­i­pa­tion of traf­fic dis­rup­tions in the cap­i­tal.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers are de­mand­ing im­me­di­ate pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Polls say the great ma­jor­ity of Venezue­lans want Maduro gone as vi­o­lent crime soars and the coun­try falls into eco­nomic ruin, with triple-digit in­fla­tion and short­ages of many ba­sic foods.

The Euro­pean Union is also call­ing for Venezuela to hold elec­tions. EU for­eign min­is­ters said Mon­day that “vi­o­lence and the use of force will not re­solve the cri­sis in the coun­try.” The U.S. has ex­pressed grave con­cern about the ero­sion of demo­cratic norms in the South Amer­i­can coun­try.

The protests were trig­gered by a govern­ment move to nul­lify the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress in late March, but have mor­phed into a gen­eral air­ing of griev­ances against the un­pop­u­lar so­cial­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As demon­stra­tions take over Caracas al­most daily, nor­mal life has con­tin­ued, but the at­mos­phere is suf­fused with ten­sion and un­cer­tainty. At fancy cafés, pa­trons show each other the lat­est videos of stu­dent pro­test­ers get­ting hurt or de­faced stat­ues of the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez on their phones.

Work­ing class peo­ple who have to tra­verse the cap­i­tal for their jobs have ad­justed their sched­ules to ac­count for traf­fic shut­downs and take sies­tas to wait out clashes be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice.

On Mon­day, pro­test­ers stayed on the main roads for six hours, then be­gan to dis­perse un­der a heavy rain in late af­ter­noon. They pledged to take to the streets again Tues­day.

More than three dozen peo­ple have been killed and hun­dreds in­jured in protests that erupted af­ter the govern­ment-stacked Supreme Court is­sued a rul­ing March 29 nul­li­fy­ing the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly, a de­ci­sion it later re­versed.

Maduro blames the op­po­si­tion for the vi­o­lence, claim­ing its lead­ers are in­sti­gat­ing the un­rest and work­ing with gangs to re­move him from power. At least two law en­force­ment of­fi­cers have been killed in the demon­stra­tions.

FER­NANDO LLANO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Crosses rep­re­sent­ing peo­ple who have died dur­ing re­cent protests are placed on the side of a high­way in Caracas, Venezuela, Mon­day.

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