Death toll in Venezuela civil un­rest hits 100

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JORGE RUEDA AND CHRIS­TINE ARMARIO

CARA­CAS, VENEZUELA — Days be­fore a po­lar­iz­ing vote to start rewrit­ing its con­sti­tu­tion, Venezuela is con­vuls­ing to a rhythm of day­time strikes and noc­tur­nal clashes. The most re­cent vi­o­lence drove the death toll from months of un­rest to 100 on Thurs­day.

Most of the dead in anti-gov­ern­ment protests that be­gan in April are young men killed by gun­fire. The toll also in­cludes loot­ers; po­lice al­legedly at­tacked by pro­test­ers; and civil­ians killed in ac­ci­dents re­lated to road­blocks set up dur­ing demon­stra­tions.

The count has been highly politi­cized, with the op­po­si­tion and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­port­ing vary­ing tolls and causes of death that fo­cus blame on the other side.

The protests be­gan over moves by Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment to re­strict the pow­ers of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly.

But the mount­ing deaths of demon­stra­tors has be­come a sep­a­rate source of out­rage for the young peo­ple who march dur­ing the day and as­sem­ble nightly to fight the po­lice and na­tional guards­men at im­pro­vised bar­ri­cades across the coun­try.

“The ones who have fallen fight­ing re­pres­sion mo­ti­vate us to keep fight­ing,” said San­dra Fer­nan­dez, a 21-year-old univer­sity stu­dent.

The coun­try’s chief pros­e­cu­tor re­ported Thurs­day on Twit­ter that a 16-year-old was killed at a protest in the cap­i­tal overnight, while a 23-year-old man was slain at a demon­stra­tion in Merida state.

The two killings pushed to the cen­tury mark the hu­man toll of a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has brought the oil-rich South Amer­i­can coun­try al­most four months of near-daily protests, thou­sands of in­juries and ar­rests and a two-day gen­eral strike that shut­tered busi­nesses na­tion­wide this week.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers have called on sup­port­ers to con­vene in the cap­i­tal Fri­day at the end of a 48hour gen­eral strike that be­gan Wed­nes­day. On Sun­day the gov­ern­ment holds a vote that will start a process of rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion by elect­ing mem­bers of a spe­cial assem­bly to re­shape the char­ter.

The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting that vote, say­ing the elec­tion rules were rigged to guar­an­tee Maduro a ma­jor­ity and ar­gu­ing that a new con­sti­tu­tion could re­place democ­racy with a sin­gle-party au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem.

The chief pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice has re­leased lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about the vic­tims of the un­rest, but at least 44 are be­lieved to have been shot while par­tic­i­pat­ing in protests. Many of those deaths are blamed on armed mo­tor­cy­cle gangs of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers known as “colec­tivos” who are of­ten seen shoot­ing in­dis­crim­i­nately at pro­test­ers while po­lice and troops stand by.

“The level of im­punity is ex­tremely high, and that con­tin­ues on to a sit­u­a­tion like this,” said David Smilde, a Tu­lane Univer­sity ex­pert on Venezuela.

ARI­ANA CUBILLOS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, left, and his wife Cilia Flores, right, greet sup­port­ers upon their ar­rival to rally in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Thurs­day.

ARI­ANA CUBILLOS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A sup­porter of Ni­co­las Maduro holds a photo of Hugo Chávez dur­ing a rally in Cara­cas Thurs­day.

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