Venezuela

Venezuela braces for dueling protests amid U.S. diplomatic ouster

 

jwyss@MiamiHerald.com

Venezuela is bracing for a high-stakes showdown Tuesday as opposition and government supporters march on the capital amid heightened tensions that have left at least three dead and scores injured during week-long protests.

At the head of the opposition march will be Leopoldo López, the former mayor of Chacao and a political activist, who has been underground since the government said he was wanted for sparking last week’s violence.

López, a Harvard-trained lawyer, has dared authorities to detain him during Tuesday’s demonstration and said he will head to the Ministry of Justice to demand the government arrest those responsible for last week’s murders.

Shortly after López announced the march, President Nicolás Maduro called for a simultaneous rally around the Miraflores presidential palace. On Monday, the president of the state-run PDVSA oil company called on its 53,000 workers to head to Miraflores to “defend of the revolution.”

Both sides are calling for peace, but the prospect of the dueling marches has the capital on edge.

“There’s definitely a sense of nervousness,” said Hector Pinares, who drives a taxi in downtown Caracas. “Today, everything is OK but [Tuesday] I think a lot of people are going to avoid the center.”

The government has not authorized the opposition demonstration. And late Monday organizers said many of their supporters would end the march before crossing into central Caracas.

ARREST RISK

“The idea is not to put anyone’s life in danger,” said Karina Rico, an official with López’s Voluntad Popular political party. As Rico was on the phone, security forces were raiding the party’s headquarters, where they reportedly seized hard drives and detained an official’s bodyguard.

On Twitter, López said he would go to the Ministry of Justice alone. “I will not put any Venezuelan’s life at risk,” he wrote.

If López is taken into custody Tuesday, as some suspect, it’s likely to fuel discontent, said Oswaldo Ramirez, a political analyst with ORC Consultores, an independent consulting group, in Caracas. López is a popular figure who is recognized by 95 percent of Venezuelans, he said. When he was banned from political office in 2011 for three years, it was largely because the late President Hugo Chávez recognized him as a threat.

“He would be much more powerful behind bars — he would be an icon of the struggle,” Ramirez said.

Instead, the government probably wants to keep him on the street where it can hem him in and continue to chip away at his reputation, Ramirez speculated.

On Monday, the ruling PSUV party accused López of being a CIA plant intent on destabilizing the government.

López’s defiance and the swelling marches are, perhaps, the biggest challenge that Maduro has faced since narrowly winning election in April. The one-time bus driver, union organizer and long-time foreign minister has struggled to fill his successors shoes as he has been battered by runaway inflation, soaring crime and sporadic food shortages.

Added to that volatile mix is a surging student movement that has been at the vanguard of national demonstrations for more than a week.

On Wednesday, the protests turned violent and three people were killed. While the government has blamed “right-wing fascists,” the opposition points to videos and photos that appear to show security forces and gunmen behind police lines firing into the crowd.

Scattered protests have continued since then and on Monday local media reported demonstrations in Caracas, the university town of Merida and the border-state of Tachira.

The government has blamed the malaise on everyone from “Nazi fascists” to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. On Monday, Foreign Minister Elías Jaua gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country and accused them of fueling the protests.

In a news conference, Jaua said the three consular officers had been meeting with university students under the guise of offering U.S. visas, when they were actually making contact with student leaders and providing training.

The U.S. State Department called the allegations “baseless and false.”

Jaua also repeated government claims that the protests are part of a destabilization plot aimed at toppling Maduro’s 11-month-old administration.

“Venezuela is facing a fascist attack promoted by groups that have previously been trained to generate violence,” he said. Maduro’s predecessor, Chávez, was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup that the government has long maintained was U.S. backed, despite Washington denials.

Jaua said he would be meeting with ambassadors to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, on Tuesday “to provide them with details about the threats and impositions the government of the United States is directing at Venezuela.”

No involvement

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the government had not been formally notified of the expulsions and denied any involvement in the protests.

“We support human rights and fundamental freedoms — including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly — in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide,” she said in a statement. “We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue.”

The two countries haven’t had ambassadors in 2010 and diplomatic ousters are commonplace.

In October, Venezuela ejected three U.S. embassy officials after it accused them of plotting to “sabotage” the economy and electrical infrastructure. The U.S. responded by kicking out Venezuela’s top diplomat Calixto Ortega.

In March, just hours before Chávez’s death was announced, Maduro ordered the expulsion of two U.S. military attachés after he said they tried to infiltrate the armed forces.

On Sunday, shortly after he ordered the latest round of expulsions, Maduro said Venezuela would not tolerate interference from any nation.

“Go back to Washington and conspire,” he said. “Leave Venezuela alone.”

Read more Venezuela stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2014 file photo, surrounded by mask-wearing supporters of Venezuela's opposition, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, center, speaks to the media in Doral, Fla. Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott called for sanctions against Venezuela, as opponents of President Nicolas Maduro were staging countrywide protests. Amid escalating tensions with Venezuela, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, announced sanctions against Venezuelan officials it said committed human rights abuses during the spring crackdown on anti-government protests.

    US imposes travel ban on some Venezuelan officials

    Amid escalating tensions with Venezuela, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced a travel ban for officials of the socialist government it said committed human rights abuses during a crackdown on opposition protests.

  • Venezuela's opposition coordinator resigns post

    The head of Venezuela's opposition alliance resigned Wednesday, delivering a blow to anti-government forces bitterly divided over how best to challenge socialist President Nicolas Maduro as frustrations rise with his handling of the struggling economy.

  •  
CORRECTS DATE TO 2014 Former Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal arrives at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba,  Sunday July 27, 2014 after being released by authorities. Carvajal was detained in Aruba on U.S. drug charges, released by the Dutch Caribbean island Sunday and sent home, authorities said Sunday.

    Official: Venezuela tried to pressure Aruba

    Aruba's top prosecutor said Tuesday that Venezuela ratcheted up various types of pressure against the Dutch Caribbean island and the Netherlands in recent days to try to win the release of a powerful former general wanted on U.S. drug-trafficking charges.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category