Maduro Condemns Opposition-Led Violence as Venezuela Death Toll Nears 40
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro spoke out Thursday against the wave of political violence gripping his country, as the death toll continued to rise.
Speaking at the Tiuna Military Fort in Caracas, Maduro called for an end to “violence and guarimbas”. Guarimba is a term used to refer to violent demonstrations that use street barricades to shut down neighbourhoods across the country.
“Enough killings, you murderers! I extend my condolences to the family of the police, the National Guard and the young man who was murdered yesterday by these violent people … I send my solidarity to all of Venezuela,” he said.
Among the latest deaths is 18 year old Amando Canizales, who died Wednesday during a protest in Caracas. According to an autopsy report released late Thursday, Canizales may have been killed by fellow protesters. The report concluded he died after being hit by a ball bearing. Interior minister Nestor Reverol explained opposition protesters were seen using ball bearings as ammunition during a running gunfight with the National Guard (GNB).
Canizales’ death sparked renewed international media attention, though at least two other people have died since then. A police officer in the state of Carabobo, Gerardo Barrera, also died Thursday from injuries sustained during a battle with armed anti-government groups the day before. Meanwhile in the state of Anzoategui, Chavista student organiser Juan Lopez was gunned down Thursday during a public event. The assailants remain unidentified, though authorities say they are investigating the case.
The latest deaths bring the total death toll of more than a month of violence to 39, including 13 killed as a result of the actions of opposition supporters and five confirmed dead at the hands of state security forces.
During his speech Thursday, Maduro defended the work of security forces.
“The Bolivarian National Guard has put up a great, heroic fight. They have lost men, been killed by snipers … and attacked by criminal gangs,” he said.
Maduro then urged the opposition to join his planned constituent assembly. Called by Maduro earlier this week, the assembly will have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. While Maduro has hailed the planned assembly as a way to bridge the country’s political divide, the opposition has dismissed the initiative as an attempt to bypass Venezuela’s parliament, the National Assembly (AN). The AN is controlled by the opposition.
“My message of hope, is that we can definitively get out of this cycle of violence, of insurgency, by way of … the constituent assembly,” Maduro said.
The first meeting of a presidential commission for the organisation of the constituent assembly is set to take place on Monday. On Friday, the head of the commission, Elias Jaua, invited the main opposition coalition, the MUD, to attend. The coalition is yet to respond.