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Troops Take Back San Cristobal, Birthplace of Venezuela’s Protests

Over the weekend, Venezuelan forces "cleared" protesters from the city that first sparked nationwide demonstrations.
March 31, 2014, 9:20pm
Photo by Getty

In recent weeks, the city of San Cristobal, in the western state of Tachira, became known as the birthplace of Venezuela’s protests — a wave of public unrest that has rocked the country for the past two months.

It’s in San Cristobal, on the campus of the University of the Andes, that students first took to the streets in response to a sexual assault.

Police’s harsh response to that protest sparked demonstrations across the country, and almost daily clashes that have left at least 39 people dead on both sides of a conflict that has deeply divided the country.

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On Sunday, Venezuela’s security forces took control of the city’s streets for the first time since protesters there had started setting up barricades.

Vladimir Padrino, the general at the helm of the National Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command, said that police and the National Guard had "ended the curfew imposed by terrorists" — a term frequently used by president Nicolas Maduro to describe the young protesters behind the barricades.

“The hardworking and devout people of San Cristóbal and Táchira return to peace and to their real place,” the general tweeted on Sunday. “Let's end the violence.”

El pueblo trabajador y espiritual de Sn Cristobal y del Tachira retornará a la paz y a su verdadero gentilicio. Terminemos con la violencia.

— Vladimir Padrino L. (@vladimirpadrino)March 30, 2014

Armed forces took to the streets with thousands of troops as well as bulldozers and armed vehicles, Al Jazeera reported.

No injuries were reported, according to local authorities, though police used stun grenades and tear gas, and protesters responded with bricks and handmade explosives.

600 Venezuelan national guard will guard the area cleared of barricades in San Cristobal on Sunday — Alessandro Rampietti (@rampietti)March 30, 2014

La guardia nacional de — Alessandro Rampietti (@rampietti)March 30, 2014

The video below, reportedly filmed in San Cristobal on Sunday, shows members of the national guard making their way through the city.

Video shows members of Venezuela's national guard making their way through San Cristobal, on Sunday.

The video below was uploaded by supporters of embattled Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, who was removed from her post earlier this month for criticizing the government before the Organization of American States. It shows heavy military presence in San Cristobal over the weekend.

Video uploaded by supporters of opposition leader Maria Corina Machado shows increased police protest over the weekend.

In the early days of the protests, students began to block traffic with trash bags and other makeshift material. But the barricades soon became more permanent, as protesters turned to cement blocks, barrels, and fire.

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The governor of Tachira state, Jose Vielma Mora, who had previously criticized the government for its harsh response to protesters, welcomed the clearance of the city.

“The best present we can give to San Cristobal is the return of our children to school and of our good people to work,” he said.

For the past several weeks, the city of San Cristobal had been stage to some of Venezuela's most violent confrontations between protesters and police.

The photos below, show clashes that took place there, earlier this month.

Photos via Reuters

The mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, was removed from his post and sentenced to one year in jail, earlier this month, for failing to remove barricades set up by protesters after being ordered to do so by the central administration.

Ceballos had voiced support for the demonstrations but criticized the use of violence. He was one of several politicians who were removed from their posts for criticizing the government’s handling of the protests.

Venezuela stifles dissent, accuses generals of plotting coup.

Protesters in San Cristobal, pledge to rebuild the barricades removed by the police, but the city’s “clearance” marked a clear sign of the government’s increasing impatience with demonstrators.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, clashes between protesters and police continued over the weekend, as shown in the videos below.

Videos show violent clashes between protesters and police in Caracas.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi