Venezuelans took to the streets in another wave of protests over the weekend, marking the country’s most significant unrest in over a decade.
Opposition and government supporters showed up in big numbers at rallies in different areas of Caracas. On Saturday, thousands of people attended the largest demonstration since the protests started, swarming one of the city’s major thoroughfares for as far as the eye could see. This video shows aerial footage of the massive rally:
Aerial footage shows an anti-government rally in Caracas on Saturday, the largest demonstration yet.
Despite calls from within the opposition to rein in the protests — in which at least 13 people have died — anti-government demonstrators in Caracas on Monday started fires, set up barricades, and obstructed traffic with debris and trash.
President Nicolas Maduro had called over the weekend for a “national peace conference” to be held on Wednesday. He was expected to meet Monday evening with state governors in Caracas, according to several reports. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro by a razor-thin margin in the last presidential election, was also expected to attend the meeting but denied the reports on Twitter, accusing Maduro and the National Council of “lies and insults.”
Clashes also took place outside the capital, notably around San Cristobal and Valencia.
Police moved to clear protesters in Naguanagua, just outside Valencia, which sparked more fighting. Several blasts can be heard in this video as officers battled with protesters:
Police fight with protesters in Naguanagua on Monday.
This video shows police confronting protesters in San Cristobal:
Police in San Cristobal responded to demonstrators with force.
More anti-government protests are planned for the week, including a women’s demonstration on Wednesday called by congresswoman and opposition leader Maria Corina Machado.
Carlos Julio Romero, a young organizer working with Machado, told VICE News that students in Caracas will march on the Cuban Embassy on Tuesday to demand that “the Castro brothers not interfere in Venezuelan politics.” Romero said that he was beaten by members of the national guard while attending a protest last Wednesday.
“Their hate impressed me a lot,” Romero said, describing how an officer pointed a gun to his brother’s face and threatened to “break” him. “They’re not supposed to have guns,” he said.
The protesters are made up largely of students and middle class youth. They have been organizing through WhatsApp and Zello, a walkie-talkie app that is now blocked, in an attempt to circumvent the government’s restrictions on social media sites, though many have nevertheless been tweeting about the protests with the hashtag #ResistenciaVzla.
Demonstrators raised the barricades across the country following a social media call under the hashtag #24FGranBarricadaNacional.
“The only way that we are communicating is through Twitter, through hashtags with the activities of the day,” said Romero. Social media, he said, has also allowed protesters in Caracas to keep in touch with those in Valencia and San Cristobal, where government repression has been particularly harsh and international media attention scarce.
“The censorship is so brutal,” Venezuelan journalist Mariana Atencio told VICE News. “The government really controls the internet platform. It's hard for people to protest.”
Even so, the protests show no sign of relenting, and many look with apprehension to next Friday, when Carnival kicks off in Venezuela. March 5th also marks the first anniversary since former President Hugo Chávez died of cancer. Protesters said the situation has been moving too quickly to predict whether the occasion will be marked by more violence.
“The country is really on standby,” Atencio said. “These protests by themselves will not really change the balance of power. What they do is provoke the Chavistas, the government. They create fractures.”