Food shortages send students and opposition supporters to the streets
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
The streets of Venezuela have been loud and packed these last few weeks as students and opposition groups have held demonstrations against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Protests began roughly a month ago as Venezuelans are growing increasingly outraged over the high prices for certain food staples, such as bread, milk, and sugar. More than 20 people have been killed since the protests began, and hundreds of students have been arrested for participating in demonstrations.
The government has deployed military units in government areas throughout Caracas, especially near the government’s food ministry, which is at the heart of the protests.
President Maduro said that military forces had been deployed in the capital to protect citizens from protesters who were responsible for “violent pain.”
The opposition groups, led by Governor Henrique Capriles, have rejected the government’s calls for dialogue that would end the demonstrations, saying that the government’s heavy-handed approach to dealing with peaceful protesters have made talks impossible.
Capriles said that the government must release all detained student protesters and loosen restrictions of movement within the capital before any peace talks can take place; he also voiced skepticism of President Maduro’s motivations for the meeting, speculating that the meeting would have largely been a photo op.
Protesters paraded in the streets on March 8 in what they called the “March of the Empty Pots,” symbolizing the high prices for food. The march was well-attended by students, opposition supporters, and women, as the march took place in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
Capriles urged the crowd to not participate in violent acts and to take all measures to remain safe.
“Don’t go out to protest at night. That’s when the paramilitary groups take to the streets to promote violence,” he said.
The government has been accused of employing torture against detained students, as well as unmotivated detention and excessive force.
The government is growing increasingly concerned about the protests, as their traditional base of support, those in the middle- and upper-classes, are now demonstrating in the streets, demanding an end to violence and for the government to start implementing policies that would make food more accessible to everyone.