Violence flares again in Venezuela, as US Congress considers sanctions

After a U.S. House panel in Washington approved its version of sanctions against Venezuela on Friday, hundreds of Venezuelan activistsn who traveled from Miami to the nation’s…
Violence flares again in Venezuela, as US Congress considers sanctions

A Bolivarian National Police officer fires rubber bullets at demonstrators after clashes broke out at an at anti-government protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Demonstrators took to the streets after a pre-dawn raid by security forces that broke up four camps maintained by student protesters and arrested more than 200 people. (AP Photo/Alejandro Cegarra)

After a U.S. House panel in Washington approved its version of sanctions against Venezuela on Friday, hundreds of Venezuelan activistsn who traveled from Miami to the nation’s capital to rally in support of tough economic measures against Nicolas Maduro’s government applauded, all in light of a renewed wave of violence in their country this week.

State Department officials also briefed a Senate committee the day before as Congress moves closer to imposing economic penalties against the Venezuelan government. Thursday morning, Venezuela security forces raided student activist camps set up in Caracas, arresting 243 protestors and gathering up what they described as homemade weapons.

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In the ensuing clashes, as students took to the streets to protest against the troops and the dismantling of their camps, one policeman was shot and killed. Five other people were injured, according to Reuters.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro condemned the violence, calling the student protesters “right-wing assassins,” according to ABC; students, for their part, said that they had been staging a peaceful protest until government forces invaded the camps.

Early Morning Raid

The police raids began around 3:25 a.m., according to student activists who spoke to “El Universal.”

Students protesting outside UN headquarters in Caracas are disbanded by Venezuelan police.

Bolivarian National Guard soldiers load a truck with students belongings as they dismantle student encampments outside of UN headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, U.S. Congress has vowed to take sanctions against the Venezuelan govt. (AP Photo/Carlos Becerra)

Security forces focused especially on the largest anti-government protest camp, which was stationed in front of the UN offices. Police shot into the air, pulled apart the camps, and scattered students. The 243 activists arrested were taken to jail, where many of them remained Friday. The police went on to dismantle three other camps, as well.

After the first raids, Venezuelan protestors took to the streets, setting up barricades to keep the security forces from progressing further. According to Reuters, student activists hurled “stones and petrol bombs, while police fired tear gas in upmarket east Caracas.”

Student Fears

The Venezuelan government—and President Maduro, in particular— wanted to make it clear that the student activists engaged in violence.

In the aftermath of the police raids, Maduro spoke on television, blaming protestors for the death of a 25-year-old policeman. The government also presented the public with weapons that security forces claimed to have collected from the makeshift camps, including Molotov cocktails, homemade mortars, and guns.

For their part, students are concerned that the government will pin them with charges of “terrorism or paramilitary activity.” One student detainee guessed that “arms and explosives will be planted on us.” While that hasn’t yet been reported, the next few days may shine some light on the government’s plans for the students now being held in jail.

Motivation for the Raids

While it’s unclear exactly why the police raids occurred on Thursday, many have speculated that it’s a move by the government to further quash already waning protests.

Though protests started in February over soaring inflation, President Maduro’s socialist policies, and extreme scarcity of basic goods, they’ve slowed slightly in recent weeks. Maduro and the police may be hoping to put a nail in the coffin of anti-government groups.

Others take a more nuanced—and cynical—view, according to ABC: some suggest that the government actually wants to revive the clashes between students and security forces in order to distract the public from “mounting economic woes,” preferring to vilify protesters in lieu of addressing the government’s fiscal problems.

To this point, Reuters reports that 42 people have been killed and almost 800 injured in the Venezuelan clashes.

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