At least 12 people were killed overnight following looting and violence in Venezuela’s capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities in Caracas said Friday.
‘We are like a bomb’: food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics
Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working class neighborhood near the city’s biggest military base where opposition leaders say 13 people were hit with an electrical current while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.
Two days of massive protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of Nicolás Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chávez when it was swamped with tear gas.
The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six others were injured.
Opposition leaders blamed the government for repressing protesters with tear gas but standing idly by as businesses were looted.
Vice-president Tareck El Aissami said the country was facing what he calls an “unconventional war” led by opposition groups working in concert with criminal gangs.
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed the finger at the opposition, saying armed groups controlled by them were responsible for the attack at the hospital.
Earlier Friday, officials reported that one of the dead was Mervins Guitian. The young Venezuelan man was fatally shot when he was returning home late from work on Thursday and got caught in the middle of late-night street clashes.
Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor and didn’t join the protests. It wasn’t clear who shot him and there was no immediate comment from authorities.
Venezuelan social media was ablaze late into the night with grainy cellphone videos of light-armored vehicles plowing down dark streets to control pockets of protesters who set up burning barricades in several neighborhoods.
The opposition said they have no intention of pulling back on protests demanding new elections that were triggered when the government-stacked supreme court three weeks ago gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism.
Protesters are angry at what they see as a government that has essentially become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages.
“Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during an evening, outdoor press conference as residents looking out from balconies in an eastern Caracas neighborhood at the heart of the protest movement cheered loudly in support.
The next planned protest is Saturday, when opponents are being asked to dress in white and march silently to commemorate the victims of the demonstration. There’s also a sit-in to block major highways planned for Monday.
General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.
A number of major Latin American governments, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, called on Venezuela to take steps to increase democratic order and halt the violence that has been swirling around the protests. Across the country, clashes have been intense as protests grow in size and fervor.
The supreme court ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.
Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late next year.