A wave of small opposition protests and violent actions took place in five regional states yesterday, resulting in damages to universities and public property.
The toll left by the day included damages to two universities and the burning of several vehicles, among them a state oil company truck, a National Guard van, and a publically owned bus.
The actions, apparently led by pro-opposition youth groups, appear designed to prevent universities from returning to class, and to maintain a climate of protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
A wave of opposition protests, riots and street barricades were unleashed in early February after hard-line opposition leaders called for resistance to the Maduro government in a strategy called “The Exit”.
While the mainly middle-class protests exhibited grievances over economic problems and high crime, many protest leaders and street barricaders called for the president’s resignation and a political “transition”.
41 have been killed and almost 800 wounded in the unrest, with opposition activists, government supporters, other civilians and National Guard officersamong the fatalities. However protests had ebbed by late March, and in April street barricades were removed from the areas affected.
By mid April the moderate wing of the opposition, including leaders of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) coalition, had agreed to join dialogue sessions with the government, reaching agreements in several areas.
However yesterday’s events highlight that a minority hard-line sector of the opposition remains active on the streets and rejects the dialogue talks.
In the city of San Cristobal in Táchira state, where unrest began, groups of masked activists grabbed desks and chairs from classrooms of the Catholic University of Tachira, and destroyed them on the street. They reportedly opposed the university rector who had called for a return to classes.
The groups also tried to re-block roads with burning trash, torched a state oil company truck, and tried to close upon the residence of the local pro-government state governor, but were stopped by police.
In the wealthy east side of the capital Caracas, similar groups also tried to re-block roads with burning trash. Further, they torched and burned a National Guard truck and a publically-owned bus. The driver of the bus received “severe burns” according to the transport minister.
Meanwhile, the Fermín Toro University in Lara state came under attack. Vehicles were set alight, with the fire spreading to burn the library and some university offices.
Accusations have been traded over the latter incident, with authorities blaming opposition militants, and some opposition media claiming government supporters were responsible. The matter is under investigation.
Both opposition activists and members of security forces were reported wounded in the clashes, with tear gas and pellets used by National Guard officers during a clash in the city of Maracaibo.
In response to the day’s events, one pro-government legislator, Tania Diaz, accused the opposition of not doing enough to prevent violence from within their own ranks.
“Double discourse: they [the opposition] sit down to dialogue talks for peace, but they don’t lift a finger to stop violence,” Diaz tweeted.
Opposition politicians meanwhile attacked government policies and performance as responsible for the situation. Tomás Guanipa, the national secretary of the conservative Justice First party, argued in an interview that government policies “aren’t working” and accused authorities of “persecuting protesters”.
Journalist and founder of the TeleSUR channel, Aram Aharonian, wrote of the situation that the dialogue talks “have not meant the automatic ceasing of violence”.
“The violent actions in recent weeks point towards [and effort to] avoid the normalisation of political life,” he continued.
Hard-line opposition leaders such as Maria Corina Machado continue to call for street actions against the government.