By: Corina Pons
February 17, 2014
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called supporters to take to the street tomorrow, hours after an opposition politician sought by police urged his allies to march with him on the same day.
Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of opposition party Voluntad Popular who Maduro accuses of inciting violence, urged Venezuelans to dress in white and march with him on Tuesday, daring officials to enforce an arrest order issued against him. Maduro responded by summoning a demonstration of 30,000 to 40,000 oil workers.
“I’ve not committed any crime,” Lopez said in a YouTube video posted on his Twitter account yesterday. “If there is a decision to illegally jail me, I’ll be there.”
On Feb. 12, three people died and 66 were injured when protesters clashed with government supporters. The biggest demonstrations against Maduro’s administration since he was elected in April spread across the country this month as Venezuelans struggle with the world’s fastest inflation and shortages of everything from medicine to food.
“There’s no force that can stop us from seeking justice,” Maduro said yesterday. “We are willing to take the ultimate consequences to defend our independence.”
The South American country’s benchmark dollar bond due in 2027 fell 1.7 percent in the past week to 64.80 cents on the dollar, near a 30-month low. The yield on the bond rose to 15.45 percent on Feb. 14, the highest in the emerging markets according to the JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index. U.S. markets are closed today.
Groups of students protested in Venezuela’s capital for a fifth day yesterday, defying a Presidential ban on public demonstrations. The national police fired tear gas and pellets to disperse crowds that gathered around Plaza Altamira, a square in upscale eastern Caracas, leaving at least 40 people injured over the weekend, Ramon Muchacho, mayor of Chacao municipality, said in posts on his Twitter account.
The prospect of competing marches on the same day may lead to more bloody clashes this week and heightens the chance of a disorderly outcome to the stand-off between government and opposition, said Virgilio Arraes, professor of international affairs at the University of Brasilia.
“If violence continues, Venezuela moves closer to an institutional crisis,” in which the legitimacy of the government may be questioned, Arraes said by phone.
Maduro said yesterday he would expel three American diplomats, accusing them of helping plot against his government. He vowed to announce economic measures today to increase the supply of dollars that has crimped the economy.
“I’m not going to step down,” Maduro said to allies in Caracas on Feb. 15. “No one will remove me from the path of building the Bolivarian revolution.”
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello said this weekend that Venezuela’s government had issued an arrest warrant for Lopez. Military officials visited Lopez’s house in Caracas, and the residence of his parents, on Feb. 15 and showed a warrant that included the charge of intentional homicide, opposition party Voluntad Popular said yesterday in a statement.
Lopez said that he would take petitions to the Interior Ministry that declare the government responsible for the Feb. 12 violence, ask for the release of students currently being held and ask for the disarmament of pro-government groups known as collectives. He has maintained his innocence and says he only called for peaceful protests.
Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado said yesterday in an e-mailed statement that students would march to downtown Caracas today.
Maduro banned street demonstrations, threatened media and ordered the arrest of opposition politicians in an effort to quell the protests. He accuses the opposition of trying to incite a coup.
“I’m evaluating actions to defeat the fascist coup that started this week,” Maduro said yesterday in a post on his Twitter account.
Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro in the April election, said that the government was behind the violence in the protests.
The government is using violence to “hide the grave problems that the country is facing with the scarcity of food, medicine, the inflation, devaluation and insecurity,” Capriles said yesterday at a press conference in Caracas.
Inflation more than doubled in Venezuela in the past year to 56.3 percent in January, according to the central bank. At the same time, the central bank’s scarcity index rose to a record 28 percent, meaning that more than one in four basic goods was out of stock at any given time.
The public prosecutor said Feb. 15 in an e-mailed statement that 13 of 99 people who were detained over violent events Feb. 12 and Feb. 13 will remain in prison after judges ruled that their actions were “severe.” Student protesters are demanding the release of all those detained.
Maduro has accused international news outlets of bias. He took Colombian station NTN24 off the air in Venezuela for covering the protests and in a national address Feb. 13 criticized Agence France-Presse for manipulating information.
“We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on Feb. 15. “These actions have a chilling effect on citizens’ rights to express their grievances peacefully.”
Maduro repudiated Kerry’s statement yesterday, as Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry sent out an e-mailed statement saying the U.S. was trying to legitimize destabilization in Venezuela.
“The U.S. said that we shouldn’t arrest Leopoldo Lopez because it would have negative consequences,” Maduro said. “That’s an insolent and unacceptable request. I don’t take threats from anyone.”
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