2014–15 Venezuelan protests
|2014–2015 Venezuelan protests|
February 12, 2014 – ongoing|
(1 year, 11 months, 3 weeks and 2 days)
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Death(s)||43 (2014); 1 (2015)|
|Arrested||3400+ (2014); 177 (2015)|
In 2014, a series of protests, political demonstrations, and civil insurrection began in Venezuela due to the country's high levels of violence, inflation, and chronic shortages of basic goods attributed to economic policies such as strict price controls.
While protests occurred in January 2014, after the murder of actress and former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, mass protesting began in earnest that February following the attempted rape of a student on a university campus in San Cristobal. Subsequent arrests of student protestors spurred their expansion to neighboring cities and the involvement of opposition leaders. The year's early months were characterized by large demonstrations and violent clashes between protestors and government forces that resulted in over 3,000 arrests and 43 deaths, including both supporters and opponents of the government. Toward the end of 2014, and into 2015, continued shortages and low oil prices caused renewed protesting.
The majority of protests have been peaceful, consisting of demonstrations, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, with an estimated 52% of protests in opposition to the government and smaller numbers in support of various economic and social policy changes. However, small groups of protestors have been responsible for attacks on public property, such as government buildings and public transportation. Erecting improvised street barricades, dubbed guarimbas, has been the most common form of protest, although their use is controversial. Publications like The New York Times have observed that the protests have exposed a class divide in Venezuela, as the protests have primarily occurred in wealthier urban areas with limited participation from the working-class, despite lower-income areas being hit especially hard by the country's economic struggles.
Nicolas Maduro's government characterized the protests as an undemocratic coup d'etat attempt orchestrated by "fascist" opposition leaders and the United States; he blames capitalism and speculation for causing high inflation rates and goods scarcities as part of an "economic war" being waged on his government.
Although Maduro, a former trade union leader, says he supports peaceful protesting, the Venezuelan government has been widely condemned for its handling of the protests. Venezuelan authorities have reportedly gone beyond the use of rubber pellets and tear gas to instances of live ammunition use and torture of arrested protestors, according to organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, while the United Nations has accused the Venezuelan government of politically-motivated arrests, most notably former Chacao mayor and leader of Popular Will, Leopoldo Lopez, who has used the controversial charges of murder and inciting violence against him to protest the government's "criminalization of dissent." Other controversies reported during the protests include media censorship and violence by pro-government militant groups known as colectivos.
- 1 Background
- 2 Protest violence
- 3 Timeline of events
- 4 Domestic reactions
- 5 Public opinion
- 5.1 Public support of protests
- 5.2 Poll and survey data
- 6 Media
- 7 International reactions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Venezuela was headed by a series of governments, later labelled as right-wing by the Chávez government, for years. In 1992, Hugo Chávez formed a group named Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 aiming to take over the government, and attempted a coup d'état. Later, another coup was performed while Chávez was in prison. Both coup attempts failed and fighting resulted in around 143–300 deaths. Chávez, after receiving a pardon from president Rafael Caldera, later decided to participate in elections and formed the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) party. He won the Venezuelan presidential election, 1998. The changes started by Chávez were named the Bolivarian Revolution.
Chávez, an anti-American politician who declared himself a democratic socialist, enacted a series of social reforms aimed at improving quality of life. According to the World Bank, Chávez's social measures reduced poverty from about 49% in 1998 to about 25%. From 1999 to 2012, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), shows that Venezuela achieved the second highest rate of poverty reduction in the region. The World Bank also explained that Venezuela's economy is "extremely vulnerable" to changes in oil prices since in 2012 "96% of the country’s exports and nearly half of its fiscal revenue" relied on oil production. In 1998, a year before Chávez took office, oil was only 77% of Venezuela's exports. Under the Chávez government, from 1999 to 2011, monthly inflation rates were high compared to world standards, but were lower than that from 1991 to 1998.
While Chávez was in office, his government was accused of corruption, abuse of the economy for personal gain, propaganda, buying the loyalty of the military, officials involved in drug trade, assisting terrorists such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, intimidation of the media, and human rights abuses of its citizens. Government price controls put in place in 2002 which initially aimed for reducing the prices of basic goods have caused economic problems such as inflation and shortages of basic goods. The murder rate under Chávez's administration also quadrupled during his terms in office leaving Venezuela as one of the most violent countries in the world.
On 5 March 2013, Chávez died of cancer and Nicolás Maduro, who was vice president at the time, took Chávez's place. Throughout the year 2013 and into the year 2014, worries about the troubled economy, increasing crime and corruption increased, which led to the start of anti-government protests.
In 2002, the Chávez government faced a coup d'état. Anti-government demonstrations taking place were redirected into supporting the coup, and Chávez was removed from office for two days. He was later reinstated following massive public support. This event, along with the early 2014 Euromaidan demonstrations which resulted in a change of government in Ukraine, termed by some commentators as a coup d'état, was later cited by the Venezuelan government in relation to the 2014 protests to support the idea that the opposition may be attempting another undemocratic change of government.
First demonstrations of 2014
Demonstrations against violence in Venezuela began in January 2014, and continued, when former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles shook the hand of President Maduro; this "gesture... cost him support and helped propel" opposition leader Leopoldo López Mendoza to the forefront. According to the Associated Press, well before protests began in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas, the attempted rape of a young student on a university campus in San Cristóbal, in the western border state of Táchira, led to protests from students "outraged" at "long-standing complaints about deteriorating security under President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez. But what really set them off was the harsh police response to their initial protest, in which several students were detained and allegedly abused, as well as follow-up demonstrations to call for their release". These protests expanded, attracted non-students, and led to more detentions; eventually, other students joined, and the protests spread to Caracas and other cities, with opposition leaders getting involved.
López is a leading figure in the opposition to the government. During events surrounding the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt, Lopez "orchestrated the public protests against Chávez and he played a central role in the citizen's arrest of Chavez's interior minister", Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, though he later tried to distance himself from the event, and did not sign the Carmona Decree. The government of Venezuela banned López from holding elected office; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this was illegal, but the Venezuelan government refused to comply with the court ruling.
President Maduro said that San Cristóbal was under siege by right-wing paramilitaries under orders from former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe; Uribe dismissed the allegation as a distraction tactic. Maduro also stated that San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos, a member of López’s Popular Will Party, would soon join López “behind bars for fomenting violence.” Maduro said: "It's a matter of time until we have him in the same cold cell.” Ceballos was detained in March by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service without being presented with an arrest warrant and remains in jail.
In a 2014 survey by Gallup, nearly 75% of Venezuelans believe corruption is widespread in their government. Leopoldo López has said, "We are fighting a very corrupt authoritarian government that uses all the power, all the money, all the media, all the laws, all the judicial system in order to maintain control."
Corruption in Venezuela is ranked high by world standards. Corruption is difficult to measure reliably, but one well-known measure is the Corruption Perceptions Index, produced annually by a Berlin-based NGO, Transparency International (TNI). Venezuela has been one of the most corrupt countries in TNI surveys since they started in 1995, ranking 38th out of 41 that year and performing very poorly in subsequent years. In 2008, for example, it was 158th out of 180 countries in 2008, the worst in the Americas except Haiti, in 2012, it was one of the 10 most corrupt countries on the index, tying with Burundi, Chad, and Haiti for 165th place out of 176. TNI public opinion data says that most Venezuelans believe the government's effort against corruption is ineffective, that corruption has increased and that government institutions such as the judicial system, parliament, legislature and police are the most corrupt. According to TNI, Venezuela is currently the 18th most corrupt country in the world (160 of 177) and its judicial system has been deemed the most corrupt in the world.
The World Justice Project moreover, ranked Venezuela's government in 99th place worldwide and gave it the worst ranking of any country in Latin America in the 2014 Rule of Law Index. The report says, "Venezuela is the country with the poorest performance of all countries analyzed, showing decreasing trends in the performance of many areas in relation to last year. The country ranks last in the surrender of accounts by the government due to an increasing concentration of executive power and a weakened checks and balances." The report further states that "administrative bodies suffer inefficiencies and lack of transparency…and the judicial system, although relatively accessible, lost positions due to increasing political interference. Another area of concern is the increase in crime and violence, and violations of fundamental rights, particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression."
According to the 2013 Global Misery Index Scores, Venezuela was ranked as the top spot globally with the highest misery index score. In data provided by the CIA, Venezuela had the second highest inflation rate (56.20%) in the world for 2013, only behind the war-torn Syria. The money supply of the Bolivar Fuerte in Venezuela also continues to accelerate, possibly helping to fuel more inflation. The Venezuelan government's economic policies, including strict price controls, led to one of the highest inflation rates in the world with "sporadic hyperinflation", and have caused severe shortages of food and other basic goods. The Heritage Foundation, a US-based conservative advocacy group, ranked Venezuela at 175 of 178 in economic freedom and was classified as a "Repressed" economy in its 2014 Index of Economic Freedom report. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), activity in Venezuela is uncertain but may continue to slow for the year 2014 saying that "loose macroeconomic policies have generated high inflation and a drain on official foreign exchange reserves". Venezuela was also the only country in the world that the International Monetary Fund predicted that their GDP will contract. Data provided by economist Steve H. Hanke of the Cato Institute shows that Venezuela's current economy, as of March 2014, had an implied inflation rate hovering above 300%, an official inflation rate around 60% and a product scarcity index rising above 25% of goods. Hanke believes that "State-controlled prices - prices that are set below market-clearing price - always result in shortages" and that "The shortage problem will only get worse, as it did over the years in the Soviet Union". More than half of those interviewed in a Datos survey held the Maduro government responsible for the country's current economic situation and most thought the country’s economic situation would be worse or just as bad in the next 6 months of 2014. President Maduro has blamed the economic troubles on an alleged "economic war" being waged against his government; specifically, he has placed blame on capitalism and speculation.
Price controls created by the Venezuelan government had hurt businesses and led to shortages, long queues, and looting. In 2013, as the country suffered from shortages of necessities such as toilet paper, milk, and flour, Venezuela devalued its currency The government's catastrophic monetary policy means that businesses cannot afford to import basic goods such as paper; the National Guard occupied MANPA, the nation's largest manufacturer of toilet paper, with the aim to check operations for "possible diversion of distribution" and "illegal management". In early 2014, however, members of Popular Will who were visiting El Salvador claimed that Venezuelan toilet paper, along with other Venezuelan products, had been given to El Salvador by the Venezuelan government, even though such items were not available in Venezuela unless one waited in “humiliating lines for hours.” Among the items they found on sale in El Salvador, and displayed at a press conference, were Alba brand rice and beans. Abelardo Diaz said that the alliances that result in these subsidized Venezuelan goods being shipped abroad at the expense of Venezuelan citizens “are not productive for our people”. Díaz called it “treason” to support such arrangements, which had led to so much injury and death on the part of protesters. President of the National Statistics Institute (INE) Elias Eljuri suggested that all shortages in the country were due to Venezuelan's eating, saying that “95% of people eat three or more meals a day” while referencing a national survey. However, data provided by INE showed that in 2013, food consumption by Venezuelans actually decreased.
An article by The Guardian noted that a "significant proportion" of the subsidized basic goods in short supply were being smuggled into Colombia and sold for far higher prices, with the Venezuelan government claiming that as much as 40% of the basic commodities it subsidizes for the domestic market are being smuggled out of the country. However, economists disagree with the Venezuelan government's claim stating that only 10% of subsidized products are smuggled out of the country.
An Associated Press report in February 2014 noted that “legions of the sick across the country” were being “neglected by a health care system doctors say is collapsing after years of deterioration.” Doctors at one hospital “sent home 300 cancer patients last month when supply shortages and overtaxed equipment made it impossible for them to perform non-emergency surgeries.” The government, which controlled “the dollars needed to buy medical supplies,” had “simply not made enough” dollars available for those supplies, the AP reported. As a result, “many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela's downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez's death.” Doctors called it impossible “to know how many have died, and the government doesn't keep such numbers, just as it hasn't published health statistics since 2010.” Among the items “in critically short supply” were “needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions.” The previous month, the government had “suspended organ donations and transplants.” Also, over “70 percent of radiotherapy machines” were “now inoperable.” Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, said, "Two months ago we asked the government to declare an emergency,” but they received no response. Health Minister Isabel Iturria refused to give the AP an interview, while a deputy health minister, Nimeny Gutierrez, “denied on state TV that the system is in crisis.”
In Venezuela, a person is murdered every 21 minutes. In the first two months of 2014, nearly 3,000 people were murdered – 10% more than in the previous year and 500% higher than when Hugo Chávez first took office. In 2014, Quartz claimed that the high murder rate was due to Venezuela’s “ growing poverty rate; rampant corruption; high levels of gun ownership; and a failure to punish murderers (91% of the murders go unpunished, according to the Institute for Research on Coexistence and Citizen Security).” InsightCrime attributed the escalating violence to "high levels of corruption, a lack of investment in the police force and weak gun control."
Following the January killing of actress and former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and her ex-husband in a roadside robbery in the presence of their five-year-old daughter, who herself was shot in the leg, Venezuela was described by Channel 4 as “one of the most dangerous countries in the world,”  a country “where crime escalated during the administration of former President Hugo Chávez and killings are common in armed robberies.” The Venezuelan Violence Observatory said in March 2014 the country's murder rate was now nearly 80 deaths per 100,000 people, while government statistics put it at 39 deaths per 100,000. The number of those murdered during the previous decade was comparable to the death rate in Iraq during the Iraq War; during some periods, Venezuela had a higher rate of civilian deaths than Iraq, even though the country was at peace. Crime had also affected the economy, according to Jorge Roig, president of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, who said that many foreign business executives were too scared to travel to Venezuela and that many owners of Venezuelan companies live abroad, with the companies producing less as a result.
The opposition says that crime is the government's fault "for being soft on crime, for politicizing and corrupting institutions such as the judiciary, and for glorifying violence in public discourse," while the government says that "capitalist evils" are to blame, such as drug trafficking and violence in the media.
The United States State Department and the Government of Canada have warned foreign visitors that they may be subjected to robbery, kidnapping for a ransom, or sale to terrorist organizations and murder. The United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel within 80 km (50 miles) of the Colombian border in the states of Zulia, Táchira, and Apure.
On 14 April 2013, Nicolas Maduro won the presidential election with 50.6% of the vote, ahead of the 49.1% of candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The results were surprisingly close because Hugo Chávez had defeated Capriles less than a year before by a margin of more than 10 points, and Maduro had led most polls through the campaigns by large margins. Opposition leaders made accusations of fraud shortly after the election. Capriles refused to accept the results, alleging that voters had been coerced to vote for Maduro and claiming election irregularities. The National Electoral Council (CNE), which conducted a post-election audit of a random selection of 54% of the votes, comparing electronic records with paper ballots, claimed to find nothing suspicious. Capriles initially called for an audit of the remaining 46% of the votes, asserting that this would show that he had won the election. The CNE agreed to carry out an audit, and planned to do so in May. Later Capriles changed his mind, adding demands for a full audit of the electoral registry, and calling the audit process “a joke.”.
Before the government agreed to a full audit of the vote, there were public protests by opponents of Maduro. The crowds were ultimately dispersed by National Guard members using tear gas and rubber bullets. President Maduro responded to the protests by saying, “If you want to try to oust us through a coup, the people and the armed forces will be waiting for you.”  The clashes resulted in 7 people killed and dozens injured. President Maduro described the protests as a "coup" attempt, and blamed the United States for them. Finally, Capriles told protesters to stop and not play the "government's game," so there would be no more deaths.
On 12 June 2013 the results of the partial audit were announced. The CNE certified the initial results and confirmed Maduro's electoral victory. The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, stated in a detailed report on the elections that “the extremely close election results…presented an electoral and political conflict not seen since the 2004 recall referendum. Accompanied by divisive public discourse on all sides, the electoral dispute interrupted not only an incipient national consensus on the reliability of the electoral outcome, but also the ability to move forward with constructive debate and dialogue on other issues of import to the country.” The Carter Center noted the lack of “agreement…about the quality of the voting conditions and whether every registered voter is able to vote one time, and only one time,” and the fact that “inequities in campaign conditions in terms of both access to financial resources and access to the media diminish the competitiveness of elections, particularly in a legal framework that permits indefinite reelection of public officials.” The Carter Center issued a 9-point set of recommendations to make Venezuelan elections fairer and the results more reliable. Government resources were used to support the ruling party's electoral campaigns, and government vehicles were used for transport. During the local election campaign, Maduro spent two hours per day on live television,.
Militant groups known as "colectivos" attacked protesters and opposition TV staff, sent death threats to journalists, and tear-gassed the Vatican envoy after Hugo Chávez accused these groups of intervening with his government. Colectivos helped assist the government during the protests. Human Rights Watch said that "the government of Venezuela has tolerated and promoted groups of armed civilians," which HRW claims have "intimidated protesters and initiated violent incidents". Socialist International also condemned the impunity that irregular groups have had while attacking protesters. President Maduro has thanked certain groups of motorcyclists for their help against what he views as a "fascist coup d'etat... being waged by the extreme right", but also distanced himself from armed groups, stating that they "had no place in the revolution". On a later occasion, President Maduro issued a condemnation of all violent groups and said a government supporter would go to jail if he performed a crime, just as an opposition supporter would. He said that someone who is violent has no place as a government supporter and thus should leave the pro-government movement immediately.
Some "colectivos" have acted violently against the opposition without impediment from Venezuelan government forces. Colectivos in several trucks allegedly attacked an apartment complex known for protesting damaging 5 vehicles, leaving 2 burnt, and fired several shots into the apartments leaving one person injured from a gunshot wound. According to a correspondent from Televen, armed groups attempted to kidnap and rape individuals in an apartment complex in Maracaibo without intervention from the National Guard. Vice President of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, praised colectivos saying, "If there has been exemplary behavior it has been the behavior of the motorcycle colectivos that are with the Bolivarian revolution." However, on March 28, Arreaza promised that the government would disarm all irregular armed groups in Veneuela. Colectivos have also been called a "fundamental pillar in the defense of the homeland" by the Venezuelan Prison Minister, Iris Varela.
In the month of March in 2014, paramilitary groups acted violently in 437 protests, about 31% of total protests in March, where gunshot wounds were reported in most protests they were involved in. Armed colectivos allegedly attacked and burnt down Universidad Fermín Toro after intimidating student protesters and shooting one.
Human Rights Watch reported that government forces "repeatedly allowed" colectivos "to attack protesters, journalists, students, or people they believed to be opponents of the government with security forces just meters away" and that "in some cases, the security forces openly collaborated with the pro-government attackers". Human Rights Watch also stated that they "found compelling evidence of uniformed security forces and pro-government gangs attacking protesters side by side. One report said that government forces aided pro-government civilians that shot protesters with live ammunition.
Human Rights Watch stated that "Despite credible evidence of crimes carried out by these armed pro-government gangs, high-ranking officials called directly on groups to confront protesters through speeches, interviews, and tweets." According to Human Rights Watch, President Nicolas Maduro "on multiple occasions called on civilian groups loyal to the government to 'extinguish the flame' of what he characterized as 'fascist' protesters". The governor of the state of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach, called on Units of Battle Hugo Chávez (UBCh), a government created civilian group that according to the government is a “tool of the people to defend its conquests, to continue fighting for the expansion of the Venezuelan Revolution”. In a tweet, Ameliach asked UBCh to launch a rapid counterattack against protesters saying, "Gringos (Americans) and fascists beware" and that the order would come from the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello.
Government authorities have used "unlawful force against unarmed protesters and other people in the vicinity of demonstrations". Government agencies involved in the use of unlawful force include the National Guard, the National Police, the Guard of the People, and other government agencies. Some common abuses included "severely beating unarmed individuals, firing live ammunition, rubber bullets, and teargas canisters indiscriminately into crowds, and firing rubber bullets deliberately, at point-blank range, at unarmed individuals, including, in some cases, individuals already in custody". Human Rights Watch said that "Venezuelan security forces repeatedly resorted to force—including lethal force—in situations in which it was wholly unjustified" and that "the use of force occurred in the context of protests that were peaceful, according to victims, eyewitnesses, lawyers, and journalists, who in many instances shared video footage and photographs corroborating their accounts".
Government forces have used firearms to control protests. Amnesty International reported that they had "received reports of the use of pellet guns and tear gas shot directly at protesters at short range and without warning" and that "Such practices violate international standards and have resulted in the death of at least one protester." They also said that "Demonstrators detained by government forces at times have been denied medical care and access to lawyers". Amnesty International was also worried about "the use of chemical toxins in high concentrations” by government forces and recommended better training for them. During the months of protest, the heavy use of tear gas by authorities in Chacao affected surrounding residents and forced them to wear gas masks to "survive" in their homes. Some violent demonstrations have been controlled with tear gas and water cannons.
The New York Times reported that a protester was "shot at such close range by a soldier at a protest that his surgeon said he had to remove pieces of the plastic shotgun shell buried in his leg, along with the shards of keys" that were in their pocket at the time. Venezuelan authorities have also been accused of shooting shotguns with "hard plastic buckshot at point-blank range" which allegedly injured a great number of protesters and killed a woman. The woman who was killed was banging a pot outside of her house in protest when her father reported that "soldiers rode up on motorcycles" and that the woman then fell while trying to seek shelter in her home. Witnesses of the incident then said that "a soldier got off his motorcycle, pointed his shotgun at her head and fired". The shot that was fired by the policeman "slammed through her eye socket into her brain". The woman died days before her birthday. Her father said that the soldier who killed her was not arrested. There has also been claims by the Venezuelan Penal Forum accusing authorities that have allegedly attempted to tamper with evidence, covering up that they had shot students.
El Nacional claimed that the objective of those attacking opposition protesters is to kill since many of the protesters that were killed were shot in vulnerable areas like the head and that, "9 of the 15 dead people were from the 12F demonstrators, who were injured by state security forces or paramilitaries linked to the ruling party." El Universal has claimed that Melvin Collazos of SEBIN, and Jonathan Rodríquez, a bodyguard of the Minister of the Interior and Justice Miguel Rodríguez Torres, are in custody after shooting unarmed, fleeing, protesters several times in violation of protocol. The article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution states that "the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited", and that "the law shall regulate the actions of the police and security control of public order."
Abuse of protesters and detainees
According to Amnesty International, "torture is commonplace" against protesters by Venezuelan authorities despite Article 46 of the Venezuelan Constitution prohibiting "punishment, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment". During the protests, there were hundreds of reported cases of torture. In a report titled Punished for Protesting following a March investigation of conduct during the protests, Human Rights Watch said that those who were detained by government authorities were subjected to "severe physical abuse" with some abuses including being beaten "with fists, helmets, and firearms; electric shocks or burns; being forced to squat or kneel, without moving, for hours at a time; being handcuffed to other detainees, sometimes in pairs and others in human chains of dozens of people, for hours at a time; and extended periods of extreme cold or heat." It was also reported that "many victims and family members we spoke with said they believed they might face reprisals if they reported abuses by police, guardsmen, or armed pro-government gangs".
Amnesty International "received reports from detainees who were forced to spend hours on their knees or feet in detention centers". Amnesty International also reported that a student was forced at gunpoint by plainclothes officers to sign a confession to acts he did not commit where his mother explained that “They told him that they would kill him if he didn’t sign it, ... He started to cry, but he wouldn’t sign it. They then wrapped him in foam sheets and started to hit him with rods and a fire extinguisher. Later, they doused him with gasoline, stating that they would then have evidence to charge him.” Amnesty International said that the Human Rights Center at the Andres Bello Catholic University had reported that, “There are two cases that involved electric shocks, two cases that involved pepper gas and another two cases where they were doused with gasoline,” she said. “We’ve found there to be systematic conduct on the part of the state to inflict inhumane treatment on detainees because of similar reports from different days and detention centers.”
The New York Times reported that the Penal Forum said that abuses are "continuous and systematic" and that Venezuelan authorities were "widely accused of beating detainees, often severely, with many people saying the security forces then robbed them, stealing cellphones, money and jewelry". In one case, a group of men said that when they were leaving a protest since it turned violent, "soldiers surrounded the car, broke the windows and tossed a tear gas canister inside". A man then said that a soldier "fired a shotgun at him at close range" while in the vehicle. The men were then "pulled from the car and beaten viciously" then one soldier "smashed their hands with the butt of his shotgun, telling them it was punishment for protesters’ throwing rocks." The vehicle was then set on fire. One protester said that while detained, soldiers "kicked him over and over again." The protesters he was with "were handcuffed together, threatened with an attack dog, made to crouch for long periods, pepper sprayed and beaten." The protester then said that he was "hit so hard on the head with a soldier’s helmet that he heard it crack". A woman also said she was with her daughter when "they were swept up by National Guard soldiers, taken with six other women to a military post and handed over to female soldiers". The women then said that "soldiers beat them, kicked them and threatened to kill them". The women also said that soldiers threatened to rape them, cut their hair and "were released only after being made to sign a paper stating that they had not been mistreated."
Human Rights Watch reported that a man was going home and was attacked by National Guardsman dispersing a group of protesters. He was then hit by rubber bullets the National Guardsmen shot, beat by the National Guardsmen, and then shot in the groin. Another man was detained, shot repeatedly with rubber bullets, beat with rifles and helmets by three National Guardsman and was asked "Who's your president?" Some individuals that were arrested innocently were beaten and forced to repeat that Nicolas Maduro was president.
''NTN24'' reported from a lawyer that National Guardsmen and individuals with "Cuban accents" in Mérida forced three arrested adolescents to confess to crimes they did not commit and then the adolescents "kneeled and were forced to raise their arms then shot with buckshot throughout their body" during an alleged "target practice". NTN24 reported that some protesters were allegedly tortured and raped by government forces who detained them during the protests. El Nuevo Herald reported that student protesters had been tortured by government forces in an attempt for the government to make them admit they are part of a plan of foreign individuals to overthrow the Venezuelan government. In Valencia, protesters were dispersed by the National Guard in El Trigál where four students (three men and one woman) were attacked inside of a car while trying to leave the perimeter; the three men were imprisoned and one of them was allegedly sodomized by one of the officers with a rifle.
In an El Nacional article sharing interviews with protesters who were arrested, individuals explained their experiences in jail. One protester explained how he was placed into a 3 by 2 meter cell with 30 other prisoners where the inmates had to defecate in a bag behind a single curtain. The protester continued explaining how prisoners dealt punishments toward one another and the punishment for "guarimberos" was to be tied and gagged, which would allegedly occur without intervention from the authorities. Other arrested protesters interviewed also explained their fears of being imprisoned with violent criminals.
The director of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, Alfredo Romero, called for both the opposition and the Venezuelan government to listen to the claims of the alleged human rights violations that have not been heard. He also reported that a woman was tortured with electric shocks to her breasts. The Venezuelan Penal Forum also reported students being tortured with electric shocks, being beaten, and being threatened of being set on fire after they were doused in gasoline after they were arrested.
Human Rights Watch reported that, "not all of the security force members or justice officials encountered by the victims in these cases participated in the abusive practices. Indeed, in some of the cases ... security officials and doctors in public hospitals had surreptitiously intervened to help them or to ease their suffering". Some National Guardsman assisted detainees that were being held in "incommunicado". It was also reported that "[i]n several cases, doctors and nurses in public hospitals—and even those serving in military clinics—stood up to armed security forces, who wanted to deny medical care to seriously wounded detainees. They insisted detainees receive urgent medical care, in spite of direct threats—interventions that may have saved victims’ lives".
Government's response to abuses
The Venezuelan Attorney General's office reported it was conducting, as of the Human Rights Watch report, 145 investigations into alleged human rights abuses, and that 17 security officials had been detained in connection to them. President Maduro and other government officials have acknowledged human rights abuses, but said they were isolated incidents and not part of a larger pattern. When opposition parties asked for a debate about torture in the National Assembly, the Venezuelan government refused, blaming the violence on the opposition saying, "The violent are not us, the violent are in a group of opposition".
El Universal stated that Melvin Collazos of SEBIN, and Jonathan Rodríquez a bodyguard of the Minister of the Interior and Justice Miguel Rodríguez Torres, were in custody after shooting unarmed, fleeing, protesters several times in violation of protocol. President Maduro announced that the personnel who fired at protesters were arrested for their actions.
Innocent individuals arrested
According to Human Rights Watch, Venezuelan government authorities arrested many innocent people. They stated that "the government routinely failed to present credible evidence that these protesters were committing crimes at the time they were arrested, which is a requirement under Venezuelan law when detaining someone without an arrest warrant". They also explained that "Some of the people detained, moreover, were simply in the vicinity of protests but not participating in them. This group of detainees included people who were passing through areas where protests were taking place, or were in public places nearby. Others were detained on private property such as apartment buildings. In every case in which individuals were detained on private property, security forces entered buildings without search orders, often forcing their way in by breaking down doors." One man was in his apartment when government forces fired tear gas into the building. The man went to the courtyard for fresh air and was arrested for no reason after police broke into the apartments.
Apart from peaceful demonstrations, an element in some protests includes burning trash, creating barricades and have resulted in violent clashes between the opposition and state authorities. Human Rights Watch said that protesters "who committed acts of violence at protests were a very small minority—usually less than a dozen people out of scores or hundreds of people present". It was reported that barricades were the most common form of protest and that occasional attacks on authorities with Molotov cocktails, rocks and slingshots occurred. In rare instances, homemade mortars were used by protesters. The use of Molotov Cocktails in some cases caught authorities and some government vehicles on fire. President Maduro has stated that some protests "have included arson attacks on government buildings, universities and bus stations."
The National Guard alleged that they had prevented some violent students from the University of the Andes (ULA) from entering a premises. The governor of Aragua state, Tarek El Aissami, claimed that six opposition protesters were arrested for having firearms with one of the arrested being accused of allegedly shooting an officer with El Aissami saying, "He's a fascist. We ordered the Public Ministry and the entire judiciary application of all penalties" The article 68 of the constitution also states that "citizens have the right to demonstrate" as long as it is "peacefully and without weapons".
Throughout the protests, a common tactic that has divided opinions among Venezuelans and the anti-government opposition has been erecting burning street barricades, colloquially known as guarimbas. Street barricades, which stop vehicles from passing, violate the 50th article of the constitution of Venezuela, which grants the right of free transit. Initially, these barricades consisted of piles of trash and cardboard set on fire at night, and were easily removed by Venezuelan security forces. Guarimbas have since evolved into "fortress-like structures" of bricks, mattresses, wooden planks and barbed wire guarded by protestors, who "have to resort to guerrilla-style tactics to get a response from the government of President Nicolas Maduro". However, their use is controversial. Critics claim guarimbas, which are primarily erected in residential areas, victimize local residents and businesses and have little political impact.
President Maduro and poor sectors in some cities criticized barricades, with Maduro denouncing that “thousands of people are affected by a small group of ten or twenty persons”, and that “some of them don’t have access to health care, including children and elders”, although many opposition protesters argue that guarimbas are also used as a protection against armed groups, and not only as a form of protest. At some barricades, "guayas" or wires are placed near them. These wires are difficult for motorists to see and have reportedly killed a man on a motorcycle. Those who were protesting at the barricades claimed that the guayas were used for defense against Tupamaros and colectivos groups that had been allegedly "instilling terror" among the protesters. However, the government alleges that the guayas are placed groups of "fascists" saying that have "the sole intention of destabilizing". Contested statements claim that at least thirteen deaths had been attributed to opposition supporters at these barricades. It has also been reported that protesters have used homemade caltrops made of hose pieces and nails, colloquially known in Spanish as “miguelitos” or "chinas", to deflate motorbike tires. The government has also condemned their usage. Some protestors have cited videos of protests in Ukraine and Egypt as inspiration for their tactics in defending barricades and repelling government forces, such as using common items such as beer bottles, metal tubing, and gasoline to construct fire bombs and mortars, while using bottles filled with paint to block the views of tank and armored riot vehicle drivers. Common protective gear for protestors include motorcycle helmets, construction dust masks, and gloves. President Maduro claimed that barricades had resulted in more than 50 deaths.
Attacks on public property
Public property has been a frequent target of protestor violence. Attacks have been reported by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz on the Ministerio Publico's headquarters; by Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Manuel Fernandez on the headquarters of the nationalized telephone service CANTV in Barquisimeto; and by Mayor Ramón Muchacho on the Bank of Venezuela and BBVA Provincial. Many government officials have used social media to announce attacks and document damage. Carabobo state governor Francisco Ameliach used Twitter to report attacks by the "fascist right" on the United Socialist Party of Venezuela's headquarters in Valencia, as did José David Cabello after an attack by "armed opposition" on the headquarters of the National Integrated Service for the Administration of Customs Duties and Taxes. First Lady of Venezuela Vielma Karla Jimenez said the headquarters of the Fundacion de la Familia Tachirense had been attacked by "hooligans" and posted photographs of the damage on her Facebook page.
In some attacks, institutions have suffered severe damage. In anger over Maria Corina Machado being teargassed for trying to enter the National Assembly after having been expelled, some protestors attacked the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Works & Housing. President Maduro said the attack forced the evacuation of workers and about 89 children from the building after it had become "engulfed in flames" with much of the building's equipment destroyed and its windows shattered. Two weeks earlier, the Tachira state campus of the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces, a military university that was converted by government decree to a public university, was attacked with petrol bombs and largely destroyed. The dean, who blamed far-right groups, highlighted damage to the university's library, technology labs, offices, and buses. A National Guard officer stationed at the university was shot dead days later during a second attack on the campus.
Many vehicles have been destroyed, including those belonging to the national food distribution companies PDVAL and Bicentenario. Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon said 22 vehicles of the company Corpoelec had been burned and that some public property electricity distribution wires were cut down, the result of alleged "fascist vandalism." The Land Transport Minister, Haiman El Troudi, reported attacks on the transport system. President Maduro showed a video of "fascist groups" damaging transportation vehicles and reported that 50 damaged units will have to be replaced. Vehicles affected by the attacks on land transportation belong to various organizations and bus lines including BusCaracas, BusGuarenas-Guatire, Metrobus and the Caracas subway, with the consequence of the temporary closure of some transport routes and the closing down of stations of the Caracas subway to prevent damage.
Timeline of events
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (SVCO), 9,286 protests occurred in 2014, the greatest number of protests occurring in Venezuela in decades. The majority of protests, 6,369 demonstrations, occurred during the first six months of 2014 with an average of 35 protests per day. SVCO estimated that 445 protests occurred in January; 2,248 in February; 1,423 in March; 1,131 in April; 633 in May; and 489 in June. The main reason of protest was against President Maduro and the Venezuelan government with 52% of demonstrations and the remaining 42% of protests were due to other difficulties such as labor, utilities, insecurity, education and shortages. Most protesting began in the first week of February, reaching peak numbers in the middle of that month following the call of students and opposition leaders to protest.
The number of protests then declined into mid-2014 only to increase slightly in late 2014 into 2015 following the drop in the price of oil and due to the shortages in Venezuela; with protests denouncing shortages increasing nearly fourfold, from 41 demonstrations in July 2014 to 147 in January 2015. In January 2015, there were 518 protests compared to the 445 in January 2014, with the majority of these protests involving shortages in the country.
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President Maduro has said: "Beginning February 12, we have entered a new period in which the extreme right, unable to win democratically, seeks to win by fear, violence, subterfuge and media manipulation. They are more confident because the US government has always supported them despite their violence." The Venezuelan government claimed that the United States government is actively supporting the opposition and has been accused of meddling with Venezuelan affairs by trying to destabilize President Maduro through its "soft coup" tactic. In an op-ed in The New York Times, President Maduro said that the protesters actions had caused several millions of dollars' worth of damage to public property. He continued, saying that the protesters have an undemocratic agenda to overthrow a democratically elected government, and that they are supported by the wealthy while receiving no support from the poor. He also added that crimes by government supporters will never be tolerated and that all perpetrators, no matter who they support, will be held accountable for their actions, and that the government has opened a Human Rights Council to investigate any issues, as "every victim deserves justice". In an interview with The Guardian, President Maduro pointed to the United States' history of backing coups, citing examples such as the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, 1973 Chilean coup d'état, and 2004 Haitian coup d'état. President Maduro also highlighted whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations, U.S. state department documents, and 2006 WikiLeaks cables from the U.S.'s ambassador to Venezuela outlining plans to "'divide', 'isolate' and 'penetrate' the Chávez government" and revealing opposition group funding, some through USAid (which, according to an AP investigation, supposedly funded attempts to create political unrest and rioting in Cuba through social media) and the Office of Transition Initiatives, including $5 million earmarked for overt support of opposition political groups in 2014. The United States has denied all involvement in the Venezuelan protests with President Barack Obama saying, "Rather than trying to distract from protests by making false accusations against U.S. diplomats, Venezuela's government should address the people's legitimate grievances". USAID had also denied the alleged attempts of causing unrest in Cuba saying "the program was similar to others that the agency has financed in Africa, Asia and Latin America" and that the "programs are part of our mission to promote open communications”.
President Maduro also claimed that the government of Panama was interfering with the Venezuelan government. At the same time the Venezuelan government supporters commemorated the first year since the death of President Chávez, the Venezuelan government severed diplomatic relations with Panama. Three days following, the government declared cessation of economic ties with Panama.
During a news conference on 21 February, Maduro once again accused the United States and NATO of trying to overthrow his government through media and claimed that Elias Jaua will be able to prove it. President Maduro asked United States president Barack Obama for help with negotiations. On 22 February during a public speech at the Miraflores Palace, President Maduro spoke out against the media, international artists, and criticized the President of the United States saying, "I invoke Obama and his African American spirit, to give the order to respect Venezuela." On 26 February, President Maduro criticized the international artists and celebrities again saying, "They think because they are famous and we like their songs, they can determine what to do with the country, they were wrong about Venezuela, Venezuela is to be respected."
During a press conference on 18 March, President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello said that the government accused María Corina Machado of 29 counts of murder due to the deaths resulting from the protests. María Corina Machado was briefly detained when she arrived at Maiquetia Airport on 22 March and was later released that day.
On 3 April, President Maduro denounced a "secessionist" plan against Venezuela planned by the opposition. He declared that the Táchira, Mérida, Carabobo, Lara, Nueva Esparta and Zulia states would be part of the secessionist plan, that its objective was to divide the nation and that the states that accomplished it would be autonomous or would merge with the Republic of Colombia.
On 3 June, President Maduro claimed on his radio talk show that the United States and the Venezuelan opposition had plans to assassinate him saying Maria Corina Machado was involved in the plans, called her a "killer", and said that there was evidence from emails that he "did not want to publicly display".
The New York Times editorial board stated that such fears of a coup by President Maduro "appear to be a diversion strategy by a maniacal statesman who is unable to deal with the dismal state of his country’s economy and the rapidly deteriorating quality of life despite having the world’s largest oil reserves". The allegations made by the government were called by David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America as a form of unity, with Smilde saying, "When you talk about conspiracies, it's basically a way of rallying the troops. It's a way of saying 'this is no time for dissent'".
On 15 February, the father of Leopoldo Lopez said "They are looking for Leopoldo, my son, but in a very civilized way" after his house was searched through by the government. The next day, Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez announced that he would turn himself in to the Venezuelan government after one more protest saying, "I haven't committed any crime. If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I'll submit myself to this persecution." On 17 February, armed government intelligence personnel illegally forced their way into the headquarters of Popular Will in Caracas and held individuals that were inside at gunpoint. On 18 February, Lopez explained during his speech how he could have left the country, but "stayed to fight for the oppressed people in Venezuela". Lopez surrendered to police after giving his speech and was transferred to the Palacio de Justicia in Caracas where his hearing was postponed until the next day.
Human Rights Watch demanded the immediate release of Leopoldo Lopez after his arrest saying, "The arrest of Leopoldo López is an atrocious violation of one of the most basic principles of due process: you cannot imprison someone without evidence linking him with a crime".
During the last few weeks of March, the government began making more accusations and arresting opposition leaders. Opposition mayor Vicencio Scarano Spisso was tried and sentenced to ten and a half months of jail for failing to comply with a court order to take down barricades in his municipality which resulted in various deaths and injuries in the previous days. Adán Chávez, older brother of Hugo Chávez, joined the government's effort of criticizing opposition mayors who have supported the protest actions, stating that they "could end up like Scarano and Ceballos" by being charged for various cases. On 27 February, the government issued an arrest warrant for Carlos Vecchio, a leader of Popular Will on various charges.
On 25 March, President Maduro announced that three Venezuelan Air Force generals were arrested for allegedly planning a "coup" against the government and in support for the protests and will be charged accordingly. On April 29, Captain Juan Carlos Caguaripano Scott of the Bolivarian National Guard criticized the Venezuelan government in a YouTube video. He said that "As a national guard member who loves this country and is worried about our future and our children". He continued saying that, “There are sufficient reasons to demand the resignation of the president, to free the political prisoners” and said that the government conducted a "fratricidal war". This video was posted days after Scott was accused of plotting a coup against the government "joining three generals from the air force and another captain of the national guard already accused of plotting against the state".
225 Venezuelan military officers rejected the allegations against the three air force generals stating that to bring them before a military court "would be violating their constitutional rights, as it is essential first to submit a preliminary hearing" and asked the National Guard "to be limited to fulfill its functions under articles 320, 328 and 329 of the Constitution and cease their illegal activities repression of public order". The allegations against the air force generals were also seen by former Venezuelan officials and commanders as a "media maneuver" to gain support from UNASUR since President Maduro timed it for the meeting and was not able to give details.
Law enforcement actions
Sukhoi fighter jets of the Venezuelan Air Force were seen flying over San Cristóbal, Táchira, Venezuela on 20 February and President Nicolas Maduro ordered paratroopers of the 41st Airborne Brigade, 4th Armored Division, Venezuelan Army on standby on recommendations from the Minister of Interior and Justice, Lieutenant General Miguel Rodríguez Torres.
Personnel from the Bolivarian National Police and the Venezuelan National Guard were also seen firing weapons and bombs on buildings where opposition protesters were gathered. During a press conference, Minister of the Interior and Justice Miguel Rodriguez Torres denied allegations of Cuban special forces known as the "Black Wasps" of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces assisting the Venezuelan government with protests saying that the only Cubans in Venezuela were helping with medicine and sports.
The allegations that members of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces were in Venezuela began when many people reported images of a military transport plane deploying uniformed soldiers alleged to be Cuban. On 23 February, about 30 military units arrived at the residence of retired brigadier general Ángel Vivas to arrest him for allegedly "training" protestors to place barbed wire over the roads to injure government forces and pro-government protestors, resulting in one fatality in the process and many more wounded. According to CBC, Vivas "rose to prominence in 2007 when he resigned as head of the Defence Ministry's engineering department rather than order his subalterns to swear to the Cuban-inspired oath 'Socialist Fatherland or death'." Vivas reported that "Cubans and thugs" were attacking his house and moments later appeared atop the roof of his house wearing a flak jacket along with an assault rifle saying "Come find me Maduro!". National Guardsmen made a barricade in front of Vivas' house but neighbors and supporters defended Vivas by placing a barricade of vehicles in front of the troops. The troops retreated without arresting Vivas after the citizens refused to leave the area. Vivas later explained why he thought Venezuelans needed to defend the country from foreigners, saying "Cubans are in all structures of the Venezuelan state" and also explained that he told protesters to set up barricades in order to defend themselves against attacks from the National Guard.
On 27 January 2015, the Venezuelan Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, signed Resolution 8610 which stated that the "use of potentially lethal force, along with the firearm or an other potentially lethal weapon" could be used as a last resort by the Venezuelan armed forces "to prevent disorders, support the legitimately constituted authority and reject any aggression, facing it immediately and the necessary means". The resolution conflicted with Article 68 of the Venezuelan Constitution that states, "the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The law shall regulate the actions of the police and security in the control of public order".
The resolution caused outrage among some Venezuelans which resulted in protests against Resolution 8610, especially after the death of 14 year old Kluiberth Roa Nunez, which had protests days after his death numbering in the thousands. Students, academics and human rights groups condemned the resolution. International entities had expressed concern with Resolution 8610 as well, including the Government of Canada which stated that it was "concerned by the decision of the Government of Venezuela to authorize the use of deadly force against demonstrators" while the European Parliament demanded the repeal of the resolution entirely.
Days after the introduction of the resolution, Padrino López stated that critics "decontextualized" the decree calling it "the most beautiful document of profound respect for human rights to life and even the protesters". On 7 March 2015, Padrino López later announced that the Venezuelan government was expanding on Resolution 8610 to give more detailed explanations and that the decree "should be regulated and reviewed".
In an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Venezuela’s Failing State," Lopez lamented “from the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas" that for the past fifteen years, “the definition of ‘intolerable’ in this country has declined by degrees until, to our dismay, we found ourselves with one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, a 57 percent inflation rate and a scarcity of basic goods unprecedented outside of wartime.” The economic devastation, he added, “is matched by an equally oppressive political climate. Since student protests began on Feb. 4, more than 1,500 protesters have been detained, more than 30 have been killed, and more than 50 people have reported that they were tortured while in police custody,” thus exposing “the depth of this government's criminalization of dissent.” Addressing his incarceration, López recounted that on February 12, he had “urged Venezuelans to exercise their legal rights to protest and free speech – but to do so peacefully and without violence. Three people were shot and killed that day. An analysis of video by the news organization Últimas Noticias determined that shots were fired from the direction of plainclothes military troops.” Yet after the protest, “President Nicolás Maduro personally ordered my arrest on charges of murder, arson and terrorism….To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented.”
The student leader at University of the Andes marched with protesters and delivered a document to the Cuban Embassy saying, "Let's go to the Cuban Embassy to ask them to stop Cuban interference in Venezuela. We know for a fact that Cubans are in the barracks' and Miraflores giving instructions to suppress the people."
The opposition demonstrations that followed have been called by some as "Middle Class Protests". However, some lower class Venezuelans told student protesters visiting them that they also want to protest against the "worsening food shortages, crippling inflation and unchecked violent crime" but are afraid to since pro-government groups known as "colectivos" had "violently suppressed" demonstrations and had allegedly killed some opposition protesters too.
On 19 February, the MUD leader Henrique Capriles came from his silence about the occurring protests and confronted Francisco Ameliach, government officials and denounced the violence the government was using on the protesters. Henrique Capriles said he did not attend the National Peace Conference on 26 February because he did not want dialogue until he saw "results" from the government saying that, "it is the government that has to listen to our people, not the people listen to the government". Juan Requesens, leader of a student movement, called on the Catholic Church to mediate the situation in the country and help guarantee that human rights of Venezuelans will not be violated in the future.
A group of women by the name "Mujeres por la Vida" gathered to remind Venezuelans of those killed during the protest with opposition leader María Corina Machado saying, "Mr. Maduro and his regime, want to bury the faces of young Venezuelans who have been killed for their repression, their memory and their names, and thus their guilt in each of these events that have left wounded, killed, persecuted and tortured".
Beaches that were typically full of celebrations during the beginning of lent for Carnaval were empty due to the opposition protests and their call for the rejection of celebrating during such times. Protests continued during the Carnaval holiday after President Nicolas Maduro declared nearly a week of holiday events.
Public support of protests
Since the outset of the protests, peaceful daytime demonstrations advocating for policy changes and "redress of misgovernment" have received widespread support among the public. However, calls for regime change have been met with minimal backing while opposition leaders have struggled to win over politically-unaffiliated Venezuelans and members of the lower classes.
Support by the poor
Since the majority of protests have been limited to more affluent areas of major cities, many working-class citizens view the protests as unrepresentative of them and not working in their interests. This is especially evident in the capital Caracas, where in the wealthier east side of the city, protests have widely disrupted daily activities, while life in the poorer west side of the city—hit especially hard by the country's economic struggles—has largely continued as normal. Government support is also broad in western provinces where the proximity to Colombia has created a contraband industry around selling subsidized goods across the border, leading to the worst shortages in Venezuela. The New York Times describes this "split personality" as representative of a long-standing class divide within the country and a potentially crippling fault within the anti-government movement, recognized both by opposition leaders and President Maduro.
Despite this, many in Venezuela's slums, seen as "bulwarks of [government] support" thanks to social welfare programs, support the protesters due to frustrations over crime, shortages, and inflation. In some poor neighborhoods like Petare in western Caracas, residents that had benefitted from such government programs, joined protests against inflation, high murder rates and shortages. However, demonstrations in poor communities remain rare, partially out of fear of armed colectivos acting as community enforcers and distrust of opposition leaders. An Associated Press investigation that followed two students encouraging anti-government support in poor districts found much discontent among the lower classes, but those Venezuelans were generally more worried about possibly losing pensions, subsidies, education, and healthcare if the opposition were to gain power, and many stated they felt leaders on both sides were only concerned with their own interests and ambitions. The Guardian has also sought out viewpoints from the Venezuelan public. Respondents reiterated many of the core protest themes for their protester support: struggles with shortages in basic goods; crime; mismanagement of oil revenue; international travel struggles caused by difficulties in buying airline tickets and the "bureaucratic nightmare" of buying foreign currency; and frustration over the government's rhetoric regarding the alleged "far-right" nature of the opposition. Others offered a variety of reasons for not joining the protests, including: support for the government due to improvements in education, healthcare, and public transportation; pessimism over whether Maduro's ouster would lead to meaningful changes; and the belief that a capitalist model would be no more effective than a socialist model in a corrupt government system. However, later into the protests, 23 de Enero, a poor "pro-Chavez" barrio in Caracas, banged pots in protest after having more than 24 hours without electricity just days after a large blackout affected Venezuela days earlier.
Public support for the protests has also been affected by media coverage. Some outlets have downplayed, and sometimes ignored, the larger daytime protests, allowing the protest movement to be defined by its "tiny, violent guarimbero clique," whose radicalism undermines support for the mainline opposition and seemingly reinforces the government's narrative of "fascists" working to overthrow the government in what Maduro described as a "slow motion coup." An activist belonging to the Justice First party said, "Media censorship means people here only know the government version that spoiled rich kids are burning down wealthy parts of Caracas to foment a coup," creating a disconnect between opposition leaders and working-class Venezuelans that keeps protest support from spreading.
Analysis of support
Some Venezuelans contend that the protests—seen as "rich people trying to get back lost economic perks"—have only served to unite the poor in defense of the revolution. Analysts such as Steve Ellner, a political science professor at the University of the East in Puerto La Cruz, have expressed doubt over the protests' ultimate effectiveness if the opposition cannot create broader social mobilization. Eric Olson, associate director for Latin America at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, said disruption caused by protestors had allowed Maduro to use the "greedy economic class" as a scapegoat, which has been an effective narrative for gaining support because people "are more inclined to believe conspiracy theories of price gouging than the intricacies of underlining economic policies."
Poll and survey data
During the 2014 protests, various international and domestic opinion organizations showed the concerns of Venezuelans.
Alfredo Keller & Associates
In an early 2014 survey by Alfredo Keller & Associates, 64% of Venezuelans thought the government under President Maduro was worse than under President Chavez with only 39% of the population supporting President Maduro. 69% believed that the current situation was due to the Bolivarian government. 43% agreed that the government must leave constitutionally while 37% disagreed. In cases of various debates, 56% agreed with the opposition and 38% agreed with the government. 57% of Venezuelans disliked President Maduro. Venezuelans had positive opinions on Democratic Unity Roundtable, Fedecamaras and the United States while they had negative opinions on the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the Government of Cuba. In an Alfredo Keller & Associates June survey, 67% of those questioned found the situation in the country negative, 60% did not believe socialism turned Venezuela into a "world power" and 69% did not believe the Venezuelan government or the economy was successful. Respondents also said that if elections were held at the time, 42% would vote for MUD while 35% would vote for PSUV.
Croes, Gutierrez & Associates
A Venebarometro survey by Croes, Gutierrez & Associates, 50.9% said that the government under President Maduro had done a bad job at managing the country. 54.3% distanced themselves from President Maduro's government. 52.9% thought the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez was unjust. 69.7% believed the situation in the country was bad with insecurity being the largest principal problem. 51.3% of Venezuelans believed the government and President Maduro was responsible for the problems in Venezuela. 67.2% thought the protests were fair. 60.5% believed human rights violations occurred from the government. 69.2% said that the protests helped show flaws in President Maduro's government. 65.3% did not believe that colectivos should go to the streets to defend the government of President Maduro.
Luis Vicente León, the president of Datanálisis, announced on April 6 his findings that 70% who supported the protests at their start turned to 63% of Venezuelan rejecting the form of protests. He also announced that the results of his latest opinion studies showed President Maduro at between 42% and 45% popularity, while no opposition leader surpassed 40%. Another Datanálisis poll released on 5 May found that 79.5% of Venezuelans evaluated the country's situation as "negative". Maduro's disapproval rating had risen to 59.2%, up from 44.6% on November 2013. It also found that only 9.6% of the population would support the re-election of Maduro in 2019. The poll revealed that the Democratic Unity Roundtable had an approval rating of 39.6% compared to 50% of those who disapproved it; while the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela had a 37.4% approval rating, and a disapproval rating of 55%.
In a poll released on May 5 2015, Datanálisis found that 77% of respondents did not intend to participate in peaceful protests, while 88% would not participate in protests involving barricades. León attributed this to the criminalization of the protests, fears of government repression, and frustration over the protests' goals not being achieved. The poll also found that 70% would participate in upcoming parliamentary elections—a possible "exhaust valve" for channeling popular discontent—but León noted this represented weakened participation and that Venezuelans were preoccupied with economic and social issues.
In March 2014, a survey conducted by Datos, a Venezuelan group focusing on public opinion and consumers, found that more than half of Venezuelans blamed the Maduro government for the country's problems, and that 64% believed the government should get out of power constitutionally as soon as possible. When Venezuelans were asked about the overall situation in the country, 72.0% found the situation negative with more than half thinking it had worsened since President Maduro took office in 2013.
According to a Gallup poll, 52% of Venezuelans disapproved of President Maduro compared to 34% who approve. Confidence with the government dropped to a record low of 39%. 62% of citizens do not have confidence in the military. Gallup said that citizens protested because they believed that the "courts, national government -- including the national legislature -- and military negatively, and on any account are firmly under the control of the Maduro-led chavista party" and that "the perceived sickness in all the major organs of the body politic, many Venezuelans may feel as if they have no choice but to march on the streets, demanding justice and wise governance".
A survey in late March by Hercon Consultants showed that 53.7% of Venezuelans believed they lived under a dictatorship. 61.3% of respondents said they would vote for an opposition candidate if there were another elections while 32.9% said they would vote for Nicolas Maduro. 54.7% sided with the opposition. 73.5% say that opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is innocent of the crimes he has been charged with. 57% believed that the students are the "protagonist" of the political change in the country. 69% believed the situation in Venezuela is heading on a bad path. 68.5% think things will not get better in the next 3 months. 54.7% perceive that the current problems the country is facing is due to President Maduro. 61.3% believe that the government under President Maduro is worse. 51.7% believed the Venezuelan government should be changed constitutionally. 69.8% disagreed with the government's practice that is perceived as a "Cuban model".
Surveys conducted by the private consultancy firm Hinterlaces found that 87% of Venezuelans rejected violent demonstrations and barricades as instruments of protest, and that 79% view the current protests are potentially worsening the situation in general terms. Hinterlaces also found, in studies conducted in March, that 9 out of 10 Venezuelans favored peaceful, electoral and constitutional solutions, while less than 11% favor the President's immediate departure of the President. When asked about the management of President Maduro, 57% rated it as 'positive', whereas 41% rated it as 'negative'.
In a study conducted between April 1 and 7, Hinterlaces found that President Maduro had the support of a majority of Venezuelans: 51% of Venezuelans approve the management of the President. When asked about the possibility of Maduro to solve the country's problems, 52% of Venezuelans responded that he has the ability to do so, while 46% think that he does not.
International Consulting Services
A poll conducted by International Consulting Services (ICS), an organization created by Dr. Juan Vicente Scorza, sociologist and anthropologist for the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces, shows that the government maintained support among the Venezuelan people. ICS surveys conducted at the end of February found that 81% of Venezuelans believed that the protests were violent, and that 85.4% disagreed with their continuation. In surveys conducted in March, ICS found that 87.1% of Venezuelans considered that the protests 'in general' have been violent and also indicated that 63.3% trust President Maduro to solve the country's problems. According to the survey, if another election was held, Maduro would be re-elected with 55.8% of the votes (while 33.7% would favor the opposition candidate).
Venezuelan Data Analysis Institute
In a survey by Venezuelan Data Analysis Institute (IVAD), 55% of Venezuelans believed the Venezuelan government was no longer a democracy. 71.4% of Venezuelans thought positively about the student movement. 53% agreed with the idea of the resignation of President Maduro. If an election were to be held, 52.1% would not vote for President Maduro while 33.4% would. 57.5% thought negatively about the government of Nicolas Maduro. 67% thought Leopoldo Lopez was a political prisoner. 74% said the country's situation is negative with 53% saying the government is responsible for the country's problems. In April surveys, IVAD reported that 53.5% of Venezuelans demand the resignation of President Maduro and blame him for the economic situation. They also reported that over 70% believed that Venezuela was in an economic and political crisis. 86.0% agreed that the student movements were important. 67.7% thought that the protest showed President Maduro's failings. 60.9% did not believe President Maduro will solve the economic crisis. 51.6% of respondents agreed with that Leopoldo Lopez is held due to "political reasons" while 29.9% thought he was imprisoned justly. 54.3% disagreed with the removal of Maria Corina Machado from the National Assembly while 36.1% agreed with the move.
The Inter American Press Association protested against the "official censorship" of media by the government in Venezuela which included blocking the internet, banning channels, revoking foreign media credentials, harassing reporters and limiting resources for newspapers. The Association of Foreign News Correspondents in Venezuela also accused the government of assault, abuse, harassment, threats and robberies of reporters. The National Union of Journalists (SNTP) in Venezuela has said there has been at least 181 attacks on journalists and that there has been "82 cases of harassment, 40 physical assaults, 35 robberies or destruction of the work material, 23 arrests and a bullet wound" and that at least 20 attacks were performed by "colectivos". In response to the newspaper shortages and closing of 13 Venezuelan newspapers, the Colombian newspaper organization Andiarios has sent a caravan of trucks carrying 52 tons of resources to El Nacional, El Impulso and El Nuevo País as part of the "We are all Venezuela. No press freedom, no democracy" movement to help defend "press freedom and the right to information". Newspaper organizations in Puerto Rico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago have also shipped newspaper to Venezuela to help ease newspaper shortages caused by price restrictions set by the Venezuelan government.
Media coverage in Venezuela has been limited by the government; "anti-government television stations such as RCTV and Globovision had their licenses revoked and were forced to undergo changes in ownership, respectively." The government has, according to the opposition, "a powerful structure of radio stations, television stations and newspapers to have a communicational hegemony with their public funds" and does not provide reliable information from the Central Bank about the economy or any statistics about crime to journalists.
A group of Venezuelan artists have joined a group called "Eco", to speak out against violations and crimes that have happened in Venezuela during the protests. VTV made a satirical parody of the videos made by the Eco group.
On 15 March, President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello announced a new commission called the "Truth Commission" whose establishment was ordered by the president in order to show videos and images of "where fascism is."
Attacks on reporters
The Association of Foreign News Correspondents in Venezuela accused the government of assaulting reporters. The National Union of Journalists (SNTP) states that in the first few months of protests, 205 attacks have been made on 152 press workers. The National Institute of Journalists (CNP) stated that 262 attacks on the press occurred between February to June. According to El Nacional, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) had raided facilities of reporters and human rights defenders several times. It was also stated that SEBIN occasionally intimidated reporters by following them in unmarked vehicles where SEBIN personnel would "watch their homes and offices, the public places like bakeries and restaurants, and would send them text messages to their cell phones". On 22 April, reporters from La Patilla that were covering events in Santa Fe were retained by the National Guard. The team of reporters were accused of being "fake journalists", had to show their ID's to the National Guardsmen and had their pictures taken. They were later released without further complications. In another incident, a photojournalist from La Patilla was assaulted by National Police who tried to take his camera and hit him in the head with the butt of a shotgun while he covering protests in Las Mercedes. A week after being attacked in Las Mercedes, the same photojournalist for La Patilla was assaulted by the National Police again who tried to take his camera while covering protests in the Las Minitas neighborhood in Baruta. While covering protests on 14 May, a group of reporters said they were assaulted by the National Guard saying they were fired at and that the National Guard attempted to arrest a reporter. On 27 May, a reporter for La Patilla was attacked for the third time while covering clashes when he was shot by the National Guard. Two reporters were injured on 5 June after being shot with buckshot coming from a National Guard vehicle and reported it to Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Quero Silva of the National Guard, who denied their accounts. On 3 July, during a protest near the Catholic University of Táchira, an NTN24 reporter said he was arrested, beaten and had his passport and ID taken by National Police officers.
There were 34 resignations and 17 dismissals of journalists during the protests. The head of investigative journalists at Últimas Noticias resigned after being told not to do a story on guarimbas and after the manager tried to force her to say that the guarimbas were funded, that they were not protesters and to conclude the story by condemning them. While on air, Reimy Chávez, a news anchor for Globovision also resigned and was directed out of the studio by security guards. A cameraman who resigned from Globovisión shared images that were censored by the news agency showing National Guard troops and colectivos working together during the protests. A journalist for Globovision, Carlos Arturo Albino, resigned saying it was because "I do not want to be complicit silence. I'm not trained to be silent."
According to The Washington Post, the Venezuelan protests in 2014 were overlooked by the United States media by the crisis in Ukraine. The Post performed LexisNexis searches of the topics in Venezuela and Ukraine within news stories from the The Washington Post and The New York Times and found that the Ukrainian topics were nearly doubled compared to the Venezuelan topics.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights also said that, "Documenting the protests has been a challenge for members of the media and NGO's as the government has stifled the flow of information" and that "Journalists have been threatened and arrested, and had their equipment confiscated or had materials erased from their equipment." Equipment belonging to CNN was "stolen at gunpoint" and possibly destroyed by government forces. Those reporting the protests feel threatened by President Maduro who has created "an increasingly asphyxiating climate" for them. Television stations in Venezuela have hardly displayed live coverage of protests and had resulted in many opposition viewers moving to CNN.
President Maduro threatened to force CNN out of Venezuela saying, "I've asked the (information) minister to tell CNN we have started the administrative process to remove them from Venezuela if they don't rectify (their behavior). Enough! I won't accept war propaganda against Venezuela." On 21 February, the government revoked press credentials of seven CNN journalists with CNN responding to the government by saying, "CNN has reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela, even with very limited access to government officials ... We hope the government will reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in the fair, accurate and balanced manner we are known for."
The secretary general of Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to President Maduro condemning the censorship by the Venezuelan government and responding to Delcy Rodríguez who denied attacks on journalists by saying, "I can assure you that the cases documented by Reporters Without Borders and other NGOs such as Espacio Público, IPYS and Human Rights Watch were not imagined." According to Spanish newspaper El País, National Telecommunications Commission of Venezuela (Conatel) warned Internet service providers in Venezuela that they, "must comply without delay with orders to block websites with content contrary to the interests of the Government" in order to prevent "destabilization and unrest". It was also reported by El País that there will be possible automations of DirecTV, CANTV, Movistar and possible regulation of YouTube and Twitter.
Images on Twitter were reported to be unavailable for at least some users in Venezuela for 3 days (12–15 February) after allegedly being blocked by the government. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler stated that, "I can confirm that the images are now blocked Twitter in Venezuela" adding that "[w]e believe it the government that is blocking". However, the Venezuelan government published a statement saying that they did not block Twitter or images on Twitter, and implied that it was a technical problem.
It was reported that Internet access was unavailable in San Cristóbal, Táchira for up to about half a million citizens from an alleged blockage of service by the government. This happened after President Maduro threatened Táchira that he would "go all in" and that citizens "would be surprised". Internet access was reported to be available again one day and a half later.
According to the Huffington Post, the alleged internet blockage by the government seems to have been directed at the opposition since it prevented live coverage of government crackdowns with Zello announcing that CANTV blocked the use of its walkie-talkie app that was used by opposition protesters. In an interview with La Patilla, Chief Technology Officer of Zello, Alexey Gavrilov, said that after they opened four new servers for Venezuela, it still appeared that the same direct blocking from CANTV is the cause of the Zello outage. The Venezuelan government said Zello was blocked due to "terrorist acts" and statements by TeleSUR about radical opposition after the government monitored staged messages from "internet trolls" that used a Honeypot trap against authorities.
State media censorship
During her speech at the National Assembly, María Corina Machado had the camera taken off of her while she was presenting those who were killed and while criticizing Luisa Ortega Díaz saying, "I heard the testimony of Juan Manuel Carrasco who was raped and tortured and the Attorney General of this country has the inhuman condition to deny and even mock".
Censoring of domestic media
One threat a journalist faced was a note placed on her car by someone belonging to the Tupamaros. The note was titled, "Operation Defense of the Socialist Revolution, Anti-Imperialist, and Madurista Chavista" said that her actions "promote destabilizing actions of fascist groups and stateless persons who seek to overthrow the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro, probably financed and paid by the squalid and bourgeois right have burned the country". They gave the reporter and ultimatum saying they knew where her and her family stayed telling her to "immediately stop communication" or she would suffer consequences in order to "enforce the Constitution and keep alive the legacy of our supreme commander and eternal Hugo Chavez".
Censoring of foreign media
The Colombian news channel NTN24 was taken off the air by CONATEL (the Venezuelan government agency appointed for the regulation, supervision and control over telecommunications) for "promoting violence". President Maduro also denounced the Agence France-Presse (AFP) for manipulating information about the protests. CNN teams covering the protests had their equipment taken by government security forces and possibly even destroyed. On 25 February, President Maduro proposed taking CNN off the cable grid and replacing it with Zum TV, a "Venezuelan youth channel" saying about CNN, "There is a case against the illegal practices of sponsoring violence and terrorism ... you replace the CNN channel that wants terrorist violence, lying about Venezuela, bringing the civil war and justifying foreign intervention and would rather give the world a peaceful channel like Zum TV ".
Social media is an essential tool for Venezuelans to show the news in the streets, which contradicts most official news from the government and most stories have to be compiled together from cell phone videos on small websites. The popularity of social media to some Venezuelans is due to a lack of trust, supposed propaganda from state owned media and alleged "self-censorship" that private media now uses in order to please the government. According to Mashable, Twitter is very popular in Venezuela and according to an opposition figure, "Venezuela is a dictatorship, and the only free media is Twitter," Protesters use Twitter since "traditional media" has been unable to cover the protests and so that, "the international community can notice what's happening and help us spread the word in every corner," However, the government has been accused of using Twitter as a propaganda tool when it allegedly "purchased followers, created fake accounts to boost pro-government hashtags, and hired a group of users to harass critics" and claiming protesters were "fascists" that were trying to commit a "coup d'état".
"The social networks have come to be an alternative media," states Tarek Yorde, a Caracas-based political analyst. "But both sides, the government and opposition, use them to broadcast false information." Some photographs, often outdated or from protests in various countries around the world including Syria, Chile and Singapore, have been circulated by the opposition through social media to foment dissent. In an interview with The Nation, Venezuelan writer and member of the Venezuelan Council of State Luis Britto García referenced such photographs as evidence of the opposition's campaign to falsely portray the protests as having widespread student support when the protests instead involve, as he claimed, only a few hundred students in a country with 9.5 million of them.
Usage of false media also applies to the government when President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, shared a photo on a VTV program showing an alleged "gun collection" at the home of Ángel Vivas, when it was really a photo taken from an airsoft gun website. Minister of Tourism, Andrés Izarra, also used old images of crowded ferries from August 2013 trying to indicate that life is back to normal in Venezuela and a massive mobilization of ferries are on their way to Margarita Island. Student protesters contested the statement, saying there is no Carnaval celebrations on the island and that "here there is nothing to celebrate; Venezuela is mourning". President Maduro allegedly played a video, edited specifically in order to accuse mayor of Chacao of promoting barricades.
- 20px Caribbean Community – condemned the violence during the protests, calls for respect for the democratically elected government and Maduro. CARICOM said that every citizen has the right to peacefully express their views within the constitutional framework. The statement also called for dialogue between the parties.
- 23x15px European Union – is deeply concerned about the incidents that took place in Caracas on 12 February, including the death of at least three people during protests and called on all parties to engage in dialogue to peacefully resolve the crisis. On 27 February 2014, the European Parliament said, "Only respect for fundamental rights, constructive and respectful dialogue and tolerance can help Venezuela to find a way out of its current violent crisis". In January and February 2015, MEPs condemned the arrest of protesters and began talks of possible targeted sanctions toward the Venezuelan government.
- 23x15px Mercosur – rejected "the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in Venezuela as a political tool". The statement called for further dialogue in Venezuela on national issues, and send condolences to the families of those killed.
- Organization of American States – Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said that, "The Catholic Church or foreign ministers of South American countries could mediate between the government and the opposition in Venezuela". They also rejected violence, called for avoiding confrontation, called for a broad dialogue with respect for the law and also asked to investigate the deaths.
- 20px Union of South American Nations – expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan government and the families of victims, rejected the "attempt to destabilize legitimately constituted democracy" and they also called for peace. However, on 17 February 2014, UNSAR stated "We urge Venezuela to respect the democratic principles that are anchored in the process of regional integration." On 8 March, UNASUR said they would have a meeting of foreign ministers to talk about the unrest in Venezuela. The Chancellor of Ecuador, Ricardo Patiño, said a commission of the Union of South American Nations will hold a meeting in Caracas the 25 and 26 March to accompany the political dialogue.
- 23x15px United Nations – is deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in Venezuela, including the death of at least three people during protests and called on all parties to engage in dialogue to peacefully resolve the crisis. OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva: “We have also received worrying reports of intimidation of journalists, some of whom have had their equipment seized, as well as reports that some local and international journalists were attacked while covering the protests. In addition, some protestors have reportedly been detained and may be prosecuted on terrorism charges. It has also been reported that some protesters, including minors, are being denied contact with family or lawyers”. United Nations Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon said that he, "urged Venezuelan authorities to listen to the legitimate aspirations of those protesting" and made no mentions of the National Peace Conference that President Maduro held. On 10 March, the United Nations received new allegations of torture with Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Convention against Torture, Juan Mendez, saying, "We want them to be thoroughly investigated; the tortures are very, very severe," and that, "We found the report credible enough to initiate such communication, but of course we are waiting for the government response." Méndez continued his statements saying that Leopoldo Lopez is in solitary confinement in a "dangerous" prison and that, "Mr. Lopez is accused of inciting the violent demonstrations and do so on behalf of foreign powers. The government has to prove it, but meanwhile, the act of stopping someone who has organized a peaceful demonstration, and just because some parts of this demonstration were violent, it seems excessive".
- 23x15px Argentina – Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that, "After recent events in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Argentine government reiterates its strong support for the constitutional government elected by the citizens of that country, and notes the clear efforts of destabilization that confront institutional order in our brother nation" and explained the "priority" of countries in the region to have "an active solidarity and common defense against the actions of authoritarian groups, corporations and those linked to financial and productive speculation".
- 23x15px Australia – Former Minister for International Development and Australian member of parliament Melissa Parke denounced the violent actions committed by the Venezuelan government and said, "The suppression of the media and the erosion of the rule of law in Venezuela is a very worrying step in the wrong direction for this once prosperous country. In my view, the government-led violence against civilians and the control of the media have no place in a peaceful and democratic Venezuela.
- 23x15px Bolivia – Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that Bolivia expressed "full support for democracy in Venezuela" and accused the Venezuelan opposition of staging a "coup".
- 23x15px Brazil – Brazilian officials close to the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, said she was "disappointed" with some of President Maduro's acts and was worried about the "Venezuelan government's repression of recent street protests, and Maduro's refusal to hold genuine dialogue with opposition leaders" and spoke cautiously in order to be able to keep in dialogue with President Maduro. Foreign Minister of Brazil, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said that the government pays close attention to the Venezuelan situation and hoped that a convergence can be found, he also expressed hopes that the riots will stop and lamented on behalf of the Brazilian government, the loss of life and the destroyed property during demonstrations. Ricardo Ferrao, President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Brazil stated that the Brazilian senate had asked the executive branch that is headed by President Rousseff to "manifest itself in protecting the integrity of the determined opposition" and to protect María Corina Machado saying the actions taken against her were "evidence of abuse of rights and guarantees of due process principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations".
- 23x15px Canada – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, John Baird, said "We are alarmed by the increasing violence and arrests, injuries and deaths during protests. Our deepest condolences to the families of the victims", he asked that all detainees, all deaths and reports of abuses by the government security forces are investigated.
- 23x15px Chile – Outgoing President of the Republic of Chile Sebastián Piñera said, "We call on all parties to act in the way democracy is to respect the liberties, freedom of expression and human rights of all citizens by the government, and respect the rule of law and peace manifested by citizens," Chile also regretted the deaths in Caracas and expressed its condolences to the people and government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, especially the families of the victims. Chile also encourages an "open and constructive dialogue". The Embassy of Chile accepted reports from some opposition members "that collects the continuing violations of human rights that have exposed thousands of Venezuelans," with Chilean ambassador Mauricio Ugalde saying, "I formally request that at the next meeting of UNASUR, the learning that has been left by the Chilean people, their incessant struggle for investigation and defense of human rights characterized their position in the Venezuelan conflict".
- 23x15px China – Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Hua Chunying said, "We believe that the Venezuelan government and its people have the ability to properly manage their internal affairs, maintain national stability and promote social and economic development" and urged the United States and Venezuela to improve relations saying, "We hope that both sides adhere to the principles of equality and mutual respect, increase dialogue and improve relations. This kind of mutual respect and equal footing serves the interests of both countries and contributes to the overall development of the entire Latin American region".
- 23x15px Colombia – President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos was concerned and said, "From Colombia, I would like to call for calm, for opening channels of communication among the different political forces in Venezuela in order to ensure the stability of the country and respect for institutions and fundamental freedoms". Colombia also deplored the violence and expressed condolences to the families, the people and the Venezuelan government. Also called for dialogue and said that Venezuela's stability is important to Colombia, Venezuela itself and the region. Colombia, the United States and other countries have also been in talks about potentially mediating in Venezuela.
- 23x15px Costa Rica – The Costa Rican government deplored the violence, called on the Venezuelan authorities to "investigate and establish responsibilities for the victims and wounded," said he has hopes that "being resolved by way of dialogue and understanding" are achieved and that is a matter that concerns Costa Rica but that Venezuelans should resolve without interference. The Legislature of Costa Rica also expressed that they were "appalled by the climate of violence, intolerance and the arrest and prosecution lifting immunity without just cause or process attached to the rule of law democratically elected political leaders, civil society leaders, students and opposition leaders" and called for "national, regional and other actors to make an appeal to parliaments real, independent and constructive dialogue based on enforceable commitments in respect of international law".
- 23x15px Cuba – The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Venezuelan opposition, calling their demonstrations "coup attempts" and expressed solidarity with the government of Maduro.
- 23x15px Denmark – President of the Parliament of Denmark, Mogens Lykketoft, said in a meeting with Mexico that they wanted to "contribute towards a solution" to the situation in Venezuela.
- 23x15px Ecuador – President of Ecuador Rafael Correa expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan people and government, said the vast majority of the Venezuelan people are not violent but honest and hardworking. Ecuador also condemned the violence and expressed support for the Maduro government.
- 23x15px Germany – Foreign Minister of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, saw "great concern" with the violence and spokesman of the German Foreign Ministry, Sawsan Chebli, said, "We must respect the right to peaceful protest . Criminalization of protesters and opponents and the use of military forces are not the right steps towards a peaceful solution." concluding that, "This call is primarily directed to the Venezuelan government".
- 23x15px Guatemala – The Government of Guatemala said that it "rejects violence and promotes citizen security and stability in the country. Likewise, believes that at all times the democratic institutions and the full respect for human rights must be guaranteed" and asked for "dialogue among all sectors". The Congress of Guatemala said that "it is evident that there are attacks on the press and free speech by censoring news and digital media such as social networks and others that do not allow the diffusion of the real situation" and expressed "opposition to any measure of government persecution and repression by groups protected by the government against political parties, civil movements and citizens who peacefully express their discontent.
- 23x15px Guyana – Government of Guyana rejected the violence in Venezuela, expressed solidarity with the Venezuelan government and states that it fully supports its efforts to contain the destabilizing actions.
- Template:Country data Iran – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham condemned vandalism, the murder of innocent civilians, destroying of public property and any other actions that creates instability for Venezuela. She also said the that Venezuela has the full support of Iran "to strengthen peace, friendship and enhance democracy and the stable development" of Venezuela.
- 23x15px Mexico – The Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs said that they regretted the violence, expressed its condolences to the families of the dead and said, "any differences should be resolved within the framework of dialogue, the respect for institutions and international law,".
- 23x15px Nicaragua – The First Lady of Nicaragua and presidential spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, accused the "fascist right" of violence and expressed support for the government of President Maduro.
- 23x15px Panama – Foreign Minister of Panama, Francisco Alvarez de Soto, said his government is concerned about the Venezuelan situation and understands that it is an internal process but Panama wishes for peace, tolerance and dialogue. President Maduro accused Panama of pushing for regional organizations to intervene in Venezuela and on 5 March severed diplomatic relations. President Ricardo Martinelli has called on Venezuela not to default on its debt that tops US$1billion because of severed diplomatic relations.
- 23x15px Peru – President of the Republic of Peru Ollanta Humala said, "I call upon the Government of Venezuela, its authorities, its political forces and citizens, to make maximum efforts for democracy and respect for the rights of all persons, regardless of their political position prevails," and concluded his statement saying, "Defend the climate of peace because peace can only strengthen our democracies, build prosperity and development for our peoples," Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that they are deeply concerned with the violence in Venezuela. They recommended dialogue between groups with respect to democratic values and human rights. Peru also shared condolences for the victims and those injured in the protests. Three members of the Congress of Peru, Martín Belaúnde, Luis Galarreta and Cecilia Chacón, helped shelter opposition leader María Corina Machado when she arrived in Venezuela with Galarreta saying, "We came to support Maria Corina Machado by this unusual and unacceptable arbitrariness that you want to do."
- 23x15px Russia – The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the unrest in Venezuela and also trusts that the government of President Maduro will preserve the constitutional order. Russia also shows its "solidarity with the government and people, and strong support for the policy that aims to prevent the destabilization of a nation".
- 23x15px Spain – The Spanish Congress of Deputies asked the Venezuelan government to respect democracy, human rights and to end "all forms of harassment towards the peaceful opposition". They also asked for the government to stop paramilitary groups from being able to, "act with impunity attacking protesters and activists of the Venezuelan opposition" and for President Maduro to stop the "harassment of the media critical of his regime" Spain has also stopped exporting riot control agents to Venezuela to help start dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.
- 23x15px Syria – President of Syria Bashar al-Assad expressed his support in a letter to President Maduro, to reject the "attempt to sow chaos" in both Syria and Venezuela, expressing confidence that Venezuela will surpass this experience with the achievements and legacy of former president Hugo Chávez.
- 23x15px United Kingdom – Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, William Hague said that the Government of the United Kingdom is "very concerned about the violence" in the demonstrations and "reports of arrests of opposition activists" and said that the Venezuelan government should uphold "freedom of the press and opinion".
- 23x15px United States – After the Venezuelan government ordered three United States diplomats out of the country, accusing them of organizing the protests in order to overthrow the government, the U.S. responded on 25 February by expelling three Venezuelan diplomats from their country. Multiple officials from the United States condemned the handling of the protests by the Venezuelan government. Some officials proposing targeted sanctions on Venezuelan government officials that they say violated human rights, however, these proposed sanctions have been debated.
- President of the United States Barack Obama stated, "Rather than trying to distract from protests by making false accusations against U.S. diplomats, Venezuela's government should address the people's legitimate grievances." and called on Venezuela to release detained protesters. President Obama also said, "Along with the Organization of American States, we call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters it has detained and engage in real dialogue." In a personal letter to a resident of Miami, President Obama also said that "he was concerned for the Venezuelan people and is working behind the scenes to do what he can to support the people oppressed".
- Vice President of the United States Joe Biden called the situation "alarming", accused the government of, "Confronting peaceful protesters with force and in some cases with armed vigilantes; limiting the freedoms of press and assembly necessary for legitimate political debate; demonizing and arresting political opponents; and dramatically tightening restrictions on the media" and said that instead of working on dialogue, "Maduro has thus far tried to distract his people from the profound issues at stake in Venezuela by concocting totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States."
- United States Secretary of State John Kerry expressed grievances towards affected families of the violence and is "particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protesters and issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez". Days later, John Kerry said, "The government's use of force and judicial intimidation against citizens and political figures, who are exercising a legitimate right to protest, is unacceptable and will only increase the likelihood of violence."
- John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps general and Commander of the United States Southern Command, said to a Senate committee that in Venezuela, "It is a situation that is obviously just coming apart in front us, and unless there is some type of a miracle that either the opposition or the Maduro government pulls out, they are going down catastrophically in terms of economy, in terms of democracy," Kelly also wished that, "somehow Venezuelans resolve this themselves" and that, "larger U.S. government agencies are paying close attention" to monitor the cyber tools the Venezuelan government is allegedly using against its citizens.
- Members of the United States Congress pushed for the United States to place sanctions on Venezuela due to human rights violations during the protests. However, President Obama only concentrated on imposing individual sanctions on Venezuelan officials. On 5 March, John Kerry said that the United States was ready to place sanctions on Venezuela if the OAS did not get involved with dialogue. On 8 May, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing discussing human rights violations by the Venezuelan government and proposals of sanctions by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that later passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill, called the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act (H.R. 4587; 113th Congress), passed the House of Representatives in a voice vote on May 28, 2014. The sanctions performed under the bill would be directed at Venezuelan government officials who were involved in acts that mistreated protesters and would result in those who were sanctioned having their assets frozen and being barred from entering the United States.
- On 30 July, the spokeswoman for the State Department, Marie Harf, stated that, "The Secretary of State decided to impose restrictions on travel to the United States a number of Venezuelan officials responsible for or complicit in human rights violations" and concluded stating "Our message is clear: those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States".
- On 20 November, the US Deputy National Security Advisor of President Obama, Tony Blinken, stated that the Obama administration would work with the United States Congress to move forward and impose targeted sanctions on Venezuela after diplomatic efforts by Latin American countries failed to release opposition leaders and lead toward electoral changes. A month later on 18 December 2014, President Obama sign the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 into law, granting targeted sanctions such as freezing assets or denying visas of those in Venezuela accused of violating human rights during the protests.
- 23x15px Uruguay – President of Uruguay José Mujica considered that the demonstrations are a result of the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela.
- 23x15px Holy See – Secretary of State of the Vatican, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, met with Jorge Roig discussing the situation in Venezuela and the need for dialogue. Parolin once again affirmed the Catholic Church's commitment to help bring peace to the people of Venezuela.
15px Holy See – Pope Francis asked for an end to violence and said, "I sincerely hope the violence and hostility ends as soon as possible, and that the Venezuelan people, beginning with the responsible politicians and institutions, act to foster national reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue."
- The president of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, Bishop Diego Padrón said that, "the claim of the official party and authorities of the Republic to implement the so-called plan of the country (established by the late President Hugo Chavez), behind which the imposition of a totalitarian government is hiding" and denounced "the abusive and excessive repression against them (the protesters), the torture they have undergone many of the detainees and the prosecution mayors and contrary Members of the ruling (...) The government is wrong to want to solve the crisis by force, repression is not the way". Padrón also asked the government to, "ensure protection for the demonstrators, to provide explanations for the arrests and list charges against those in custody, and to listen to the people". The Venezuelan Bishops Conference condemned the government over an abuse of authority saying it "has gone beyond the limits causing unfortunate and irreversible consequences" and asked the government to stop "colectivos" from "committing criminal actions". On 11 July, during the 102nd Ordinary Meeting of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV), the CEV demanded the release of political prisoners, said that a "totalitarian political model and a centralized education" is threatening in Venezuela, denounced criminalization of the protests and said there will be no solution to the protests until the "causes of the protests are met".
- Amnesty International – Amnesty International has asked the government to investigate the deaths. Guadalupe Marengo said: “It is extremely concerning that violence has become a regular feature during protests in Venezuela. If the authorities are truly committed to preventing more deaths, they must ensure those responsible for the violence, demonstrators, security forces and armed civilians alike face justice. The Venezuelan authorities must show they are truly committed to respect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly by ensuring they can participate in protests without fear of being abused, detained or even killed. It is essential that journalists are allowed to report events freely and human right defenders are able to monitor demonstrations.”. They have claimed that the government has started a "witch hunt against opposition leaders" after the arrest of Daniel Ceballos.
- Carter Center and the Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter – a 20 February statement strongly condemned the detention of students; expressed particular concern about the arrest of Lopez and the raid of the office of his political party without a warrant; and expressed similar concern about the obstacles to media reporting. Point-by-point, they "condemned" the "repression of peaceful demonstrations and the arbitrary detention of Venezuelan students" and the "arbitrary arrest of political leaders"; called for the release of detainees and independent inquiries into the violence; asked the Venezuelan government to adhere to the Inter-American Democratic Charter; and reminded all Venezuelans that protests should be peaceful.
- Club de Madrid – A group of 96 former heads of government of numerous countries gathered denouncing the "rapid deterioration" of human rights in Venezuela and signed a statement asking the government, "to immediately release political prisoners and Leopoldo López and the cessation of the persecution of political leaders" and asked the international community "to join in a concerted effort to strengthen democracy and the preservation of peace in Venezuela".
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs – commends the Venezuelan government for "show[ing] restraint and resolve in the face of violent anti-Chavista mayhem."
- European United Left–Nordic Green Left – condemns "the attempted coup in Venezuela, violence by opposition groups in Venezuela, and regrets the loss of life and destruction of public property in the country. We likewise denounce the undemocratic and insurgent aims of this destabilisation campaign, unleashed onto the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities by extremist groups. We hold the opposition forces and the Venezuelan right (supported by the U.S with links to the dominant forces in the EU) responsible for these actions and their dire consequences".
- Human Rights Foundation – condemned the crackdown on the political opposition with the chairman of Human Rights Foundation, Garry Kasparov, saying, "The shadow of dictatorship is quickly falling upon Venezuela. The imprisonment of a prominent human rights activist and hundreds of students inside the political police’s dungeons is a step toward the complete silencing of civil society by the Venezuelan regime”.
- Human Rights Watch – José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said: “What Venezuela urgently needs is for these killings to be investigated and the killers brought to justice, no matter their political affiliation. What Venezuela does not need is authorities scapegoating political opponents or shutting down news outlets whose coverage they don’t like.”
- International Socialist Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean – asked the Venezuelan government for the release of "all students and political prisoners and an end to the persecution of opponents" and also asked for the life and safety of Venezuelans.
- Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights - President Kerry Kennedy said she is "deeply concerned about the deaths during protests, censorship and intimidation against members of the press, and arrests of students and opposition leaders" and condemned "government repression of peaceful demonstrators and the arrest of elected officials".
- Socialist International – Socialist International said they understood the causes for protest because of "people being killed and injured, opposition leaders being persecuted, with restrictions on freedoms, including the freedom of information, amongst others". Socialist International also condemned the deaths of protesters asking the government to stop irregular groups that shot protesters from acting with impunity.
- Washington Office on Latin America – called for "renewed commitment to dialogue on behalf of the government and protesters alike", and encouraged "both President Maduro and opposition leaders to take every opportunity to unequivocally condemn acts of violence, regardless of the source."
- Hackers from multiple countries, including the internet vigilante group Anonymous, have infiltrated Venezuelan government websites due to the alleged repression and censorship of the people in Venezuela. A member of Anonymous said, "I would say this is one of the biggest cooperative operations involving South American Anons and Anons from the rest of the world to date" when members of another hacker group, LulzSec Peru, also hacked into the government's United Socialist Party of Venezuela Twitter official account.
- International celebrities DJ Steve Aoki, Cher and Rihanna all asked for prayers and peace in Venezuela. At the 2014 Oscars, Jared Leto said in solidarity with the opposition during his acceptance speech for best supporting actor, "To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen and live the impossible, we are thinking of you tonight." Also, during the 2014 Oscars, Kevin Spacey said, "Venezuela don't give up, everybody has the right to express themselves!" with Forest Whitaker also saying he was "deeply saddened by the violence in Venezuela" and that, "Everybody has the right to have their voice heard." Madonna took sides with the opposition saying, "Apparently Maduro is not familiar with the phrase "Human Rights"! Fascism is alive and thriving in Venezuela and Russia." Singers Enrique Iglesias, Willie Colón, and Rubén Blades also supported the opposition, with Blades criticizing President Maduro for not being able to "direct such a complex country". Maduro responded to Blades's criticism by inviting him to the country to perform a peace song along with Maduro which Blades turned down. Colón retweeted photos of the protests while saying to the president "Nicolás the blood of the students will choke you!" Twelve Venezuelan baseball players for the Detroit Tigers including Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Anibal Sanchez showed their support for the opposition holding signs saying "SOS Venezuela" or "Pray for Venezuela". The Venezuelan protests became the highlight of the 2014 Lo Nuestro Awards where artists including Marc Anthony, Marco Antonio Solís, Banda el Recodo, and Chino & Nacho expressed prayer and a call for the violence to end. Miss Universe 2013, Maria Gabriela Isler, attended the Carolina Herrera Fashion Show and said, "To all Venezuelans have in my heart all day, and although we are going through very difficult times, I want you to know that I do not believe in coincidences and God gave me the opportunity for Venezuela, this year – around the world and to represent and raise my voice for each of my brothers. We are a fighting people, but above all, we are a people of faith, so God willing things will be better ... We must have faith". Maria also criticized the Venezuelan government, especially after she had to deal with shortages, no electricity and her lack of safe drinking water. Singers Ricardo Montaner, Juanes, and Luis Fonsi have also expressed their solidarity to Venezuela holding signs saying "Pray for Venezuela".
- There were also protests in other countries, some in support of President Maduro and some against him. Across the United States hundreds of Venezuelan Americans gathered who sympathize with the protesters. In Canada, protestors in Calgary gathered on Peace Bridge to support the opposition and called on the Government of Canada to put pressure on the Venezuelan government. A Venezuelan opposition group, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, has created the Gran Protesta Mundial, a worldwide protest movement denouncing alleged "violation of human rights" by the Venezuelan government. It seeks to carry out protests in over 150 cities in dozens of countries including Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, United Kingdom and the United States. In Doral, Florida, more than 20,000 protesters were at the SOS Venezuela rally that was part of the Gran Protesta Mundial. In San Francisco, California, demonstrators dressed in colors of the Venezuelan flag made a human chain across the Golden Gate Bridge to raise awareness about government corruption and freedom of expression in Venezuela. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the White House, protesting against the Venezuelan government, violence and for the release of opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez. In Argentina protests were held both in support and against of Maduro. In Ukraine, protesters from the current 2014 Ukrainian Revolution in Kiev showed their support to the opposition saying, "Venezuela-Ukraine together for freedom and dignity." In the cities of Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, protesters showed solidarity with the opposition and protested against censorship and police repression in front of the United Nations Office at Geneva. In Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, United States and other countries, the organization VenMundo made the "JusticiaYPazVzla" human chain to show support for Venezuelan political prisoners and students. A protest was held on 9 April in New York against the US intervention in the conflict. Their motto was "End the media's lies about Ukraine and Venezuela!". The group Venezuela Solidarity has called for demonstrations supporting Maduro's government in Toronto 
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