By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Scenes of unrest in Venezuela’s capital, mere blocks away from the Miraflores Presidential Palace, were seen Thursday, a strange new sight in a city were anti-government protests are usually confined to middle-class neighborhoods and downtown is considered pro-Maduro turf.
While the pro-Maduro mayor of the area, Jorge Rodriguez, said the unrest was caused by “Bandera Roja”, a left-wing organization formerly affiliated with “chavismo”, the opposition said Thursday’s protests represented “a country acting in self defense”, according to Opposition-head Chuo Torrealba.
According to local and social media, six protesters were arrested, including at least one woman.
Crisis Group, a security consultancy, had warned that Venezuela is in “conflict risk alert” and in a “deteriorated situation” where food shortages had caused “increased incidents of looting."
At one point a group of people tried to reach the Miraflores Palace on foot but were stopped by the National Guard, which had to fire tear-gas grenades and confront protesters physically.
Downtown Caracas is, according to the government, “territorio chavista” (chavista territory) and anti-government protests there are, indeed, extremely rare there. The AP called the protest “rare…apparently spontaneous”.
Two downtown Caracas avenues, Fuerzas Armadas and Urdaneta, were the center of the mayhem, with at least six persons arrested, according to local media. Witnesses told of a food riot devolving into anti-Maduro protests.
The National Guard repressed the crowd while a group of “colectivos” (biker gangs of pro government enforcers) attacked media trying to cover the riot-turned-protests. THEIR BRAND IS “CRISIS”
In an analysis published also Thursday morning, the consultancy firm of Crisis Group had warned of more and more looting triggered by food shortages.
“Public anger over the lack of food and other basic goods grew, with increased incidents of looting,” could be felt in Venezuela during the month of May, according to the firm’s latest report.
“The month saw Venezuela’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis worsen amid heightened tensions between the government and opposition, a situation which could lead to state collapse and regional destabilization,” read the analysis, adding later that the unrest was being heightened by “political tensions between the government led by President Maduro and the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance as attempts to trigger a presidential recall referendum intensified.”MEDIA UNDER ATTACK
Between 11 to 17 journalists and other media workers were attacked during the protests, beaten, threatened at gunpoint and made to erase photographic and video material, according to news website El Pitazo and other local media.
Not even reporters from traditionally Maduro-friendly media outlets such as daily “El Universal” and all-news TV station Globovision were spared the attacks, which were conducted by chavismo militants, according to witnesses.