By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Increasingly embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took the stage and danced to the sounds of a local folk band Wednesday, as the rest of the country mourned the passing of the 32nd Venezuelan killed during anti-government demonstrations, which have now continued for a month and seem to be getting larger as the country’s Constitutional crisis gets more serious.
The President was joined by Adan Chavez, brother of the late Hugo Chavez and a high-ranking government official. Vice President Tareck El Aissami was also onstage, but he didn’t partake in the revelry.
Since 2014, Maduro has been seen dancing live on television on the days demonstrators against his rule are killed. In February 2014, he even hosted a concert directed by famed pro-government orchestra director Gustavo Dudamel at the Miraflores Presidential Palace, hours after three demonstrators were shot and killed not far from the palace, a tragedy that kicked off two months of protest that ended up costing 43 lives. Days ago, Maduro danced again, live on television, after a 17-year old was killed, also very near the palace.
While Maduro was dancing, National Guardsmen were firing tear gas at demonstrators in several Venezuelan cities, while in Caracas, a National Guard light tank ran over a demonstrator, seemingly on purpose.
The jovial display by Maduro, whose popularity rate is hovering around 10% according to a poll published Wednesday, caused outrage, not an easy feat in a country that has seen eighteen uninterrupted years of “chavista” rule, first from Hugo Chavez and since 2013 with Maduro.
Local human-rights NGO “Provea” tweeted a picture of the dancing President, with the caption: “This is how the dictatorship dances, while demonstrators are being repressed in the highway.” Police also acted against protesters who took to the asphalt in the Francisco Fajardo highway, the main thoroughfare connecting Eastern and Western Venezuela and which bisects the capital city of Caracas.
A foreign journalist called the scene of Maduro dancing while cops were teargassing demonstrators “surreal”.
By all accounts, Maduro’s Monday decision to convey a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution has been the factor that triggered the fresh wave of violence which took the life of Carlos Arangurem, 30, Tuesday night in Petare, the 32nd victim according to a tally published by the Associated Press and 35 by a separate account cured from figures by NGOs.
A “chavista” lawmaker in the legislative National Assembly, Eustoquio Contreras, told media Tuesday he was against Maduro’s plan to rewrite the Constitution, becoming the second high-ranking defection since Attorney General Luisa Ortega accused Maduro two weeks ago of engineering a breach in the country’s constitutional order.