By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Professors and employees in public universities, mass transport users and even the employees for state airline Conviasa all took to the streets in protest on Monday. And, according to a new report, it will only get worse for embattled Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro as the year progresses and a polemical Presidential vote scheduled for April 22nd approaches.
There were 714 protests and 141 instances of looting (consummated or attempted) in Venezuela to the end of January 2018, according to leading NGO “Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social.” That is 24 protests a day, when in 2017, one of the most riotous years in recent Venezuela history, there were 27 protests a day.
But, In terms of number of protests, January 2018 represents an 86% increase over January 2017, during which “only” 383 protests were recorded.
It is worth remembering that, according to OVCS, there were 165 killed in demonstrations in 2017, a year in which there were 9,787 protests, a record since OVCS started measuring such events in 2011.
Lootings and attempted lootings however, increased almost nine fold from only 19 instances recorded in January 2017 to 141 in January 2018.
Protests for food and medicines are the most common ones, with “trancazos” (shutting down the street) as the preferred method. However, OVCS notes “an uptick in lootings and attempted lootings” as well as “scattered and spontaneous protests”, unlike the concentrated protests called by tradition opposition parties in a specific part of town against Maduro.
The increase in protests comes even as some 4 million Venezuelans “voted with their feet”, abandoning the country since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution of Chavez and Maduro in 1999, according to the Organization of American States, with neighboring Colombia a preferred destination, having received more than 1 million Venezuelans so far.“KEEP AN EYE ON PROTESTS”
Even Maduro stalwarts like Constituent Assembly delegate Oscar Schemel conceded an uptick in protests. “You have to keep an eye on protests because there is discontent in the population”, Schemel, a former pollster for the opposition before becoming a politician for Maduro, said Sunday during a televised interview.
Heavy handed repression in 2017 and previously in 2014, when 43 demonstrators and security forces died during a three month cycle of protests, have meant for Maduro international sanctions, condemnation by the Organization of American States, and investigations by both the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.
Some four dozen present and former officials have been sanctioned by Canada, the European Union and the United States with Maduro becoming only the sixth sitting head of state ever to be sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, in a very short list that includes two deceased leaders (Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gaddafi).
Maduro is also the first Venezuelan, first Latin American and first Western Hemisphere head of state to have received such sanctions.