One month after Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro arrested Popular Will opposition party leader Leopoldo López for leading a protest against the government’s socialist policies, Venezuelan protesters plan a day of marches and demands for justice after hundreds have been arrested and the death toll climbs to 29.
A coalition of opposition leaders including Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, and notable names on the Venezuelan right such as legislator María Corina Machado and a coalition of mayors have organized nationwide protests in Venezuela today to call for López’s freedom. Tintori told media outlets in the country that she will read a message from her husband there, who is, she alleges, in almost complete isolation because the government insists “politicians” are not allowed to visit him, and all his loved ones are listed as politicians by the government’s definition. The opposition also released a promotional video encouraging protesters to organize in solidarity with López.
The protests follow a day of extreme government violence in which Maduro sent the military to Altamira Square, an opposition stronghold in the capital, Caracas, to clean out and arrest protesters. Dozens were arrested and video surfaced on YouTube of Bolivarian National Guard members using helmets to beat protesters’ faces and violently detaining both young and old protesters. Video has also surfaced via NTN24 News of National Guard soldiers raiding commercial establishments and arresting those suspected of having participated in protests, taking them away on motorcycles without notifying their families.
The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) has been at the center of the worst human rights violations of the past month in Venezuela. The group, an official paramilitary organization meant to keep the peace within Venezuela, is heavily rumored to be both overrun with and trained by Cuban nationals. Said training has led the groups to commit acts of torture and disfigurement.
Cuba is not the only Venezuelan ally rumored to train the National Guard. A column in the Washington Times suggests that Iran has been heavily involved in training the National Guard and advising the Venezuelan government long before Maduro took power. According to columnist Joseph Humire, the current commander of the Iranian paramilitary visited Venezuela in 2009 and advised both then-President Hugo Chávez and Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro on how best to quell protests.
The atrocities committed against protesters continue to surface. Among the most difficult to look at is this report (warning: photo is graphic) from the anti-communist Babalú Blog via the Venezuelan protest blog Maduradas— a photo of a child born to a mother who was shot by National Guard forces in the womb. The child was born with gunshot wounds on his body, and miraculously survived.
Having issued a new ration card yesterday to prevent Venezuelans from buying more than the allotted amount of necessary home goods, Maduro plans to organize more public events all week in response to the protests.