Demonstrations in Caracas, Venezuela turned violent on Wednesday, bringing a police response that included a Venezuelan National Guard armored car running into a crowd of demonstrators after a firebomb was thrown at it.
The Venezuelan opposition claims there were over 300 injuries from clashes throughout the day. One fatality has also been reported.
The El Nacional newspaper posted several video clips of the armored car incident. The Wall Street Journal compiled several pieces of footage into a single video (Warning: Graphic Images):
According to Bloomberg News, opposition sources reported injuries that included 134 traumas and 17 cases of people overcome by gas. The injuries included lawmakers Freddy Guevara and Julio Montoya. Guevara is the acting leader of the Popular Will opposition party, acting for Leopoldo López, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for organizing peaceful protests in 2014. The government has denied reports that López is in critical condition at a hospital, but has refused to allow his wife or attorneys to see him.
Bloomberg notes the contrast between videos of protest violence and a viral video of Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro dancing on state TV – a video that actually pans away from the cavorting strongman to show riots boiling through the streets outside:
The confirmed fatality was a 17-year-old demonstrator who was struck in the neck by an unknown object during a melee in the streets.
“A young man with all his life ahead [of him]. He simply fought for a better country,” said opposition party district mayor Gerardo Blyde of the death, as related by Reuters. The death toll for the past month now stands at 34.
According to Reuters, Wednesday’s protests featured a march to the National Assembly building, where Maduro was attempting to create an alternative congress that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and evade free elections. Maduro, in turn, accuses the protesters of staging a coup against him. Several other nations in the region, along with the U.S. government, have condemned Maduro’s plans.
Some of the demonstrators were protected with gas masks and improvised shields, which were painted with slogans such as “Liberty!” and “Murderer Maduro!” Armed demonstrators were seen carrying firebombs and slingshots.
“President Nicolas Maduro’s government went from autocracy to dictatorship in just a few weeks,” writes New York Times correspondent Hugo Prieto from Caracas. “Today, it’s only a step away from tyranny. But the people aren’t giving up. They’re no longer afraid. At long last, liberty and democracy have become an existential struggle, a matter of life and death.”
Prieto argues that the current demonstrations are the most serious threat to Maduro’s power to date, because elements of his political base appear to have joined the protests. With little hope for a negotiated settlement between the Maduro government and the increasingly agitated, determined opposition, Prieto sees the country teetering between internal or external military intervention and “a Communist-type dictatorship modeled on Cuba’s.”