Boy, 14, Dies as Venezuela Protests Spread to Poor Neighborhoods
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and injured since the beginning of April.
In the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, a 14-year-old boy died Tuesday night when a bullet struck him during a protest. The teenager is one several protesters recently killed and injured during the country’s growing political unrest and crippling economic crisis.
Since the beginning of April, nationwide protests have called for the government to set a date for the delayed state elections and for President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation, accusing the former bus driver and union leader of running a dictatorship.
Maduro, who rode through the streets on Tuesday in celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of the Battle of San Felix — a milestone for Venezuela’s independence from Spain — was pelted with eggs and trash by angry civilians.
Witnesses told Reuters that streets in low-income neighborhoods in the capital were blocked with trash or burning debris. Protesters clashed with security forces before the state television cut off the live broadcast.
Some 71 people were arrested on Tuesday, according to rights group Penal Forum.
Before Tuesday’s protest, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro spoke out against the “repression” in a video, and called on the “regime” to allow for peaceful protests. He further blamed the government of beating unarmed protesters and air-dropping dangerous tear gas bombs.
"Day after day, the repression worsens in Venezuela," Almagro said. "It is authoritarian to repress protesters who call for democracy."
A Supreme Court decision in late March that stripped the opposition-led congress of its power sparked the latest rounds of protests. The court quickly removed certain parts of the judgment, but not before the opposition called the move a coup.
Maduro has repeatedly resisted attempts by the opposition to hold a referendum to remove him, calling it a capitalist-backed conspiracy.
He has doubled down on efforts to uphold the “socialist revolution” ignited by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. But unlike Chavez’s presidency, Venezuela’s presence in the world as an oil-producing superpower has dwindled.
According to the country’s 2016 financial report, around $7.7 billion of its remaining $10.5 billion of reserves is in gold. Inflation is expected to rise by over 1,600% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. And a research firm in Venezuela, Ecoanalitica, released a study showing that the country’s imports are down by 50% from a year ago.
A weakening currency, corruption, extremely high inflation, and government overspending have led to a massive humanitarian crisis. Millions of Venezuelans are currently suffering food and medicine shortages.
Grocery store products have skyrocketed and lines for bread and toilet paper are hours long, often without the guarantee of there being enough supplies in stock.
Data from an annual national survey by three of Venezuela's biggest universities and other research groups found that an increasing amount of Venezuelans are skipping meals and that the percentage of people who are malnourished is growing.
According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, the country also lacks at least 80% of basic medical supplies.
As the situation continues to worsen, another round of protests are planned for Thursday in over 300 municipalities. Leaders of the opposition are calling for a new presidential election and are hoping their voices are heard on April 19 in what they are calling the “mother of all marches.”