Carnival may affect anti-Maduro surge

February 28, 2014 - 6:07:35 am
CARACAS: Venezuelans began a week-long national holiday yesterday with some protests still simmering but President Nicolas Maduro’s government hoping the break will take the heat out of the nation’s worst unrest for a decade.

The 51-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez brought forward by two days a long weekend national holiday for Carnival when Venezuelans traditionally abandon cities and head for Caribbean coast beaches to relax and party.

There will be another day off for the March 5 one-year anniversary of Chavez’s death from cancer, meaning a week-long break that officials hope will dampen student-led street protests against the government.

The capital Caracas, which has seen most of the at least 13 fatalities from this month’s unrest, was quieter yesterday , though opposition activists planned a rally and demonstrators maintained a few street barricades.

“How can you enjoy carnival when people are dying?” read one banner waved by students at drivers in the city’s wealthy east as many began to hit the highways for the coast.

The students are demanding Maduro quit over grievances ranging from high inflation and shocking crime rates to shortages of basic food and alleged repression of political rivals.

Though they have presented the biggest challenge to his 10-month-old administration and the worst unrest since street rallies against Chavez a decade ago, there is no sign Maduro could be ousted. 

On the contrary, he seems to be regaining the initiative by offering dialogue with foes, and consolidating his leadership of the Socialist Party by uniting factions against a common enemy.

About 150 people have been injured during the two-week crisis, and more than 500 people arrested, authorities say.

Of those, 55 remain behind bars. They are mostly protesters, but also include seven intelligence agents and security officials accused over the shooting of two people in downtown Caracas after a February 12 rally that detonated the worst trouble.

The government recognises security forces were involved in three of the 13 fatalities. It says about 50 people have died in total due to the protests, including indirectly linked cases such as people unable to reach hospital due to blocked roads.

Venezuela’s volatile western region, in the Andean foothills on the Colombian border, has seen the worst unrest, with students and security forces facing off day after day.

Maduro accused foes of trying to wreck Venezuelans’ cherished Carnival celebrations and mocked opposition leaders as part of a wealthy elite flying out for 

the break. REUTERS