Clashes Erupt At Anti-Government Protests In Venezuela

Apr 19, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people were out protesting today in Venezuela, demanding that Socialist President Nicolas Maduro leave office. Organizers called this the mother of all marches, but there were clashes shortly after the march started. Police responded with tear gas. So far, at least two people have died. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Caracas now and joins us now. Phil, tell us what else happened today.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Whether this was actually the mother of all marches is hard to say, but the turnout was certainly very large. In Caracas, there were more than 20 gathering points for these protests. I went along to one, and by mid-morning there were some 10,000 people there waving flags and chanting slogans against the government, saying the government's about to fall. It wasn't long before reports of violence began to emerge. Among the casualties a teenager shot in the head while walking near a protest. He died on the operating table. And at one of many protests outside the capital, a woman in her early 20s shot in the western city of San Cristobal. The town's mayor there has told the Associated Press that she was shot by pro-government supporters out on the streets because there was also a pro-government rally today.

MCEVERS: I mean, these protests have been going on for three weeks now. What's driving people out into the streets?

REEVES: Yeah, they were triggered by politics, in a way, an attempt to strip the National Assembly, which is led by the opposition, of all of its powers. People are, you know, defiant. And they're anxious. They're anxious about their safety in the face of the security forces and the government crackdown on dissent. And also, you know, about those deteriorating conditions in their society because the economic crisis - I mean, just listen to Louisa Mayorca. She's a lawyer from Caracas. She was there today at the demonstration here. And she's a mother of three.

LOUISA MAYORCA: The most simple thing is so difficult to achieve. We're struggling each day, day after day, for even milk, bread.

REEVES: So I asked Louisa Mayorca why so many people keep on coming back out onto the streets to demonstrate in this way.

MAYORCA: I mean, this is exhausting, but we won't give up until we achieve a better country and democracy. This government, this regime is making our life miserable, and we cannot accept it.

MCEVERS: How has the government responded to these protests?

REEVES: Well, they've had a number of their supporters out on the streets. They called a rally, too. And you see them out there dressed in red, waving pro-government flags. They've also flooded the streets with security forces. They had been signaling beforehand very publicly that they were in a position to crack down on these protests. And in fact, on Monday, President Maduro appeared live on TV at a rally of a big government civil militia. And we saw pictures of this militia, thousands of them wearing uniforms and carrying guns. And Maduro said he wanted to expand that force, which is now in the tens of thousands, to half a million and they should all have guns. So people at today's demo were very aware of that. And they saw that appearance of Maduro before the TV cameras with the militia as intimidation tactics, but they found it alarming all the same.

MCEVERS: NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela. Thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.