• Venezuelan govt forces target protest barricades
     | March 11,2014
    ap photo

    Demonstrators lie on the ground holding statistics about the people murdered in the 14 years of Chavista government, at a recent protest in Caracas, Venezuela.

    CARACAS, Venezuela — The opposition mayor of San Cristobal said Monday that Venezuelan government forces attacked and dismantled barricades raised by protesters at key intersections in his city and fired tear gas and plastic buckshot in residential neighborhoods.

    In another western city, Venezuela’s government reported a 47-year-old Chilean woman was shot dead while removing debris from the road beside her home, bringing the death toll from more than a month of protests to 21. The Interior Ministry said in a statement it is investigating the Sunday death of Giselle Rubilar Figueroa in the Andean city of Merida.

    San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos said at least three people were injured and one arrested in actions overnight by National Guard troops in his city in the western state of Tachira, near the border with Colombia where the student-led protests first erupted.

    “Here the city is pretty well paralyzed,” Ceballos said. “I can’t understand how by day there’s a peace conference and by night there’s gas, repression and violence.”

    President Nicolas Maduro last week launched a “peace conference” at the state level in San Cristobal. The gathering has gone forward, even though the opposition has refused to participate until Maduro releases jailed protesters and takes other steps.

    It’s a follow-up to televised national-level meetings in the capital at which some government critics have been invited to raise complaints, though it is unclear if the discussions will lead to changes.

    The weeks of protests that have roiled Venezuela began in San Cristobal when students angry about the attempted sexual assault of a classmate began taking to the streets. The protests soon spread to other cities and attracted mostly members of the middle class tired of the country’s soaring inflation, shortages of basic goods and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

    In San Cristobal, Caracas and other cities, opposition demonstrators have erected barricades of debris and garbage to block streets and snarl traffic. In some cases, demonstrators say they are trying to protect their neighborhoods from government-supporting thugs.

    Maduro has said the protests are meant to destabilize and overthrow his government. During a televised appearance, Maduro displayed a government-published magazine filled with large photos of violence during protests.

    Both pro- and anti-government physicians marched in Caracas on Monday, which was National Doctors Day in Venezuela. While government doctors marched unimpeded to the presidential palace, physicians allied with the opposition were blocked by national police. They agreed to pull back after a government representative promised that Maduro would hear their demands Wednesday.

    Maduro recognized that many physicians in the country have complaints as he spoke at the graduation of 300 new community doctors. “Clearly there are problems. I recognize that, (but) we’re going to restore all of the hospitals and we’re going to put them at their highest level,” he said.

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