Protests continue in Venezuela amid reports of food scarcities

By MERY MOGOLLON AND CHRIS KRAUL | Los Angeles Times | Published: February 24, 2014

CARACAS, Venezuela — Protests continued Monday across Venezuela amid growing reports of police repression and scarcities of basic goods, which provoked rare public criticism of President Nicolas Maduro by a political ally.

Jose Vielma Mora, governor of western Tachira state, the scene of street violence and protests, told a radio interviewer Sunday night that the military had displayed “excess” in responding to the disturbances.

Vielma Mora, a former army officer who was a longtime supporter of the late President Hugo Chavez, singled out repeated overflights by government fighter jets and called for a change in the military command. In remarks to Radio Onda, he added that he sympathized with marchers’ complaints of food scarcities.

His criticism suggests weakening in the strong political and public support that Maduro inherited from Chavez.

Last week, the central bank revised its scarcity index upward to 28 percent, which represents the proportion of basic foods and household goods that can be considered to be in scarce supply.

Protests that spread nationwide began in Tachira three weeks ago after a university student was raped on campus in San Cristobal and students organized a march demanding better security. Venezuela has experienced soaring crime rates in recent years.

Disturbances continued across the country Monday. Many streets in eastern Caracas, the capital, remained blocked with makeshift barricades erected by protesters.

On Monday, the latest of 13 reported deaths from two weeks of violence was reported in San Cristobal when a man reportedly fell from a second-floor apartment balcony after being shot with rubber bullets by National Guard units. He died of head injuries, according to local hospital officials.

Maduro had called for a high level meeting Monday with the nation’s governors and mayors to discuss ways of reducing tensions, saying attendance was mandatory. But opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a presidential candidate who is also sitting governor of Miranda state, refused to attend.

Hoping to ease tensions, Maduro called a five-day public holiday starting Thursday, which is the 25th anniversary of the “Caracazo,” bloody riots in 1989 that were triggered by the government’s attempt to raise gasoline prices.

In this image provided by Venezuela's Presidency of Venezuela, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, from left, Nicaragua's first lady Rosario Murillo and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega pay their respects to Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, March 8, 2013.


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