Venezuelan opposition leaders urged people to take to the streets to protest last Wednesday, as they continue to mount the largest demonstrations yet against President Nicolás Maduro. Protests across Venezuela have been going strong for over three weeks. Wednesday’s protest coincided with a national holiday marking the beginning of Venezuela’s independence movement in 1810.
Five protesters are confirmed dead and hundreds were wounded in the demonstrations over the past several weeks. ABC News reported that one protester killed was a 19-year-old law student, who was shot dead by police. Another among those killed was a 13-year-old boy
Witnesses allege that riot police have been using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons on protestors. Riot police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a rally in Caracas Thursday. President Maduro recently ordered the army to march the streets of the capital, Caracas, in a demonstration of power. He said that the army was there to keep order.
Protesters are venting frustration with the Venezuelan government and demanding the resignation of Maduro, who assumed office following the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013.
Demonstrators in the capital chanted, “Liberty!” and held signs reading “Dictator Maduro” and “Elections Now!” Venezuela is now seeing an increase in protests in poorer neighborhoods, which historically were loyal to Maduro.
Venezuela has been suffering food and medicine shortages and rising inflation rates; the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The International Monetary Fund recently estimated that Venezuela’s economic recession could last until at least 2019, according to The Huffington Post. The country has also seen a steep rise in the number of political prisoners, now over 100.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court recently moved to strip the opposition-controlled legislature of most of its power. Authorities also banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from seeking office for 15 years, citing ‘administrative irregularities.’ Capriles has been governor of Miranda state since 2008, and has twice run against Maduro in presidential elections.
Following the ban, Capriles addressed a crowd of supporters, saying that although the government may prevent him from running, “Nobody can disqualify the Venezuelan people.”
In a series of riots in 2014, 43 people were killed. Venezuela has seen three failed attempts at a military coup since 1992, according to Al Jazeera.