Middle East
3:04 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Ongoing Unrest In Venezuela Fueled By Economic Hurdles

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 4:35 pm

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

And in Venezuela, violent clashes continue between antigovernment protesters and National Guard forces.

The country's economic troubles sparked protests in early February. People upset about high inflation, a shortage of basic items and homicide rates that are among the highest in the world. The protests have left at least 28 people dead and dozens more wounded.

Earlier, I spoke with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who was in the middle of one of those protests.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Well, I'm in the town of Valencia. It's about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital Caracas. And it's been one of the epicenters really of the protest movement as it's evolved over the last month. Last Wednesday, three people were killed here, and so things have been extremely tense. The protest here today is very robust. People have been out on the streets marching through many of the residential areas calling on people to come out and join these protests.

So far there haven't been any confrontations, but, of course, we've often seen that these protests do devolve into violence once they are confronted by security forces or indeed other militia groups that are mounted on motorcycles that come and harass the protesters.

RATH: Are there more protests planned? Is this going to be continuing on?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Protests have been going on for the past month. And everyone that I've spoken to who was involved in the protest movement says that they will continue. We've seen larger-scale, smaller-scale protests pretty much every day. This is quite a big protest.

It's Sunday, so people aren't working. So that's attracted more people. Protests are happening in Caracas. They're happening in the far west of the country where the protests began, and they're happening here in Valencia, which is an opposition stronghold. There are several mayors here who are opposition members. And so that has attracted a lot of opposition support here within the city.

RATH: Inflation has been a major issue in Venezuela. The Central Bank reports the country's annual inflation rate has risen to 57 percent. But the protests have caused shops to close. It blocked roads. Food deliveries have slowed. That can't be good for the economy either. Could this work against the opposition?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before these protests erupted about a month ago, the focus really was on the dire state of the economy, inflation, as you say, and all the other many, many problems that Venezuela faces at the moment. And the government was really facing a lot of pressure to deal with them.

Now, they say the focus is on the protests, on the violence. And the government has managed to spin this to make it look like the shortages in the country all the protesters' fault.

Certainly, what we have seen, though, is that a lot of these roadblocks in certain areas in cities like Valencia have absolutely stymied transportation. They have caused a lot of problems for certain small shops and other businesses. People are really discussing what the best way forward is. And the opposition is pretty divided on that.

RATH: What about the protesters themselves? It's been over a month now of these violent clashes. Is there any sense of the movement losing steam?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think many of the protesters at the moment are committed to staying out on the streets. They want to pressure the government. But at the same time, there is division among the opposition as to what really is the objective. Is it regime change? Is it getting Nicolas Maduro out of office? Or is it simply to get the government to be more accountable to the needs of the people and to wait until the next elections or at least to wait until the constitution allows a referendum in this country in two years to actually get rid of this current administration?

RATH: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Valencia, Venezuela. Lourdes, thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.