Venezuela, already the poster boy for ideas of equality gone wrong (Press censorship? Military takeover of department stores? No toilet paper in the whole country? Check, check and check), has managed to make headlines again for a democratic right taking a turn for the worse.
It was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the regime, led by the opposition and carried out by students – but a little after 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday, with no local TV cameras watching, the demonstrations broke out into a street war that left three dead and several injured.
Here is what you need to know about the protests:
The protest was organized by the opposition…
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The Venezuelan people were called to the take the streets in protest of the government, led by Nicolás Maduro, who was elected president last year to succeed Hugo Chavez. Three members of Parliament from the opposition, former presidential candidate María Corina Machado, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Voluntad Popular (People's Will) party leader Leopoldo López, initiated the movement 10 days ago.
The initial idea was to escort a group of students who were going to march through the streets of Caracas to the Miraflores Presidential Palace, to hand in a letter demanding change. The event was supposed to be finished at 2 p.m. local time, when the politicians left the scene.
But barely an hour later, police intervened and the peaceful protest turned violent, with protesters throwing rocks and police spraying tear gas on them. The situation escalated to the point where bullets started flying.
… which said it no hand in the violence
Machado, López and Ledezma appeared before the press after the events, saying they never intended for the demonstration to turn violent and blaming the government for the deaths.
“We always said we would be with the students, but after we left they were victims of an ambush,” said Ledezma. “Maduro said the police would not intervene. There, it shows who is violent here."
At least one student, one policeman dead
The first confirmed victim was 24-year-old Bassil Da Costa, who was fatally shot in the head. Da Costa was a business student at the Universidad Alejandro de Humboldt, in Valencia.
The second confirmed death was Juan Montoya, a policeman.
A third death was confirmed by police, but has yet to be identified.
Most of Venezuela does not know what happened
With the seizure by the government of the free press, the demonstration and its aftermath were left largely uncovered. The only TV channel showing the protests was international channel NTN24, which was later blocked by the government. Even the press conference held by the opposition leaders, which usually would have been broadcast on every channel, was held in semi-secrecy, attended only by foreign correspondents.
William Castillo, president of the Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (National Telecommunications Comission), asked through his Twitter account to “respect the Venezuelan people.” But his plea was not answered, and Venezuelans could count only on YouTube to show what was happening in their own country.