A Local Journalist Explains Why Venezuelans Are Clashing with Police

April 8th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

Protesters took over the streets of Venezuela's capital, Caracas, on Saturday, demanding that President Nicolas Maduro step down over what they consider to be an attempted coup.

The conflict began in earnest when Venezuela's Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled legislature of its powers at the end of March, opting to write the laws instead — before reversing its decision a few days later after it was denounced as unconstitutional by the attorney general. Even after the reversal, though, many citizens fear that the court full of Maduro loyalists was attempting to give him the power of a dictator.

"These are protestors opposed to the government, which has lost popular support as a result of the economic crisis in the country," freelance journalist Cody Weddle told ATTN: from Caracas. "Recent polls put the government's support at about 20 percent," he explained. "While demonstrations had fizzled last year, the court's decision appears to have brought new life to the crowds — and we're seeing the largest crowds in a year."

The protests come after Maduro’s government barred opposition leader and governor Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years on Friday. Members of the opposition have been leading the streets protests, which have seen clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement.

“The constant protests and demonstrations have turned violent, with protesters attacking police lines with sticks and stones, and police and national guard responding with tear gas, water cannons, pepper spray, and rubber bullets,” Weddle told ATTN:.

The violence reached a crescendo on Thursday when college student Jairo Ortiz was shot and killed by security forces in a suburb of Caracas. The government has said that it will investigate Ortiz’s death.

In addition to the removal of Maduro, Weddle said demonstrators also wanted several of the justices on the Supreme Court removed.

Before protests broke out in response to the decision, economic decline had already exacerbated tensions with the country experiencing hyper-inflation as well as food and medical supply shortages thanks to a crash in the price of oil.