Rioting Breaks Out in Venezuela as Protesters and Troops Clash


How Venezuela’s Protests Are Testing Maduro

Demonstrations continued in Caracas after President Nicolás Maduro defied international calls to allow peaceful assemblies and ordered his forces into the streets. Hit with tear gas, some protesters fought back with firebombs.

By NICHOLAS CASEY and SUSAN JOAN ARCHER on Publish Date April 20, 2017.

Photo by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times.

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The streets of Caracas erupted into a night of riots, looting and clashes between government opponents and the National Guard late Thursday and into early Friday, as anger from two days of pro-democracy demonstrations spilled into unrest in working-class and poor neighborhoods.

Shots rang out throughout the night in El Valle, a neighborhood of mixed loyalties, as armored vehicles struggled to contain crowds of looters. In Petare, a working-class section in eastern Caracas, a protester was shot dead at the entrance to the city’s largest barrio, Carlos Ocariz, the district mayor, said.

And throughout the night, the sounds of banging pots and pans reverberated through the capital, a traditional form of protest known as the “cacerolazo,” which has taken on greater significance as the country struggles with shortages of food.

Liang-Ming Mora, a 43-year-old resident of El Valle, described watching from the window of her high-rise apartment as her neighbors threw objects at National Guardsmen, and residents of a nearby area descended onto the streets, burning tires and looting stores.

The crowd, she said, moved through the neighborhood, destroying a large supermarket, a liquor store and other businesses.

“They wanted to loot the bakery, too,’’ Ms. Mora said, but the people shouted: ‘No, not the bakery, no!’” — apparently sparing one of the few places that could still supply the neighborhood with bread.

The clashes are a challenge to Venezuela’s opposition politicians, who have been trying to channel resentment over President Nicolás Maduro’s growing power into a peaceful protest movement. Many thousands of people gathered on Wednesday and Thursday, flooding the capital and parts of other cities, to demand that elections be scheduled in the country.

The government has responded, however, by trying to repress the protests with rubber bullets and tear gas. Making matters worse, bitterness against the government has been boiling over as the country struggles with deep shortages of food and medicine, forcing Venezuelans to wait in lines for hours for basics like corn meal.

The anger was apparent into the early hours on Friday. In videos posted on social media sites, people screamed as gunshots were fired into dark streets and looters broke store windows. Protesters were captured on videos in cat-and-mouse games, throwing stones and other objects at soldiers. Fires burned in the streets.

At one point during the night, clashes became so heavy that a nearby children’s hospital was evacuated after a ward filled with tear gas. The government said security forces were responding to an attack on the hospital by opposition protesters.

Mary Carmen Laguna Andrade, 23, who lives in the El Valle district, said she watched as looters prowled the streets into the early hours of the morning.

“They passed my house with food, liquor bottles, shopping carts, computers and even a motorcycle they’d stolen,” she said.

Some residents took to the streets to support the government.

A crowd gathered in Fuerte Tiuna, a military base that is also home to large public housing complexes built by the government, chanting in defense of the country’s so-called Socialist revolution. “Neighbors, listen, join the struggle!” chanted the crowd, which was not interrupted by the security forces.

While both the government and the opposition have held protests this year, unrest surged after a decision last month by the Supreme Court, which is controlled by the president’s supporters, to dissolve the Legislature.

The move was widely condemned, and Mr. Maduro eventually ordered the court to reverse much of the ruling. It was not enough, though, to persuade large portions of the country that the president was still committed to democratic rule.

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