Violence in Venezuela, South America’s crumbling socialists paradise, is intensifying as street clashes between anti-government protesters and government forces enter their third month. At least 67 people have died since the demonstrations began, including 18-year-old Armando Canizales, who the New York Times described as a “success story of Venezuela’s state-run music program for the poor.”
As the country’s economic and humanitarian crises worsen, President Nicolas Maduro is taking steps to consolidate power within the presidency. Maduro is now calling for the formation of a new “constituent assembly” that the country’s pro-government electoral council will vote on in July that will allow him to rewrite the country’s constitution before he faces an election in the fall. These decisions effectively guarantee that the violence will continue, as the opposition cries for his ouster.
The economic troubles – exacerbated by (but not initiated by) the drop in oil prices that began during the summer of 2014 – have caused inflation to soar above 10,000% as Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, trades at a black-market rate of nearly 8,000 to the dollar, according to dolartoday.com. Meanwhile, the central bank’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled to $10.6 billion.
Venezuela, a member of OPEC, has the largest oil reserves of any nation on Earth. But OPEC’s fragile production cuts have failed to push the price of crude above $50 a barrel. On Tuesday, it announced that an unexpected surge in production by Iraq raised the bloc’s total production in May, validating the market’s doubts about an agreement between the bloc and a handful of other oil-exporting countries to extend a production cut that began in December. With global oil supplies near record highs, the hoped-for recovery in oil prices – key to alleviating Venezuela’s acute financial stress - is a long way off.
Photos from the daily clashes depict a level of violence that has long since become normal.
An opposition demonstrator wears a gas mask in a clash with police in Caracas.
Riot police officers confront opposition activists during a demonstration in Caracas.
Employees of the administration headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice try to put out the fire of a burning vehicle.
Deputy of the opposition Carlos Paparoni is hit by jets of water during riots at a march to the state Ombudsman's office.
Venezuelan opposition activists launch a firework with a tube during clashes with riot police.
A demonstrator throws a Molotov cocktail during a rally.
A demonstrator shows an injury caused by a rubber bullet.
Demonstrators look on as motorcycles belonging to riot security forces are set on fire.
See more images here (courtesy of The Atlantic).