There is a near civil war in Venezuela as tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police and President Nicolas Maduro’s armed paramilitary thugs in the streets of Caracas. Most of the 12 deaths reported overnight were the result of looters being electrocuted after breaking into a bakery.
But four protesters were shot dead in the streets by armed pro-government vigilantes thought to be controlled by Maduro, according to AFP.
“It was like a war,” said 33-year-old construction worker Carlos Yanez, a resident of the southwestern district of El Valle.
“The police were firing tear gas, armed civilians were shooting guns at buildings. My family and I threw ourselves to the floor. It was horrible,” he told AFP.
Eleven people were killed in the neighborhood, according to officials.
Eight of them were reportedly electrocuted while trying to loot a bakery amid the chaos. The rest were shot.
At nightfall on Friday, more protests and pockets of unrest were reported in eastern Caracas, and in Macuto in the neighboring state of Vargas. There was a heavy security presence in the city.
Police fired teargas to disperse crowds in the Caracas district of Palo Verde, where burning barricades of trash were set up. Armed men on motorbikes also sparked panic, witnesses told AFP.
The opposition accuses the government of sending gangs of armed thugs to attack them.
Videos shot by El Valle residents on Thursday night showed people throwing bottles and other objects out their windows at the gunmen in the streets below, shouting “Murderers!”
At one point, street protesters hurling Molotov cocktails managed to set fire to one of the armored police trucks firing tear gas at them, lighting up the night sky.
Fifty-four people, including newborn babies, were evacuated from a maternity hospital in the neighborhood.
There were conflicting explanations about the reason.
The government said “armed gangs hired by the opposition” had attacked the hospital. The opposition rejected the allegation, saying the children had to be evacuated because of tear gas fired by Maduro’s “dictatorship.”
The hospital’s director, Rosalinda Prieto, told AFP the evacuation was prompted by the stench of burning trash set on fire by protesters.
A man was shot dead in protests in the eastern neighborhood of Petare, the local mayor said. Prosecutors said they had opened an investigation.
Opposition leaders have called new protests for Saturday and Monday.
On Saturday, they plan to march in silence to the Catholic Church’s episcopal seats nationwide. They plan to erect roadblocks on Monday to grind the country to a halt.
Maduro is losing control and he’s pulling out all the stops to stay in power. Last week, he armed 400,000 regime loyalists in an act of desperation.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he will expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias, providing guns to as many as 400,000 loyalists.
The announcement came as Maduro’s opponents are gearing up for what they pledge will be the largest rally yet to press for elections and a host of other demands Wednesday.
The Bolivarian militias, currently at approximately 100,000, were created by the late Hugo Chavez to assist the armed forces in the defense of his revolution from external and domestic attacks.
Speaking to thousands of militia members dressed in beige uniforms gathered in front of the presidential palace, Maduro said that vision remains relevant as Venezuela continues to face “imperialist aggression.”
“A gun for every militiaman!” he cried.
This is like running through a gasoline dump with a lit match. But Venezuelan citizens — starving and trying to find work in a collapsing economy — appear, finally, to have had enough.
If you’re wondering why the army doesn’t give a hand, it’s because the military has become the lapdog of the regime. Purges under Chavez and now Maduro have resulted in the installation of senior officers totally loyal to the regime and to the president personally. If there’s an attempted coup, it will probably have to come from junior officers.
This may be a critical week in the history of Venezuela.