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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 1 September, 2014

Explainer: What’s going on in Venezuela?

“They are killing us,” students are screaming on posters, through social media and at rallies.

FIRST OFF, SOME facts about Venezuela.

  • Inflation is currently running at 56 per cent.
  • Last year, about 24,700 homicides were recorded. That’s over 2,000 a month, 475 a week, 68 a day or almost three an hour.
  • Hugo Chavez ruled the country until his death in March 2013.
  • The country is oil rich.
  • Chavez nationalised the country’s oil in 2000.a

That is the background for the violence that kicked off in recent weeks. As Ukraine’s crisis escalated in Europe, the coverage of what is happening in the capital Caracas, Valencia and other Venezuelan cities has been scant.

So, we’ve taken a look at the key things you need to know to catch up on the situation.

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Hugo Chavez died on 5 March 2013 after ruling for 14 years. His vice-president Nicolas Maduro won the subsequent election, beating candidate Henrique Capriles by just 1 per cent. That tight margin may have been the start of his political woes, according to some commentators, as it flamed an anger in some young people across the country.

Just eleven months into his term of office, Maduro was hit with the biggest protest he has faced.

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An injured protester who was shot in the head.

On 12 February – National Youth Day – violence at demonstrations escalated and three people were killed. Many, many more were injured.

Students had taken to the streets because of food shortages and growing levels of crime.

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Their demands were many and varied. From more protection for freedom of speech to an end to the goods shortage and better policing.

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An opposition demonstrator holds a poster that reads in Spanish “They are killing us” outside the Venezuelan Military Industries.

The situation began to spiral even further out of control when officials blamed external elements for the unrest. For one, they pointed a finger at the US, which they say is trying to destabilise the Venezuelan administration.

Maduro and his supporters say the escalating protests against his socialist government in the oil-rich but economically struggling country are part of an attempted coup sponsored by right-wing and “fascist” opponents in Venezuela and abroad, particularly America.

Three US diplomats were expelled from the country last Sunday before the President went on live State television to tell citizens he was determined to defend their country.

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A police water canon sprays demonstrators during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

Although initially made up of mostly students, the protest groups now feature a wider representation of the population.

Police forces have used water cannon, gasses and firearms against demonstrators.

However, some pro-government movements have also been seen in recent days. And there is expected to be duelling rallies taking place over the weekend.

Some neighbouring countries – Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina to name a few – also support the current rulers. They don’t like how the Opposition and activists are running their rebellion.

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A woman yells at members of a pro-government “colectivo,” or “collective,” writing graffiti on her home that reads in Spanish “Socialism or nothing” in downtown Caracas.

Three opposition leaders have come to the forefront of the student-led movement.

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Capriles, who lost last year’s election so narrowly, warned at the time that there would be violence if people took to the streets to protest the results.

However, this week he held a news conference to outline plans for marches across the country today. He wants to protest against the jailing of a second Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

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He was taken into custody in front of his watching parents and wife on Wednesday. He had called on people – through a YouTube video – to take to the streets and protest against the current leadership. He had promised to attend, even though he knew he would be detained. Venezuelan authorites have blamed him for masterminding a revolution.

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His wife, Lilian Tintori, continued to spread her husband’s message using social media – just as he has done – despite the upsetting events of 18 February.

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LilianTintori/Instagram

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Maria Corina Machado, the third of the opposition leaders, is also at risk of being arrested despite congressional immunity. She discussed recent events with Al Jazeera Thursday, pleading that the media helps get the word out about how violent the situation has become.

Among the death toll, which now stands at eight, is former beauty pageant contestant Genesis Carmona. She was shot in the head and was carried away from the scene of the rally on 18 February. She died the next day from her injuries.

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Carmona was allegedly struck by a bullet Tuesday when unknown gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on opposition protesters, said Enzo Scrano, mayor of a Valencia district.

The 22-year-old was buried yesterday.

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There were reports then on Thursday that the government had taken CNN off the air because of so-called war propoganda.

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Coverage of the earlier protests was completely blacked out locally and viewers of private channel NTN24 (which is based in Colombia) were also deprived.

Threats have also been made to suspend fuel supplies to areas hit by the opposition.

“We will be obliged to suspend the supply of fuel to areas under fascist siege in order to preserve the security of all,” Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez warned on Twitter, in the latest move to squelch more than two weeks of growing anti-government demonstrations.

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And then last night, reports came through that a man was ‘raped with a gun’ following his detention.

Officials then put the number of arrests at 100 and the wounded at 137.

Both sides have vowed to fight on. The t-shirt worn by Lopez below says, “He who tires, loses.”

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This explanatory video, being shared on social media over the past two days and watched by almost 2.5 million people, was made by a Venezuelan living in the US.


(YouTube: Andreina Nash)

All pics PA Images

Read: Ukraine opposition agrees deal to end crisis

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