Socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela shifted its focus to repressing protests against hunger rather than the socialist government itself, a study by Venezuelan outlet Runrunes revealed Tuesday.
Of the 4,228 documented protests across Venezuela so far this year, state security acted to repress around 269 of them, often with the use of violence. However, those targeted were largely not those of a political nature, but of people demanding food and other basic living resources as the country’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen.
Out of the 269 targeted protests, reasons for their occurrence most often involved a lack of access to food, electricity, water, or basic health care. Due to economic collapse and unprecedented levels of hyperinflation, most people are forced to live on just a couple of dollars a month.
The figures, compiled by an organization known as The Street Thermometer, also indicate a trend in which government-funded gangs and militias are used to contain smaller protests in local areas through threats of intimidation and violence. This was the case in many protests that were not repressed by official government soldiers or police.
“A common practice has been to jointly repress with security forces and armed civilians, also called paramilitary groups, to try to disarm the State of direct responsibility,” said Carlos Patiño, coordinator of the Requirement of the Venezuelan Program of Education Action in Human Rights (Provea).
“However, in security operations such as those of the Operation Liberación del Pueblo (PLO), the poorest in the barrios are repressed without much protocol to keep up appearances,” he added.
Patiño also explained that people’s need for basic living requirements had pushed them towards protests of necessity rather than the mass political movements that dominated the country last year.
“Historically in Venezuela, social, labor and public service protests predominate, except in 2014 and in the rebellion of 2017, whose protest cycles were political,” he explained. “In 2018 the economic and social crisis forced citizens to demonstrate for their rights, but in isolation, without political leadership which is very weak. Consequently, when social protest predominates, it is repressed.”
The report also demonstrates the scale of the general crackdown on protests carried out by the Maduro regime, as it tries to consolidate power and turn the country in a Cuba-style communist police state. In the past year, at least 15 people have been murdered while protesting for food or other essential services, while hundreds were killed in confrontations with security forces last year.
“Since Nicolás Maduro took office, 215 people have died in the context of demonstrations in the country,” it reads. “In five and a half years of government, Maduro has accumulated the highest number of people killed in protests since 1990.”