Venezuelans clean up after violent protests in capital

  • Roadblocks set up by anti-government protesters block a street in the Cotiza neighborhood during clashes with security forces as some residents show support for a mutiny by a National Guard unit in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Venezuela’s government said Monday it put down the mutiny. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela — Working class neighborhoods in Venezuela’s capital cleaned up charred rubble and smoldering trash Tuesday as they harbored fears that demonstrations called by the opposition could spur further violence.

Unrest broke out a day earlier when authorities arrested 27 members of the National Guard who were accused of launching an uprising against President Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition leaders, who are calling for nationwide protests Wednesday, have regained momentum in their efforts to confront the socialist president as the once-wealthy oil nation slides into a deepening political and economic crisis, with angry residents heeding the call to action.

Overnight, Venezuelans barricaded streets in dozens of Caracas areas that haven’t seen such turmoil in years.

Local merchant Carmen Martinez said her neighbors were frustrated by rising costs and a lack of basic goods under the current government.

“The people are going into the streets just for that reason,” Martinez said. “What do you do? Nobody seems to notice us.”

The sound of gunfire was heard in some neighborhoods, while people in others banged pots and pans from their open windows.

“Here we are all in the same holding pen: without light, without water, without medicine, without gas and with an uncertain future,” Juan Guaido, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, wrote on Twitter, calling for nationwide demonstrations and urging Venezuelans to abandon Maduro.

Guaido, a member of the Popular Will party, is also pursuing a campaign to gain the support of the armed forces, which Maduro’s government relies on to suppress unrest.

Dozens of leaders in the international community have joined the chorus calling Maduro’s presidency illegitimate.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday pledged his support for the people of Venezuela who take to the streets against Maduro.

“Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power,” Pence said in a video message. “He has never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip of power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him.”

The government has accused the opposition of attempting to mount a coup.

The latest turmoil began Monday when a small group of soldiers took captive a captain in charge of a police station in western Caracas and stole a cache of weapons from another outpost. Officials said 25 soldiers were quickly caught at the National Guard outpost 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Miraflores presidential palace, and two more arrests were made at another location.

The same night, another group of heavily armed national guardsmen published a series of videos on social media saying they won’t recognize Maduro’s government, citing Guaido’s call to action.

Minister of Communication Jorge Rodriguez said at a Tuesday news conference that investigators recovered most of the 51 stolen weapons. The 11 still missing are in the hands of the Popular Will party, he said, without offering proof.

“We warn that the nexus has been clearly linked between terrorists in the Popular Will party and those who perpetrated isolated violence yesterday,” Rodriguez said.

On Tuesday, drivers veered around an overturned garbage bin that still smoldered, while dozens of empty tear gas canisters fired by security forces at angry residents littered a nearby street.

Other roads remained blocked by gutted cars and tree branches.

People clustered on sidewalks trying to come to terms with the damage and thinking about what might happen during Wednesday’s protests. The smell of tear gas lingered in the air.

The clash in that neighborhood left a burned ruin of the Robert Serra cultural center, which is named for an important Venezuelan socialist leader who is considered a martyr. It’s unclear who burned the building, but officials say criminals threw gasoline bombs into the center.

Student Jesus Veroes said he was saddened by the violence, but blamed people from outside the neighborhood for the destruction of the center, which was often used by children who go and read.

Mayerlin Arias, minister of urban agriculture, said on Twitter that the government condemns “all fascist and terrorist acts that threaten our people and the historical legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution.”

“Robert Serra is an indestructible legacy of revolutionary struggle,” she wrote.

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