Anti-government protests have erupted in Venezuela’s poorer areas, where the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro would have normally been expected to have stronger popular support.
Low-income neighborhoods and hillside slums on the outskirts of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, traditionally thought to be home to pro-government groups and supporters of Maduro, were the scene of clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday after a heckling incident during a rally attended by the leftist leader.
Maduro was taking part in a rally in the poor eastern state of Bolivar Tuesday night when a crowd turned on him, throwing objects at his convoy and shouting “Damn you.”
Hundreds of young men also burned trash and scuffled with police in scattered protests across poor neighborhoods outside the capital and in other major cities.
Riot police were forced to use tear gas and water cannons to re-establish order and stop the looting of local stores.
Official reports said two protesters, aged 13 and 36, had been killed during clashes in the western Lara State.
“People went into the streets last night because we are very upset,” said Wilfredo Martinez, who lives in the working-class Caracas neighborhood of La Vega. “We’re having a terrible time. We can’t find food and sick people can’t find medicine.”
Public discontent with the government has been high as a result of the economic woes gripping the once-booming Latin American economy. Acute shortages of foodstuffs and medicine have forced hundreds of thousands of people to march across the border into neighboring Colombia to buy necessities in recent months. This is while Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.
The opposition in Venezuela is planning to stage mass anti-Maduro protests on April 19 in what is described as the “mother of all protest marches.”
The protesters demand new elections, among other things.
Tensions have been running high between the opposition and the government since the 2015 elections, when the opposition gained control of the parliament. The opposition blames Maduro’s socialist government for the country’s economic troubles, while the leftist government blames the Western-backed opposition forces for inciting political unrest.
Last year, the opposition launched an abortive attempt to force Maduro out of office by seeking to hold a recall referendum.
Public discontent, especially among the upper echelons of the society, has boosted the opposition in only some of its struggles against the government, whose socialist policies would be expected to be more appealing to the economically challenged. The recent protests in poorer areas in the country, however, may be a sign of deeper dissatisfaction with the Maduro government than previously thought.