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Venezuela Opposition Limits Protest on Chavez Anniversary

Venezuelan Protests
Opposition demonstrators protest in Caracas on March 4, 2014. Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Venezuela’s opposition has scaled back protests that have killed 18 people in the past three weeks as government supporters marked the one-year anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chavez.

Police broke up barricades in eastern Caracas today and shot tear gas at several hundred students who ignored the call to truce by opposition political parties. President Nicolas Maduro called the protesters saboteurs detached from the legitimate economic and social grievances of Venezuelans in a televised speech from Chavez’s mausoleum in Caracas.

The opposition held demonstrations throughout a six-day holiday that ended yesterday and which Maduro extended in order to damp the protests. Demonstrations are likely to resume after today’s anniversary, according to analysts including Colette Capriles, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.

“Right now there’s a stalemate, everyone’s waiting for the next move,” said Capriles, who isn’t related to opposition Governor Henrique Capriles. “Chavez’s anniversary brings a propaganda display that takes up spaces and overshadows everything else.”

‘Punished Severely’

“Today, small groups tried to block main routes,” Maduro said after arriving at a military parade ground to oversee the ceremonies. “Saboteurs must be punished severely.”

The president broke off diplomatic and commercial relations with Panama after accusing its leader, Ricardo Martinelli, of stocking foreign intervention. Martinelli last week said he asked the Organization of American States to hold a meeting of foreign ministers on Venezuela.

Chavez, who tapped the world’s largest oil reserves to create what he called “21st Century Socialism,” died a year ago at the age of 58 from cancer after 14 years in power. He was revered among the poor for his efforts to give them a voice in the nation’s politics and for expanding social and health programs to Venezuela’s most marginalized.

“Chavez was the great protector of the people,” Maduro said today. “Chavez has passed into history as the savior of the poor.”

“There should be a pause in all activities to show the country, the significant part of the country that supports Chavez, that we respect those supporters,” lawmaker and opposition leader Julio Borges said on Globovision television network yesterday.

Trade Bloc

Beyond Venezuela, Chavez sought to unite allies in Latin America and the Caribbean with a program granting subsidized oil and through a trade bloc that rejected U.S. economic policies and leadership.

Cuban President Raul Castro, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Suriname’s leader Desi Bouterse have arrived in Venezuelan to commemorate the death of Chavez, state news agency AVN reported. Maduro was Chavez’s vice president and foreign minister, succeeding him in elections held last April.

Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent dollar bond due 2027 fell 0.74 cent on the dollar to 72.27 cents today. The yield rose 16 basis points, or 0.16 percentage point, to 13.84 percent.

A “perfect storm is brewing in Venezuela,” Diego Moya-Ocampos, a political analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in a report yesterday.

‘Political Vacuum’

“What we are seeing in Venezuela is a political vacuum left unfilled since Chavez’s death, escalating pro and anti-government protests and a further contraction of the economy in 2014 and 2015, with record high inflation levels and shortages of food and basic goods, including medicines,” Moya-Ocampos said.

An increasingly unstable political environment won’t allow Venezuelan government to implement “meaningful changes to economic policies,” Moody’s Investors Service wrote in a report e-mailed today.

Maduro’s government turned to allies China and Russia for financial help. Oil Minister and Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez signed finance deals with the two countries, Maduro said on his Twitter account yesterday, without giving more details.

Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, led a women’s march yesterday to honor Venezuelans killed during the demonstrations and demand the release of detained protesters, including her husband. Students protesting about rising crime, shortages of basic goods and the world’s fastest inflation also joined the march.

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez signed a statement yesterday criticizing “disproportionate repression” by Venezuelan security forces while calling for talks to resolve the crisis.

“As friends of Venezuela’s democracy, we are confident that the country will be able to overcome the extreme polarization and intolerance that has dominated the political scene in recent years,” they wrote. “We urge the Venezuelan government and all the parties and political actors to establish a constructive debate.”

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