Venezuelan government and opposition supporters held rival marches today in Caracas after President Nicolas Maduro rejected any mediation by the Organization of American States and cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Panama.
Maduro called the OAS a “dying organization” that won’t be allowed to mediate in the crisis and accused Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli, who backs OAS talks, of “scheming” against the country. The OAS includes the U.S., which Venezuela has accused of encouraging three weeks of protests.
“This president from the right wing is actively scheming against Venezuela to justify OAS intervention,” Maduro said in a speech yesterday. “I’m not going to accept anyone conspiring against our country.”
The OAS said it will hold private talks today in Washington to consider Panama’s request. Martinelli said on his Twitter account that Maduro’s announcement surprised him and that he wants to see peace restored to Venezuela. Panama and Venezuela are not among each other’s 10 biggest trading partners, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Venezuela is seeking support from neighboring nations to stabilize the country through the Unasur and Mercosur blocs, neither of which include the U.S.
The South American country is “confronting a situation that is not about peaceful protests but violent ones” supported by the U.S., Jaua said in an e-mailed statement sent by the government. “It’s the state’s duty to to re-establish order with proportional force, as we have been doing.”
Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega raised the death toll from the three weeks of protest to 19 today, without giving details. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said on state television that a national guard officer was killed by a sniper.
Maduro, marking the one-year anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death yesterday, called the protesters saboteurs detached from the legitimate economic and social grievances of Venezuelans.
Security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters last night in the Chacao neighborhood of Caracas, a center of the protests that erupted Feb. 12 and have killed 18 people. National Guard troops confronted protesters into the night with tear gas and rubber bullets. Demonstrators set fire to barricades to prevent troop advances.
The opposition held demonstrations throughout a six-day holiday that ended March 4 and which Maduro extended in order to damp the protests.
Student Vanessa Teran, her face covered with a bandanna in Altamira’s main plaza, said the government is responsible for high crime and a weakened economy that has made people desperate.
“We are studying and we have to look for work abroad because you can’t get a job here,” Teran, a physical therapy student, said. “I have been on the streets since February 12 and no one’s getting me off.”