Police ‘take control’ of San Cristobal after weeks of opposition occupation, officials say
Caracas – Venezuelan police and security forces have “taken control” of the restive city of San Cristobal, after weeks of battling protesters who had set up barricades around the city, government officials said this week.
The city, the capital of Tachira State that shares border with Colombia, is the epicentre of the ongoing opposition protests against the Maduro government.
Demonstrations against the government began in the west of the country nearly two months ago and have subsequently spread to the capital Caracas and most other major Venezuelan cities.
Protests began in early February in the states of Tachira and Merida after a student was sexually assaulted on a Merida university campus. The students were angry over the police’s alleged unwillingness to investigate the crime, nor increase security.
With the fifth highest murder rate in the world, violent street crime in the country is rife. Students were also protesting shortages of staple foods like milk and butter, and common household items like toilet paper, coupled with a crippling 57 percent inflation rate.
Protests later spread to Caracas and other cities, and on February 12, after clashes between protesters, police and the Venezuelan National Guard, dozens of protesters were arrested and scores more injured.
The demonstrations quickly turned deadly when three people were shot on the same day.
Since then, there have been almost daily protests throughout Venezuela, and countless instances of brutality against demonstrators by police and pro-government thugs known locally as the ‘colectivos’. There have also been more than 100 accusations of torture of detainees, including the alleged rape of one male protester with the butt of a rifle.
This week, Venezuelan General Vladimir Padrino, the head of the National Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command, said that the police and the National Guard had “ended the curfew imposed by terrorists” in San Cristobal.
He said no one had been injured in an operation to clear the blockades in the avenues Carabobo, Ferrero Tamayo and España.
Jose Vielma Mora, governor of Tachira, said “Our intention is to guarantee normality and access to public services for the inhabitants of all of these sectors.”
The military sweep comes after at least four weeks of a heavy military presence in Tachira State. In late February President Nicolas Maduro sent in troops to fight the increasingly militant protesters there, whom he refers to as “extreme-right fascists” and “Nazis.”
Maduro has also used his power to intimidate and even censor media outlets he deems unfriendly to the regime.
On February 15, the Colombia-based international news network NTN24 was removed from the airwaves inside Venezuela after the telecoms regulator there accused the network of “stirring up chaos” and “inciting violence” for its coverage of the anti-government protests.
And on March 21, 20 CNN reporters in Caracas had their press credentials revoked. Maduro told a crowd of supporters “Enough war propaganda. I do not accept war propaganda against Venezuela. If they do not rectify things, get out of Venezuela, CNN, get out.”
Though 20 of its journalists were booted out of Venezuela, the news network was allowed to maintain its presence in the country after it appealed the decision by Maduro just a day before.