The youth-led protests in Venezuela have intensified in recent weeks, with the death toll rising to about 100 people who have been killed during demonstrations in Caracas and other cities since April.
Of those killed, it is reported that about half of the victims are between the ages of 17-32, showing the makeup of the opposition movement, which has held demonstrations almost every day.
The opposition is expressing its displeasure with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is currently overseeing a country afflicted by mounting inflation and a shortage of basic commodities that has led to long lines at stores.
The opposition movement fighting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the nation’s constitution in a July 30 election in what is largely viewed as a power grab.
Nevertheless, President Maduro has vowed to continue convening a constituent assembly and revise the country’s constitution, which opponents fear will derail democracy and make the country dictatorship. In a referendum recently held by the opposition, about 98 percent of the 7.5 million voters rejected the President’s assembly plans. However, the poll was unofficial and nonbinding.
The demonstrators, who the government has called “right-wing, drug-crazed “terrorists,” are seeking general elections, humanitarian aid and the release of political prisoners.
With economics and democracy on the decline in Venezuela, the youth felt no choice but to take to the streets in defense of their parents, who are struggling to find food to eat.
Known as “Chamos de la Resistencia” or, roughly, the Youth Resistance, the opposition has held largely peaceful demonstrations, which have at times become violent. Prepared for the worst, Chamos demonstrators have brought wooden shields and sticks to rallies, which have ended with police firing tear gas and other deterrents into the crowd, which has injured or killed some demonstrators.
Among the injured have included 23 year-old musician Wuilly Arteaga, who has become famous for playing the national anthem on his violin in front of security lines as battles rage on.
Many in the opposition movement were supporters of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013 from cancer. But Maduro’s government doesn’t have many of Chavez’s supporters on his side. Whereas Chavez was known for his socialist-based activities, Maduro has had to deal with the repercussions of Chavez using the country’s oil profits to fund food and energy programs for the poor. With low oil prices, Venezuela can no longer afford to supplement commodities for its poor.
The opposition movement is showing no signs of slowing down the number of demonstrators ahead of the July 30 election, which many the international community has urged Maduro to cancel. Mass marches are planned for Monday and Friday in effort to get President Maduro to abort plans for new Congress.
“The Venezuelan people are not giving up, they are valiant, they will come out to defend democracy and the constitution,” opposition lawmaker Simon Calzadilla said recently at a news conference.