Angry Venezuela protesters take aim at Chavez statues

2017-05-24 06:08
A Venezuelan woman confronts a line of police officers in riot gear during an anti-government protest in Caracas. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

A Venezuelan woman confronts a line of police officers in riot gear during an anti-government protest in Caracas. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

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Caracas - Anti-government protesters in Venezuela have settled on a new target for their frustration: Hugo Chavez.

Until recently, even as the economy collapsed and Venezuelans abandoned support for President Nicolas Maduro, many in the socialist-run country continued to revere Chavez for standing up for the oil-rich nation's long-overlooked poor masses.

But that once solid reputation has begun to crumble as quickly as statues and monuments built to the late strongman have been toppled. As anti-government unrest has spread, claiming at least 48 lives and leaving hundreds injured, protesters have ripped from their pedestals statues honouring Chavez in at least five towns over the past month.

Government supporters

The latest incident took place after a protest in the western city of Barinas turned violent and demonstrators torched a home where Chavez spent part of his childhood.

During a day of violence in the city, in which at least three men were killed and 50 injured, it was unclear how the incident began or the extent of damage to the house - one of several and hardly the best known - where a young Chavez lived during an itinerant upbringing marked by poverty.

But the symbolism was nonetheless deeply felt by protesters and government supporters alike.

Since Chavez died in 2013, Maduro has tried to cement his grip on power by constantly invoking his political mentor. New statues depicting a youthful Chavez have been built around the country. His penetrating eyes and iconic signature are emblazoned on hundreds of public buildings. And even anti-government demonstrators frequently couch their criticism of Maduro by citing El Comandante's old speeches to argue he has strayed from Chavez's revolutionary road map.

Yet in town plazas around the country, Venezuelans no longer appear to view Chavez's legacy as justification for the current government.

Insulting officials

In Villa del Rosario, a town in northwest Venezuela, protesters two weeks ago set fire to a statue of Chavez standing in salute and later proceeded to shake it back and forth, cheering when they finally knocked it to the ground. In another city, the commander's boots, body sawed off above the ankles, was the only evidence left of the spot where a Chavez statue once stood. In another, a Chavez bust disappeared entirely.

Sixteen people were detained in the Villa del Rosario statue destruction and sent to military tribunals, according to their lawyer, Laura Valbuena. She said they have been charged with rebellion and insulting officials and could face up to 27 years in prison.
Read more on:    nicolas maduro  |  venezuela

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