As reported by Venezuela's Education and Human Rights Action Program (PROVEA), on February 12, student organizations and opposition parties called for marches in various parts of Venezuela to demand the release of students that had been detained in different cities. At much the same time the country's National Executive called on pro-government students to march "For Peace and Life" in observance of the country's Youth Day. The result was at least 16 opposition marches in cities like Caracas, San Antonio de los Altos, Acarigua, Porlamar, Maracay, Valencia, Maracaibo, Merida, San Cristobal, El Vigia, Puerto La Cruz, Puerto Ordaz, Barquisimeto, Cabimas, while government supporters were mobilized in at least 3 cities: Caracas, Merida and Maracay. PROVEA reports that up until 2 pm the marches had developed peacefully.
However, PROVEA reports that in Caracas, at the height of Carabobo Park, clashes broke out involving protesters, police groups, members of the National Guard and the National Bolivarian Police which resulted in two deaths: Juan Montoya (40) described as a popular leader of the January 23 Group, a member of the Revolutionary Venezuela Secretariat, and a student demonstrator by the name of Bassil Dacosta (24). According to the report of the organization "Médicos por la Salud" 6 others were injured and hospitalized in medical centers in the city. In other cities, violence was also reported. In the evening hours the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, state of Miranda, reported the murder of another unidentified protester - a boy by the name of Ramón.
Given the situation, PROVEA called on authorities to carry out a transparent investigation to determine those responsible for the three murders in Caracas on that day. The Panamerican Post has a good rundown of what was reported that day. Of course, as is known, demonstrations have continued since then culminating with two large rival demonstrations today.
Since I am not in the country (and even if I were, it would likely still be difficult to figure out what is happening, given all the misinformation), I would like to quote extensively from a translated article by a professor of Political Science at the Central University of Venezuela:
Before the protests of February 12... the opposition had a clear and politically legitimate leadership that was attempting to stem the explosion which seemed eminent, and to construct an effective and non-insurrectionist path. The government had tried for its part, somewhat clumsily, to open a dialogue with the recently elected opposition mayors and governors. At the same time President Maduro had been cautiously and discretely distancing himself from the most radical wing of the PSUV that even went so far as to question his loyalty to the ideas of Chávez.This last sentence seems corroborated in the mainstream media:
The Chavistas (supporters of the late President Hugo Chavez) are divided over the governance of Nicolas Maduro, with an important sector expressing their displeasure over the performance of the regime in respect to the collapse of the economy and the wave of protest demonstrations shaking the country. Surveys and focus group interviews conducted recently show that the popular support Maduro has is actually very low, and a significant portion of the sector that traditionally was attracted by the discourse and the political project of the late Hugo Chavez feels distrust of the new leader.The UCV political scientist (cited previously) continues:
Those interested in dialogue, from both sides, were cautious and advanced slowly. This appeared to be the only solution after fifteen years of intense polarization and mutual distrust. As recent events have shown, the situation indeed merited extreme caution and care. This caution was seen as an opportunity by three political leaders who were not part of these dialogues: a mayor who had not been invited to the dialogue, a political leader who had been inhabilitado (disqualified for holding public office) until 2017, and a National Assembly representative. These three found in street actions a prominence they could not find through dialogue. The tensions of these political leaders with the opposition coalition—Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, or MUD—went far back and were well known because they claimed a prominence they could not back up with votes.These three included at least two names I would like to highlight: María Corina Machado Parisca, founder, former vice president, and former president of the Venezuelan volunteer civil organization Súmate, and Leopoldo López Mendoza, a Venezuelan politician and economist who was the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, but rose to prominence during events surrounding the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt, where "he orchestrated the public protests against Chávez and he played a central role in the citizen's arrest of Chavez's interior minister", Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, though he later tried to distance himself from the event,. Please read Max Blumenthal's highly informative piece about López Mendoza, that ties him up with "...the son of a CIA asset who channeled money from Venezuelan oligarchs to the Nicaraguan Contras(!)" On the other hand, some years ago, María Corina Machado:
...was charged (together with other Súmate representatives) with conspiracy for funds Súmate received from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), triggering condemnation of the administration of ... Hugo Chavez from human rights groups. In February 2010, Machado resigned from Súmate and announced her candidacy for the September 2010 elections for the National Assembly of Venezuela; she was elected as the highest vote-getter in the national elections.Back to UCV political scientist Ángel Álvarez:
The first secessionist action by the three was the creation of a parliamentary group called la movida (“the move”) which effectively divided the MUD representation in the National Assembly. Their second initiative was la calle (“the street”) which they enacted on their own, and into which they tried, with all their might, to drag (moderate opposition leader) Capriles and the MUD.
According to David Smilde (writing on 21 February):
The demonstrations began with students supporting Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado’s #lasalida mobilization. Machado and Lopez do not agree with the opposition coalition’s (MUD's) strategy of trying to grow their constituency through longer term groundwork, nor with their willingness to dialogue with the government in January. They want a more aggressive and immediate strategy because they feel the situation is unsustainable and that in a couple years’ time there will not be enough democratic liberties for them to fight for power.And political scientist Ángel Álvarez concludes:
Maduro felt threatened by the intensity of the protests and the violent expressions of discontent. As a result he seems to have again embraced the most radical groups that present themselves as the last stop guarantee of stability for his government. What was initially presented in social media as “#lacalle” and “#lasalida” has become a dark and smoky alley with several dead.Of course, Leopoldo López is now in jail and has urged his supporters to continue protesting.
The MUD and Capriles have tried to stop the violence, but have been unable to do so since they were against violence from the start and therefore do not have contact with the radicals that now seem willing to do anything. These violent protestors will perhaps only listen to those leaders that originally called them to the streets.
It is hard not to reach the conclusion that radical elements of the opposition see an opportunity in the economic malaise which has enveloped the region. According to the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean:
The Latin American and Caribbean region recorded GDP growth of 2.6% in 2013, down from 3.1% in 2012, testifying to the continuation of the economic slowdown apparent in the region since 2011.While the region is expected to grow 3.2% this year, Venezuela is expected to only register a growth of 1%. What better moment to push for regime change?