President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was forced to cut short a speech on Tuesday night and beat a hasty retreat after an angry crowd pelted him with eggs and other objects. The incident took place at the first event open to the public he has attended since a wave of protests that has swept the country over the last week began.
Maduro was in the town of San Félix, in Bolívar state, in the south of the country, a traditional bastion of support for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, founded by former president Hugo Chávez in 2007.
The president, who had just arrived from Cuba, was attending an event to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of San Félix, which liberated the Atlantic coastal areas of Guyana from Spanish rule.
The event was being broadcast live by state television, but the coverage was suddenly interrupted when it became clear that Maduro’s bodyguards were climbing up onto the open top truck he was traveling in to protect him from the eggs and other objects that were being hurled by the angry crowd, who were also shouting insults.
The opposition intends to continue organizing further protests this week
Footage filmed on cellphones and distributed on social networks show that the mood of the crowd suddenly turned as Maduro’s vehicle approached.
Unofficial sources say that security forces arrested five people, including two minors, for instigating the protest.
In September 2016, a similar incident was seen in the town of Villa Rosa, in the state of Nueva Esparta, when Maduro was surrounded by a crowd of protesters and had to be hurriedly removed by his security team. Raids were reportedly carried out in the area immediately afterwards, and video clips deleted from phones. Braulio Jatar, a journalist with the Reporte Confidencial website, which broadcast footage of the incident, was imprisoned and remains behind bars.
Venezuela’s opposition, which wants a recall referendum on Maduro, said it has organized protests for the coming days throughout the country. On Wednesday, supporters of the MUD opposition grouping will take part in Holy Week processions, with another planned for Thursday in Caracas, ahead of what it is calling the “Mother of all demonstrations,” planned for April 19.
The protests were triggered by a decision to wrest the opposition-controlled legislature of its power
Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets on April 9 at a demonstration that attracted thousands of opponents of Maduro in Caracas amid protests that followed the governments’ decision to ban key opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years.
The ban came after a 10-day crackdown during which government supporters roughed up several opposition leaders, with one seeking refuge in a foreign embassy to escape arrest.
The protests were triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision to wrest the opposition-controlled legislature of its power, a move that was later reversed amid widespread international condemnation and even dissent within the ruling party.
For the last year, Venezuela has been in the throes of an unprecedented crisis that is hitting it from all sides: it has the highest inflation rate in the world, violence is rampant, people have trouble finding and buying necessary everyday items, and social fabric is breaking down.
English version by Nick Lyne.