A spontaneous disturbance over lack of food broke out in western Caracas today, with protesters blocking the Urdaneta avenue and clashing with National Bolivarian Police and National Guard soldiers dispatched to the scene.

The protest appears to have started at around 12:30 PM EST time, when residents in the area began congregating on the intersection of the Urdaneta and Fuerzas Armadas avenues:

National Bolivarian Police officers quickly deployed to the area, blocking the protesters’ from moving west along the avenue:

The protest began just eight blocks away from the Miraflores Palace, where Maduro works. Maduro, along with the mayor of the Libertador Municipality, Jorge Rodriguez, have often referred to the west of Caracas as an “untouchable zone”, one in which no protests were allowed to take place.

National Guard soldiers arresting an individual:

Below, more pictures from the protest:

Below, a video showing protesters running away from a police line, possibly resulting from the use of tear gas to disperse the crowd:

The video below appears to show a group of men attacking reporters. The reporters may have been working for VivoPlay, an online news network that reports from Venezuela:

The suppression of anti-government protests by pro-government supporters is a relatively common occurrence in Venezuela. The groups that engage in this activity are referred to as colectivos armados [armed collectives]. Below, an image showing what appears to be a colectivo armado at today’s protest. Note that the man on the right is wielding a pistol:

The video below shows a group of men moving garbage and other objects onto a road in Caracas in order to block traffic. A man then speaks to the camera and explains his reasons for protesting:

Man in Blue: I want my freedom again, [like] back when we could shop! We don’t have freedom now. They want to oppress us [by] giving us one bag of food per week. We want freedom! Before, we had [money?] and could go out at whatever time of day we wanted. Before, we could set up a little store — even if we were unemployed, we could set up a little store to help with things a bit. Now, we can’t even set up a little store to help things.

By 3:30 PM Caracas time, the protest had been fully suppressed.

Below, another video showing what appears to be National Bolivarian Police officers firing tear gas at demonstrators:

La Patilla has a page with more videos and pictures from today’s protest, which you can find here.

Journalists Attacked During Protest

El Universal reports that a team it sent to cover the protest in Caracas today was attacked and had their equipment stolen throughout the afternoon by unknown assailants. The team included three photographers and one journalist.

According to the newspaper, Pablo Pupo – one of its photographers – was attacked by four men, who beat him with a metal stick and stole his equipment and other belongings “while the National Bolivarian Guard watched and took no action”. Later on, a National Guard soldier approached Pupo with his camera, but his other belongings were not receovered.

Deivis Ramirez, a journalist, had his cellphone stolen while he was recording testimony from a protesters.

El Universal points out that its reporters were not the only ones to have suffered violence today: La Patilla, VivoPlay, NTN24, 2001, El Pitazo and Cronica Uno are all news outlets whose reporters came under attack today.

Rodriguez: Protest “Under Control”

Libertador municipality mayor Jorge Rodriguez – whose section of Caracas was the site of the protest today – said during a television program in the early afternoon that the protest along the Urdaneta avenue was “under control”. He also said that the protest had been started by opposition figures trying to destabilize the country, and suggested that the people who protested were bachaqueros, individuals who buy subsidized goods to sell at premium prices on the street.

Rodriguez said that security forces had identified a network of bachaqueros who do not live in Libertador as the source of the disturbance, and then said:

We’ve found a peculiar situation in a few mall businesses along the main avenues in Caracas that are dedicated to other areas: hardware stores, plastic sellers, bakeries. Suddenly, they start selling products subsidized by the revolutionary government, and they do this by unloading trucks in the mid-morning to generate these disturbance points.

CNE Cancels Meeting with MUD for Fifth Time

The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the body in charge of overseeing elections in the country, has cancelled a meeting with the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) to discuss a timetable for the recall referendum against Maduro for the fifth time.

The CNE has been accused of shuffling its feet on the issue of the recall referendum. If the recall referendum takes place before January 10, 2017, a presidential election will take place, and it is very likely one that the PSUV would lose. However, if the referendum takes place after January 10, 2017, the VP Aristobulo Isturiz becomes president, ensuring the continuation of PSUV rule until at least 2019.

The CNE successfully organized a presidential election in a little over a month in 2013, and a constitutional referendum vote in just over two months in 2009, leaving many Venezuelans to wonder why it cannot hold the recall vote this year.

Jesus Torrealba, the head of the MUD, responded to this latest cancellation by saying that the CNE is clearly violating even its own schedule, and that the country’s political opposition would hold an emergency meeting this evening to discuss further action.

At the same time, Torrealba called on Venezuelans to remain “calm” in the face of what he considers to be “an extremely complex” situation.

Polar Secures $35 Million Loan

Polar Enterprises, Venezuela’s largest private and food producer, announced yesterday that it had managed to secure a $35 million loan from BBVA to help kick start its production in Venezuela.

Last month, Polar was forced to shut down its breweries in the country, after the national government stopped exchanging the company’s Bolivares for US Dollars, which it needs to import ingredients.

The announcement was made by Polar CEO Lorenzo Mendoza, who said:

In the face of this situation, we’ve been analyzing how to reactive our beer production, and we’ve finally found a temporary solution that will allow us to produce until the end of 2016.

Mendoza also called on the national government to allow the company to exchange currency to buy imports in a predictable way in order to prevent these types of disruptions to production to continue.

Almagro Speaks On OAS Meeting

Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) spoke today on yesterday’s meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council, during which member states discussed the situation in Venezuela.

Since yesterday’s meeting did not result in the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against the Venezuelan government, Almagro urged the Council to set a date for another meeting to discuss the issue. Almagro said that the OAS needs to take a definitive stance over the situation in Venezuela “today more than ever”.

OPEC Meets, Keeps Production Quota

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met today in Viena, where it refused to limit oil production quotas. The move could have forced oil prices to rise by limiting supply of the commodity.

Judge to Hear Leopoldo Lopez Appeal

A lawyer for jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez announced today that a judge will hear his appeal over his 14 year sentence one June 20.

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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