Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López saying goodbye to his wife, Lilian Tintori de López, prior to his arrest yesterday in Caracas. (Photo courtesy dolartoday.com)
The title of a Washington Post editorial this morning reads, "Venezuela's neighbors have to work to stem the chaos." However, an e-mail announcing the editorial reads "Venezuela Unravels" -- perhaps a more appropriate title in view of what is happening in that country.
On Monday, the Venezuelan Government notified the State Department that they have declared three of our consular officers personae non-gratae. The officers were given 48 hours to leave the country and the United States "is considering what actions to take," according to the State Deparment.
The State Department continues:
We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.
The allegations against our diplomats by the Venezuelan government are baseless and false. Our Consular Officers were conducting normal outreach activities at universities on student visas, which is something we do around the world as a way to improve the accessibility and transparency of the visa process.
The State Department urges Venezuela's government to work to address its people's grievances forthrightly through real, meaningful dialogue and emphasizes the "strong historic and cultural ties" between the United States and the Venezuelan people.
Of course, this is all diplomatic talk for a situation that is rapidly spiraling out of control, or as the Post puts it "unraveling" and one which the Post describes more bluntly as follows:
...street demonstrations by students and average citizens fed up with soaring inflation, shortages of basic goods, one of the world's highest murder rates and a government whose only response has been to shout senseless populist slogans.
As thousands of Venezolanos took to the streets last week to protest those conditions, the Maduro regime resorted to more extreme measures: "Several demonstrators were shot and killed last week by gunmen likely affiliated with security forces or pro-government militias," says the Post.
Yesterday, as covered "live" by major news sources, such as CNN, and numerous blogs, 42-year-old, Harvard-educated opposition leader Leopoldo López marched with thousands of protesters in Caracas and then surrendered to national guard troops.
Before his arrest, López told the massive crowds, "The options I had were leave the country, and I will never leave Venezuela...The other option was to remain in hiding, but that option could have left doubt among some, including some who are here, and we don't have anything to hide."
Crowds demonstrating in Caracas, Feb. 18 (Photo courtesy dolartoday.com)
Later, the Maduro government said that López had been taken to a prison outside the capital, but Caracas Chronicles reports that López was to stay in Caracas Tuesday night in order to be arraigned in court today, Wednesday.
According to CNN, charges include murder, terrorism and arson in connection with the protests -- accusations López has denied.
Maduro supporters, including oil workers and members of the ruling Socialist Party, held their own demonstration in Caracas and Reuters reports that there "has been no evidence Venezuela's military might turn against Maduro, the 51-year-old successor to Chavez."
As mentioned, many bloggers both inside and outside Venezuela are reporting on the crisis in that country.
One American couple living in Caracas has been posting on some of the reasons for the present crisis:
Discontent over the past 9 months has festered, with no major outbreak since last May. But, as is the case when fire is suppressed in the wilderness, the "fuel" builds up and then all it takes is a spark to ignite all that tinder. That spark came last week when university students began protesting. The fire burned hot - and continues to do so.
Their grievances are manifold: spiraling inflation, political corruption, violence characteristic of the Wild West, and even a dearth of the basics such as milk, sugar, toilet paper, and flour. Additionally, dozens of students who began protesting earlier this month found themselves arrested and placed in prisons outside of their local jurisdictions. Little in Venezuela currently gives students hope about a future in their country.
They have also blogged on their students' thoughts on the crisis -- the American couple teaches at a school in Caracas -- and on their own thoughts ahead of yesterday's demonstrations. Read this and other very interesting posts about their experiences in Venezuela here.