Protesters set late president Hugo Chavez’s childhood home in western Venezuela on fire Monday afternoon, an opposition lawmaker said amid heightened tensions between demonstrators and President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Demonstrators lit the house in the city of Barinas where Chavez spent his early years aflame along with several government buildings, including the regional office of the National Electoral Council, said Pedro Luis Castillo, a legislator who represents the area.
They have also destroyed at least five statues commemorating Chavez.
“It is pretty symbolic that the citizens are venting their frustrations on the author of the Bolivarian revolution,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas.
In Barinas, known as the cradle of Chavez’s socialist revolution, protesters clashed with national guardsmen, businesses were shuttered and roads were blocked with fire-filled barricades.
19-year-old Yorman Bervecia was shot and killed during a protest, according to the nation’s chief prosecutor.
At least 49 were killed in nearly two months of anti-government protests.
Food and medical shortages at the heart of protests
Doctors and health care workers clashed with riot security forces on Monday. The rally was called in the country’s capital Caracas by health care workers and opposition activists against medicine and medical supply shortages.
Access to the Caracas’ downtown was blocked at several points by heavily armed security forces looking to prevent a march to the Health Ministry to demand Maduro open a so-called humanitarian corridor for the delivery of medicine and food aid.
Opposition leaders are urging restraint from their followers but said security forces and pro-government militias — not the protesters — are behind the vast number of deadly attacks.
President Maduro accused protesters on Sunday of setting fire to a government supporter, saying what he calls “Nazi-fascist” elements are taking root inside the opposition’s ranks and contributing to a dangerous spiral of violence.
Maduro said that 21-year-old Orlando Zaragoza suffered burns to almost all his body when he was doused with gasoline and set on fire at a protest in Caracas a day earlier.
Videos circulating on social media show a man covered in flames fleeing a small mob.
“In Venezuela, there’s rising a counterrevolution of Nazi-fascist influence that has infected the emotions and thinking of thousands of compatriots, who believe they have the right to pursue others for the simple crime of being Venezuelan or Chavista or revolutionary,” Maduro said on his weekly TV programme.
“This is terrorism,” he said, adding he was being treated.
The attack is under investigation but some eyewitnesses told local media that Zaragoza was caught robbing demonstrators.
Control of protests
Meanwhile, a retired army general opposed to Maduro denounced what he said are plans by the military in the central state of Lara to deploy snipers to control protests that turn violent.
The plans were discussed in a month-old conversation among top generals in the state secretly recorded by one of the participants, according to retired Gen. Cliver Cordones, who on Monday sent a petition to Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega asking her to investigate the matter.
Cordones, who broke with Maduro more than a year ago, said he obtained the recording and written transcript of the conversation in a pen drive left in an unmarked envelope at his residence.
In it, a man identified as Gen. Jose Rafael Torrealba, the top military official in the state, discusses the need to start selecting soldiers with proven psychological and technical strength for use as sharpshooters.
The context of the conversation is what the officer says is the increasing use of firearms by protesters to shoot at security forces.
“The time will come in which we’ll have to deploy them, and I want us to be ready for that moment,” the man identified as Torrealba says.
“The president won’t just stay in his green phase gentlemen,” he adds, referring to the first stage of a military plan to control the protests announced last month by Maduro.
While some can be heard voicing support for the idea, at least one expresses concern that such plans, if acted on, could land commanding officers in jail.