On Friday, hours after a violent clash between protesters and security forces, Venezuelan authorities confirmed 19-year-old university student Jairo Ortiz had been shot dead.
His death is the first in the protest waged by thousands on the streets of Caracas against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, demonstrations that began after last week’s Supreme Court decision to usurp the functions of the legislature, largely seen as the last stronghold as the opposition.
Coming at a time of deep political and economic malaise in what was once one of Latin America’s richest democracies, the judicial overreach was met with mass outrage — even from Venezuela’s attorney general, a long time Maduro supporter. The court mostly reversed its decision over the weekend, but protests nevertheless continued.
On Thursday, as Adm. Kurt Tidd of the U.S. Southern Command — with responsibility for Latin America — was warning the Senate Armed Services Committee of economic instability in Venezuela, protesters and security forces clashed violently in Caracas. Protesters threw stones. Security officials used tear gas. Thousands blocked a highway. Maduro said on television that authorities detained 30 people.
Opposition leader (and former presidential candidate) Henrique Capriles called on the state ombudsman, who is, in theory, charged with defending human rights in Venezuela, to protect the people, not the government.
“The human rights advocate has to stop being the Socialist Party advocate!,” Capriles said in an online broadcast. Socialist Party official Freddy Bernal accused Capriles of trying to “ignite the country,” and said, “Don’t then come like a sissy saying that you’re a political prisoner. Don’t then come crying that you’re being persecuted.”
But Capriles, it seems, is being persecuted. On Friday, he said on Twitter that he had been barred from holding public office for 15 years. This would mean he could not run in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2018, which the opposition has been trying to move them up.
It seems just the latest confirmation that Maduro’s beleaguered government is trying to emasculate the opposition. With Capriles out of action, and his fellow opposition leader, the imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez, out of commission, Maduro is steadily thinning the ranks of any serious rivals.