Venezuelans return to daily struggle after violent unrest
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Bumping shoulders with fellow shoppers as she navigated Caracas’ biggest open-air market, Naira Garcia had no trouble tuning out the messy political struggle that plunged Venezuela into two days of deadly violence this week.
She focused instead on her own daunting task: How to feed her family of five for the next two weeks on the $4 she had in her pocket. Like many of Venezuela’s poor, Garcia scrapes by on odd jobs — selling home-made lollipops or mangos that recently came into season.
“There are good days and bad days,” said the 43-year-old mother of three teenagers, lugging two shopping bags with sardines, sweet peppers and leafy green onions. “I never abandon my faith.”
The bustling Coche Market is a sign that Caracas has returned to what passes for normal life after the outburst of violent unrest that left at least four people dead. It began Tuesday when U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for a military uprising, attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.
The socialist Maduro is blamed for leading Venezuela into the deepest economic and political crisis in the nation’s history, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves. Soaring hyperinflation has pulverized paychecks in a nation where the average monthly wage is just $6.50.
Opposition leaders had hoped that Guaido’s risky move would stir a string of high-ranking military defections and shake Maduro’s grip on power. But no rebellion materialized, and instead two days of deadly clashes ensued between protesters and police in cities across the country.
Two people were killed by gunfire in the city of La Victoria and two others in Caracas, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, a human rights group. Among the dead was 16-year-old Yosner Graterol, who died Thursday morning. Activists said at least 230 people were injured and 205 were detained during the clashes Tuesday and Wednesday.
The entrenched president on Thursday urged the armed forces to combat “traitors” as he sought to project strength. Speaking at Fort Tiuna, a military base in Caracas, Maduro also said the opposition had sought to provoke bloodshed in the capital at Guaidó’s urging.
At Maduro’s side, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said the military’s loyalty cannot be bought.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s top court opened a criminal case against the second most powerful opposition lawmaker, Edgar Zambrano, accused of treason and of instigating an insurrection after he joined Guaidó’s attempted uprising.
The court also ordered the arrest of popular opposition activist Leopoldo López, who took refuge at the home of the Spanish ambassador after also joining Guaidó’s attempt to topple Maduro in violation of his house arrest. Lopez was detained for leading anti-government protests in 2014, and had been under house arrest for two years.
Spanish officials said Thursday they would not hand over Lopez and urged the Venezuelan government to respect the ambassador’s residence.
Speaking at the gate of the ambassador’s home in Caracas, Lopez said he expects the country’s military will step up to overthrow Maduro despite setbacks, adding that in recent weeks he has talked with majors in the Venezuelan armed forces, who told him they are committed to Maduro’s ouster.
“I want to tell all my brothers in Venezuela and all over the world that we are not going to rest until we reach our goal, which is the cessation of the tyranny,” he said.
But at the Coche market, such political talk was pushed aside Thursday to make room for haggling over the best price for carrots and shiny purple eggplants.
Tucked beneath a hillside barrio in the capital, its narrow pathways were filled with bare-chested workers pushing carts heavy with sacks of onions and potatoes. They vied for space with shoppers and vendors selling cigarettes and bottled water.
An occasional gambler played an old-fashioned shell-game with three tennis balls cut in half, and a white-and-red rooster drew a crowd, crowing from atop one nearby stall with watermelons balanced on a scale.
Farmers truck in the produce, meat and coffee from miles away to the market, known for its low prices. Its customers include everybody from restaurant owners to homemakers who travel for hours from the outskirts of Caracas to get there.
A woman crouched over a box of white onions said she sets the price based on what her customers, most of whom survive on monthly wages of $6 or less, are willing to pay. Another vendor, flicking a wad of cash in his left hand, explained that his stacks of bell peppers and eggplants would go for the equivalent of 20 cents. They were yesterday’s produce and go into the pot for tonight’s dinner.
“Today, or never,” he said.
Garcia, who carefully budgets for her shopping trips each two weeks into Caracas, said she was trained as a school teacher, but the low pay forced her to abandon the classroom. Instead, she and her husband sell mangoes that fall into the streets this time of year. During other seasons, they sell homemade lollypops.
Garcia collects her meager earnings and at dawn leaves her home in the rural outskirts of Caracas for a journey by foot, train and metro taking nearly two hours. She avoids entering into debates about Maduro and Guaidó and turns off the television when politicians take to the airwaves.
“The truth be told, life is quite challenging,” Garcia said. “It’s better to pray to God and ask him to take control.”
Associated Press writer Christopher Torchia in Caracas contributed to this report.