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Venezuela: Protests Overshadow Carnival Holidays

By: Alan Furth - @afurth - Mar 5, 2014, 1:10 pm

EspañolWhat started as a student movement in February, demanding solutions to widespread crime in Venezuela, has turned during the last several weeks into a series of nationwide demonstrations protesting against what opponents of the government see as the country’s main problems.

These demonstrations continue on, despite the celebration of Carnival festivities that ended on Tuesday. That day featured a march organized by the student movement and political opponents, carried out from Miranda Park to Petare, one of the largest working-class neighborhoods in Latin America. Both the starting point and the destination were located in the Sucre Municipality, Miranda state, which, while governed by the opposition, has several popular areas of Chavista majority.

The Parque Miranda-Petare march in Caracas. Source: Reportero NTN24
The Parque Miranda-Petare march in Caracas. Source: Reportero NTN24 via Twitter.

Every year, the country celebrates the Carnival for two non-working days in which Venezuelans generally flock massively to enjoy the beaches. Floats, costumes, and partying are the norm. However, given the tension between the government and the opposition, escalating with the protests, this year the government has explicitly encouraged people to take a holiday instead of participating in the protests.

Besides the Monday and Tuesday Carnival holidays, President Nicolas Maduro declared the previous Thursday and Friday as nonworking days, which added to the weekend, gave a total of six consecutive nonworking days. In addition, Wednesday, March 5, was also added, as it is a national holiday to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chávez.

Protesters also carried out new initiatives to publicize their ongoing concern, such as a campaign to convince people not to go on vacation and “keep fighting.” Slogans like “if you get tired you loose,” “Carnival or freedom,” and “Let’s exchange the Carnivals for food and security” were printed on banners carried on protests during the last few days.

Meanwhile, government spokesmen stated that tourism activity throughout the country proceeded normally.

Two days ago, Tourism Minister Andrés Izarra said to the state channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV): “This great mobilization (of tourists) during Carnival is proof that the violent ones are a minority, they are confined, increasingly isolated, and during this Monday at noon I say that barricades have been defeated by the people’s happiness.”

“We will not let those who want fire and mourning to take away the Carnival from us,” affirmed Izarra.

Similarly, the Minister of Water and Air Transport, Hebert García, assured that the volume of international flights increased 5.24 percent compared to last year’s Carnival, and that until Sunday 172,084 passengers had traveled on domestic flights.

Protesters Diversify Their Strategies

During the holidays, protesters used the beaches as the setting for their actions. On Saturday, Lido Beach, located in the resort city of Puerto La Cruz, Anzoátegui state, saw the light of day with crosses stuck in the sand, in which demonstrators wrote the names of the deceased during the recent protests.

Crosses at Lido Beach, Puerto La Cruz. Source: Graciela Castillo
Crosses at Lido Beach, Puerto La Cruz. Source: Graciela Castillo via Twitter.

However, seven demonstrators who wanted to replicate the protest in another beach in Puerto la Cruz were repressed by government supporters and police officers.

Crosses used by protesters allegedly burned by government sympathizers. Source: OsamaAbad via Twitter.
Crosses used by protesters allegedly burned by government sympathizers. Source: OsamaAbad via Twitter.

In Margarita island, another major tourist and holiday destination in the country, cyclists protested by lying on the pavement, black crosses and tombstones were placed on beaches, and cars were seen stopping in the middle of the streets pretending to be damaged, collapsing roads as a way of protest.

Cyclists lay on pavement as a form of protest in Margarita island. Source: SoyVenezolano via Twitter.
Cyclists lay on pavement as a form of protest in Margarita island. Source: SoyVenezolano via Twitter.
Cars stop in the middle of the road pretending to be damaged as a sign of protest. Source: FPenoth via Twitter.
Cars stop in the middle of the road pretending to be damaged as a sign of protest. Source: FPenoth via Twitter.

Despite his statements on Sunday, after completion of the holidays, Minister Izarra recognized that tourism had declined due to the protests, saying that tourism had suffered a “significant” drop in Nueva Esparta, Mérida, and Táchira states.

“This year we were experiencing a major tourist flood in Margarita, but this wave of violence and its magnification in the international media certainly had a big impact on our image and our ability to receive foreign tourists,” the minister said.

About Margarita island, the president of the Chamber of Insular Tourism, José Antonio Yapur, said: “We estimate that, on average, there has been a decrease of 25 to 30 points in hotel occupancy this season.” He also pointed out that commerce had been adversely affected by the problems related to obtaining foreign exchange and reposition of inventory.

Alan Furth Alan Furth

Alan Furth leads the PanAm Post's Spanish-language edition from Buenos Aires, Argentina — where he settled after living in more than a dozen countries — and he holds a bachelors degree in economics from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, Venezuela. Visit his website, and follow him on Twitter: @afurth.