Confrontations between protesters and Venezuelan security forces escalated in Caracas, with an armored vehicle running over unarmed protesters hours after Juan Guaidó called on people to flock to the streets peacefully as he begins the “final phase” of his plan to oust regime leader Nicolás Maduro.
Guaidó, head of the nation’s congress who is recognized by over 50 nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, joined the protests on April 30 with activist Leopoldo López, who had been detained by Maduro. The two were accompanied by a small contingent of soldiers who have defected from Maduro’s regime.
Guaidó and protestors occupied and then abandoned the La Carlota air base in Altamira in the morning hours of April 30.
“Today, brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men supporting the constitution have answered our call,” Guaidó said in a video posted on his Twitter account. “The end of the usurpation is today.”
López, who was arrested in 2014 for calling for protests against Maduro, said on Twitter that he had “been freed by the military by the order of the constitution of President Guaidó.”
As crowds of masked protesters gathered late in the morning, throwing rocks and occasionally Molotov cocktails at armored vehicles blocking their path near the airport, one of those vehicles proceeded to plow into the crowds, widely shared footage from the incident shows. A number of protesters tried to retreat but couldn’t evade the vehicle’s path as it accelerated. Other protesters rushed to the aid of those injured; it is yet unknown how many were affected or if there were fatalities.
The incident was vehemently denounced in social media by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international observers as the latest violation of human rights on the part of the Maduro regime which holds onto power despite Venezuela’s spiraling economic, social, and political crisis.
“[The incident] was a flagrant violation of the right to life that generates judicial repercussions,” said Rodolfo Montes, a lawyer at Venezuelan human rights advocacy group, PROVEA, who said it would be brought to the International Criminal Court along with other human rights violations repeatedly employed by security forces since 2017.
The vehicles previously had used water cannons in a failed attempt to disperse the crowds who returned rocks. The air base remains in control of Maduro loyalists, but is currently up in flames.
In nearby Altamira Plaza, eyewitnesses described “a tense calm” as crowds awaited Guaidó, and security forces used “disproportionate force” against opposition protesters.
Guaidó has pledged that he has the support of “the main military units of our Armed Forces,” but it remains unclear who determined those figures. Several high-ranking military officials publicly announced that they remain loyal to Maduro.
Maduro’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, said the uprising is “a coup-mongering movement that seeks to fill the country with violence,” but was ultimately “insignificant.”
Guaidó, however, has stated “there is no way back” and is calling on the Venezuelan people to take to the streets until Maduro falls.
Those calls were met by crowds who amassed in Altamira, in East Caracas, in confrontations with national security forces who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Military forces have so far not appeared in public in support of Guaidó, but neither have they broken up the disturbances. Some members of national security force know as The National Guard, however, have been shown in video footage with the opposition leader, having defected from Maduro.
Armed pro-Maduro civilians on motorbikes, known as colectivos, have been called upon to break up the crowds. Loyal colectivos are often used by Maduro to quash protests as they are less likely to refuse orders to oppress protesters than the military, minimizing the prospect of a military rupture.
Both the colectivos and national guard have opened fire, but it is not clear whether gunshots were directed at the public.
Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, says since Guaidó’s main source of power is popular support, it won’t work if “ordinary citizens are too scared to turn out in large numbers.”
Reports emerged from local media at midday that the uprising actually had been planned to be executed with the support of high-ranking officials at some point in the future, but quickly was brought forward as it emerged that there were orders to arrest Guaidó. The Epoch Times wasn’t able to verify these claims.