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Here's what's happening in Venezuela (LIVE BLOG)

The United States is working with Colombia and other countries to see whether mediation might be possible to bring opposing sides in Venezuela's crisis together for talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

 LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: VENEZUELA PROTESTS TURN DEADLY

UPDATE: 2/28/14 05:00 PM ET

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UPDATE: 2/28/14 04:22 PM ET

No parallels with Ukraine

Venezuela is not Ukraine, according to Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, who analyzed the crisis in Venezuela in a blog post on Reuters today.

The trajectory of the unrest in Venezuela won't be the same as Ukraine's, because Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is better positioned than ousted Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, he wrote. From his blog post:

Maduro is a weak president, to be sure, and these protests represent by far the most severe challenge to his authority to date. But Maduro holds many cards that Ukraine’s Yanukovich did not. He retains control of (and loyalty from) the key apparatus of the state — military, police and security forces, parliament, and state-owned oil company PDVSA (Venezuela’s main source of revenue). There is no unified command within the security forces that could turn against him in an organized fashion, and the security forces are much more willing to repress and support the regime than they are in Ukraine.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 03:36 PM ET

Protests in Caracas today

 

Anti-government demonstrators protest in eastern Caracas on Feb. 28, 2014. (Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters hold up photos of people they say were assassinated, during an anti-government demonstration on Feb. 28, 2014 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 2/28/14 03:03 PM ET

Kerry says he's working to see if mediation can resolve Venezuela crisis

Thomson Reuters — The United States is working with Colombia and other countries to see whether mediation might be possible to bring opposing sides in Venezuela's crisis together for talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

"We are working closely with Colombia and other countries to try to see how some kind of mediation might be able to take place, because it's obviously already proven very difficult for the two sides to bring themselves together by themselves," Kerry said during a joint news conference with his Colombian counterpart.

UPDATE: 2/28/14 02:37 PM ET

Jailed Venezuela protest leader mocks Maduro's talks

Thomson Reuters — Imprisoned Venezuelan protest leader Leopoldo Lopez scoffed on Friday at President Nicolas Maduro's efforts to open talks with opponents and businessman after a month of demonstrations and violence that have killed at least 17 people.

Maduro, 51, seems to have weathered the worst of an explosion of protests against his socialist government that exposed deep discontent with Venezuela's economic problems and brought the nation's worst unrest in a decade. ...

Lopez, a hardline opposition leader arrested on charges of fomenting violence, said Maduro's talk of dialogue was a hypocritical tactic intended to deflate the protests while failing to address the real problems behind them.

"'The dialogue' is a tactical retreat, as a result of the pressure in the streets. It's not real conviction," Lopez said in a message from Ramo Verde prison given to his wife who Tweeted it via her husband's account @leopoldolopez.

"Maduro's dialogue is: 'come to Miraflores (presidential palace) and while I speak to the nation, I pursue, kill and repress in the streets'."

UPDATE: 2/28/14 12:25 PM ET

SOS Venezuela video

“I’ll tell you, fascist: You are not Venezuela, you are gringo!” Venezuelan President Nicolas Madudro shouted on television in a verbal assault on his opposition enemies.

“You’re gringo in your mind, in your wickedness.” He was making a play on words based on the anti-government protest hashtag-slogan “SOS Venezuela,” as Colombia's El Universal news site reported. The word game doesn't translate well into English, but pronouncing the phrase “Sos Venezuela” in Spanish can also mean “you’re Venezuela.”

Electronic music producer Alex Mor sampled it and laid a track with beats. Cartoonist Emmanuel Vidal illustrated a hilarious caricature of “Nic Madurox,” turning the president into a rapper.

— GlobalPost America's editor Alex Leff

UPDATE: 2/28/14 09:39 AM ET

Venezuela pursues second opposition figure

Agence France-Presse — Venezuela issued an arrest warrant for a second opposition figure, his party said, ramping up the pressure on protesters who have staged nationwide rallies in the biggest challenge to President Nicolas Maduro since he came to power.

Near-daily demonstrations have seen dueling pro- and anti-government protesters face off in sometimes violent confrontations that have left 14 people dead in the deeply polarized and economically troubled oil-rich country since the start of February.

Leopoldo Lopez, of the opposition Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), turned himself in last week after a warrant went out for his arrest. The party said Thursday that Maduro's embattled government was now seeking Carlos Vecchio, the party's national political coordinator.

The party said the arrest warrant issued by Judge Ralenis Tovar Guillen ordered the general directorate of military intelligence to capture Vecchio "for the alleged crimes of arson, public incitement, damage and criminal association," the same charges brought against Lopez.

Court officials have not confirmed the move against Vecchio. In a tweet, Vecchio said the warrant was politically motivated. "There is no evidence against me," he wrote.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 05:17 PM ET

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UPDATE: 2/27/14 05:02 PM ET

Crisis mediation help from Uruguay

El Universal newspaper in Colombia reported that Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has offered to help mediate the crisis in Venezuela.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 04:52 PM ET

'Unlawful killings' in Venezuela: US State Department report

The US State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 today, which featured an in-depth look at human rights abuses around the globe.

In Venezuela, the report noted, there were "unlawful killings, including summary killings by police elements; torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and lack of due process rights that contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons."

UPDATE: 2/27/14 04:09 PM ET

Surprise national holidays

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro decreed today and tomorrow national holidays in hopes that it will quieten the unrest gripping the country, Bloomberg reported.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 03:18 PM ET

On the ground in Caracas

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for calm in Venezuela yesterday, Reuters reported.

GlobalPost contributor Alasdair Baverstock captured striking images of the rioters, barricades and graffiti on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela.

"In Plaza Altamira, protesters prepare for nightly battles with government forces by erecting barricades from which they launch their attacks or where they will seek refuge. Demonstrators build these barriers with metal scraps and bags of garbage raided from public trash cans," he wrote.

View his photographs here.  

UPDATE: 2/27/14 2:08 PM ET

Protests, barricades bring Venezuela's 'Cordial City' to a halt

Thomson Reuters — Piles of glass, a trashed refrigerator and the burned remains of a car litter the streets of the Pirineos neighborhood in the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal, giving it the look of a community under siege.

In fact, the residents of this middle-class area have created the disorder themselves as part of anti-government protests demanding President Nicolas Maduro resign.

Open sewer grates expose gaping holes in the street. Debris piled across intersections blocks traffic. Residents set the rules as to which cars can pass through and when.

"This barricade is a community effort. The neighbors held an assembly and we're all in agreement," said one burly man who asked not to be identified, as hooded teenagers unloaded sacks of rocks from the back of a pick-up.

"We call this resistance. We're not going to ease up no matter what the governor or the president says."

Businesses are mostly shut and public transport suspended.

The sporadic demonstrations that kicked off two months ago in San Cristobal have turned into a national opposition protest movement and shuttered this city of 250,000 known as the "Cordial City" for its residents' reserved Andean chivalry.

UPDATE: 2/27/14 01:37 PM ET

National intelligence agents arrested

Chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega announced yesterday that five national intelligence agents were arrested in connection to the deaths of two people during the protests, the Associated Press reported

UPDATE: 2/26/14 04:57 PM ET

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UPDATE: 2/26/14 04:20 PM ET

Underlying causes of unrest

A recent Gallup analysis revealed that Venezuelans’ perception of their quality of life plummeted last year. Fast Company published charts of the Gallup data, which showed the shifts in opinions of Venezuelans on their country’s economy, safety and standard of living. In 2013, 62 percent thought Venezuela's economic condition was getting worse, while 12 percent thought it was getting better, according to the data.

Check out the charts on Fast Company.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 04:01 PM ET

View of San Cristobal, where the protests started

 

UPDATE: 2/26/14 3:19 PM ET

Kerry weighs in 

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US is not to blame for the unrest in Venezuela

Kerry said "regrettably, President Maduro, keeps choosing to blame the United States for things we are not doing or for things that they are unhappy about in their own economy and in their own society."

UPDATE: 2/26/14 01:27 PM ET

Brutality accusations

Thomson Reuters — "Venezuelan protester Juan Manuel Carrasco says he was cursing soldiers during an anti-government protest when they grabbed him and two friends.

In a case that has become a focus for brutality accusations against Venezuela's security forces, the 21-year-old Carrasco says he later found himself in a National Guard holding area.

"They got me on my knees and started hitting me with batons," he told Reuters at his family home in the central city of Valencia where he is under house arrest pending trial for involvement in unrest that has rocked Venezuela in recent weeks.

"They called me a son of a bitch, and said 'We're going to kill you'," he said, showing bruises on his torso and describing the actions of what he says were 30 soldiers who then forced him and 11 others to strip on February 13. "They shoved a rifle up my bottom."

That last accusation has particularly incensed government critics, and is one of the most serious of allegations that human rights groups are leveling at Venezuela's military and police over this month's unrest.

The government, however, specifically denies Carrasco's allegation and says it is part of a campaign of fabrication to denigrate President Nicolas Maduro's government and overshadow violence by demonstrators," wrote Girish Gupta. 

UPDATE: 2/26/14 12:45 PM ET

Impact on oil market

How are the protests affecting the global oil market?

"Venezuela's turmoil put upward pressure on crude prices last week, but the market is not expecting the petroleum facilities to be halted by protests," reported Thomson Reuters.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 10:48 AM ET

Key figures in political crisis

As the government and opposition struggle for the upper hand in bitterly polarized Venezuela, GlobalPost runs down the key players in the fight. Here's the complete breakdown of all the major players.

UPDATE: 2/26/14 9:58 AM ET

Pope Francis calls for 'reconciliation through mutual forgiveness'

Pope Francis expressed his concerns about the protests in Venezuela in his weekly general audience, the BBC reported.

He called on the Venezuelan people “to promote reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue.”

UPDATE: 2/26/14 08:30 AM ET

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seeks peace meeting

Agence France-Presse — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sought to hold a "peace conference" on Wednesday in an attempt to end three weeks of at times deadly anti-government protests in the oil-rich but deeply divided country.

But the main opposition leader Henrique Capriles is not attending, saying he is tired of what he calls government lies and police repression against students protesters.

Full story here.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:15 PM ET

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UPDATE: 2/25/14 04:41 PM ET

Snapshots of the protests

GlobalPost's Sarah Wolfe put together a photo essay featuring some of the vivid and unsettling images of the protests from the past few days. 

A man attends a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. (RAUL ARBOLEDA - AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 2/25/14 4:39 PM ET

Moral support from Ukranian protesters

Several photos emerged on Twitter today of Ukranian protesters showing solidarity with demonstrators in Venezuela. Have a look:

UPDATE: 2/25/14 3:54 PM ET

Tit-for-tat move?

Thomson Reuters — The United States on Tuesday ordered three Venezuelan diplomats to leave in reprisal for President Nicolas Maduro's expulsion of three American embassy staff accused of fomenting unrest that has killed at least 13 people.

More details here.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 11:40 AM ET

Demographics of the protesters

On Tuesday, The New York Times took a closer look at how Venezuela's protests have spread from their original core of student demonstrators to people from other socio-economic backgrounds. 

"These were not your ordinary urban guerrillas. They included a manicurist, a medical supplies saleswoman, a schoolteacher, a businessman and a hardware store worker."

Carlos Alviarez, a 39-year-old protester told The Times, “Look. I’ve got a rock in my hand and I’m the distributor for Adidas eyewear in Venezuela."

Read the story here.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 10:00 AM ET

Venezuela to nominate an ambassador to Washington

Agence France-Presse — Venezuela, which has been at odds with the United States for years and announced the expulsion of three US diplomats last week, will nominate an ambassador to Washington Tuesday, President Nicolas Maduro said Monday.

Venezuela and the United States have not had ambassadors in each others' countries since 2010. 

UPDATE: 2/24/14 5:18 PM ET

Is Ukraine overshadowing Venezuela?

International news media has attracted a lot of criticism for its lack of coverage of the protests in Venezuela. The Caracas Chronicles published a scathing blog post on Feb. 20 calling out a number of news outlets for scant coverage of the protests. Adam Taylor, foreign affairs reporter and blogger at The Washington Post, looked into why the protests in Venezuela are not getting the same level of attention as the protests in Ukraine.

"For one thing, Venezuela lacks the obvious geopolitical element that made Euromaidan seem like a clash of civilizations: The Ukrainian people's hopes for a democratic, 'European' future vs. the 'Russian' brute force of Viktor Yanukovych's government. ... The narrative for Venezuela may be less compelling, especially to the many Americans who have sympathy for the socialist government in Venezuela," Taylor wrote Monday.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 3:45 PM ET

Military response called 'a grave error' by member of President Nicolas Maduro's party

Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, governor of Tachira, called the military response to the unrest "a grave error" and an "unacceptable excess," reported Agence-France Presse.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 03:15 PM ET

Death toll rises to 13

Thomson Reuters — Anti-government demonstrators put up barricades and set fire to trash in Caracas on Monday despite calls from within the opposition to rein in protests that have led to 13 deaths in Venezuela's worst unrest for a decade.

Read more here

UPDATE: 2/21/14 5:10 PM ET

Fuel supply threat

There are also reports that authorities might cut off gasoline supply to the protest regions.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 5:00 PM ET

Death toll rises

El Universal newspaper in Caracas reports that eight people have died in the unrest.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 4:35 PM ET

Venezuela expats are tweeting the way for embattled protesters

"Since the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government blocked access to a range of visual media covering the protests, young Venezuelans abroad have resorted to online social networks to keep family and friends inside the country informed," wrote Wesley Tomaselli

UPDATE: 2/21/14 3:35 PM ET

Communication channels blocked

The Associated Press reported that Venezuelan authorities had blocked off various communication channels. Internet service was cut off to San Cristobal for more than 30 hours. Access to the walkie-talkie app Zello, which is widely used as an organizing tool, was also blocked.

Full story on Associated Press.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 2:45 PM ET

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez urges resistance from jail

Thomson Reuters — Venezuela's jailed protest leader urged supporters on Friday to keep demonstrating peacefully against President Nicolas Maduro despite violence that has killed at least six people and rocked the OPEC member nation.

"I'm fine, I ask you not to give up, I won't," Leopoldo Lopez said to his followers in a handwritten note passed to his wife at Caracas' Ramo Verde prison then posted on the Internet.

Full story on Thomson Reuters.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 12:00 PM ET

Some charges against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez dropped

Prosecutors dropped the charges of murder and terrorism against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday. CNN cited his attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez saying Lopez was formally charged with arson and conspiracy, which could land him in prison for 10 years, if convicted.

UPDATE: 2/21/14 10:14 AM ET

Venezuela deploys paratroopers after more protests

Agence France-Presse — The Venezuelan government ordered paratroopers Thursday to a border city where growing student protests began over two weeks ago, with President Nicolas Maduro angrily rejecting US calls for dialogue.

The nationwide demonstrations, led by students and the opposition, have left at least four people dead and dozens hurt in the biggest challenge to Maduro since he took power from the late Hugo Chavez last year.

There have been near-daily protests and rallies, some of them violent, in the capital Caracas and other cities, over what Maduro's critics say are deteriorating economic conditions, rampant street crime, corruption and bleak job prospects.

Maduro's leftist government — which is sitting on the world's largest proven oil reserves — rushed a battalion of paratroopers to the city of San Cristobal, birthplace of the demonstrations that began on Feb. 4.

The military response came in response to claims from the government that Colombians were crossing the border there "to carry out paramilitary missions" in Venezuela.

Shops were closed and streets eerie in San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, where there have been almost daily clashes between protesters and security forces.

Maduro meanwhile threatened to block CNN over what he called the US broadcaster's "propaganda war," and shot back at Barack Obama, who has urged Venezuela to release detained protesters and address the "legitimate grievances" of its people.

More from GlobalPost: In Venezuela, the revolution will not be televised by NTN24

Maduro's government said it "emphatically repudiates" Obama's remarks, accusing the US president of "a new and crude interference in the internal affairs of our country."

On Sunday, Maduro ordered the expulsion of three US diplomats, accusing them of meeting student leaders to conspire under the guise of offering them visas. Washington denies the allegations.

Maduro also came under attack from US pop icon Madonna, who Thursday accused Maduro's government of "fascism" over its handling of the roiling demonstrations.

White for peace 

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has kept a low profile during the protests, challenged Maduro to prove his claims that the demonstrations were part of a conspiracy to overthrow his government.

"Is this a coup or an auto-coup?" he asked. "The only one who has talked about a coup d'etat has been the government. It is a fabrication by government actors," he said.

Prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has helped spearhead the protests, is being held at a military jail where his lawyers say he could remain for up to 45 days awaiting trial.

Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, has been charged with instigating violence, property damage and criminal association — but not murder, as had been threatened.

More from GlobalPost: Venezuela: Why they protest

Student protest leaders called Thursday for a march for peace, urging "Venezuelan civil society to respond to the violence with white flowers."

The students convened a rally, with flowers, in Las Mercedes, an upscale Caracas neighborhood of embassies, trendy restaurants and luxury condominiums.

But their plea fell on deaf ears, with yet more disturbances in other parts of the capital.

Tear gas fired

Late Wednesday in Caracas, police fired tear gas and buckshot to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters. Burning barricades, police assaults, and intimidating sweeps by pro-government civilians on motorcycles kept residents on edge through the night.

The archbishop of Caracas appealed to the government to rein in "armed groups" who he said were "acting freely, with impunity."

"How is it possible that there could be eight or nine wounded in Valencia and a girl dead in the vilest manner simply because an armed group attacked a peaceful protest," Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino said.

He was referring to the latest fatality — a 21-year-old beauty queen who was shot in the head Tuesday at a protest rally in the northern city of Valencia.

When reports first linked violence in an earlier shooting incident Feb. 12 to armed groups that appeared to be working in concert with security forces, Maduro said those groups had no place on the government's side.

"I do not accept violent groups in the Chavismo camp," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/venezuela/140221/venezuela-deploys-paratroopers-after-more-protests-t