Following another week of violence against anti-government protesters in Venezuela, the European Union has urged the repressive Socialist government of Nicolás Maduro to stand down.
In a statement from Brussels on Monday, EU Foreign Ministers said “violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country,” and maintained that people’s rights “must be respected, including the right to peacefully demonstrate.”
The appeal for peace came after at least 38 people died during the last month of civil unrest in the country. An additional 750 have been injured.
The most recent round of protests erupted on April 1 after the Venezuelan Supreme Court dissolved the country’s National Assembly, made up primarily of opposition politicians, and transferred the body’s powers to itself.
Following demonstrations and international outrage however, the High Court quickly reversed the decision with President Maduro stating, the “controversy is over.” Meanwhile, he accused the United States of orchestrating a “political, media and diplomatic lynching.”
The move did little to quieten tensions in the Country, which has been plagued by inflation and chronic shortages of food and basic goods for years, the result of economic policies such as strict price controls that were originally set by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez.
As a result, the government has cracked down even harder with Maduro prosecuting political rivals under terrorism laws and using emergency decrees to expand his power.
The President has also used military court to prosecute protesters and other civilians in tribunals tightly controlled by the government. In one such case, demonstrators destroyed a statue of former President Chávez.
After authorities apprehended suspects for the vandalism, they were taken to a military base to face judges before reportedly being imprisoned. Some maintained that they had nothing to do with toppling the statute and were arrested for merely taking pictures of it. Video clearly shows that only several individuals took part in the incident.
Watch the raw footage:
According to the legal group Penal Forum, who is assisting those arrested, military courts have imprisoned at least 120 people since April. The group contends that the military courts have never been used against so many civilians during peacetime.
The Bureau of Democratic Unity said in a report last week that nearly 300 civilians are in military custody for participating in protests.
Demonstrators have not been deterred however, and continue to risk military detainment while employing unique strategies to protect themselves against the tear gas and rubber bullets routinely fired at them by Police and National Guardsmen.
One such protester is capturing hearts and minds on Western social media for the Venezuelan opposition. Dubbed “Based Shield Man,” the unknown hero emerged in a photo adorn in googles, a helmet and gas mask holding a shield with the Spanish word for “Freedom” on it.
Taken on May 10, the photo shows the man, amid a cloud of tear gas, protecting himself from a water cannon fired by Security Forces in Caracas. May he serve to symbolize the rights of the legitimate opposition to Venezuela’s repressive Socialist government.
On Monday, thousands of demonstrators shut down the Capital City in a national “sit-in against the dictatorship” in which marches occurred on main roads for six hours until heavy afternoon rain.
Fierce clashes occurred between protesters and National Guardsmen in Colon, a town in the western Venezuelan state of Tachira near the border of Colombia, where at least two people were reported dead. State Security Forces also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators in three other cities.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said protesters are prepared to take things “to another stage” as Maduro attempts to summon a special assembly for the purpose of rewriting the Country’s Constitution.
“We are against this fraudulent process,” Capriles said.