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Venezuelans ask what now after protest camp raids

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 9, 2014 at 7:21 am •  Published: May 9, 2014

Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said some opposition leaders have urged the United States not to go forward with such a move.

"They have asked us not to pursue them at this time," Jacobson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

With the mass arrests, there's a risk for the government that the barricades that plagued much of Caracas' eastern half in February and March could return, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

"The logical thing from the government's perspective would've been to allow the camps to go on long enough until neighbors grew irritated and the protesters dissipate on their own," Smilde said in a phone interview.

But Oscar Valles, a political scientist at Caracas' Metropolitan University, saw it differently.

Even if the government isn't trying to goad hard-liners into action, stirring up animosities serve its interests, he said. "These attitudes are used by the government to legitimize political violence. It gives them some oxygen."

As soon as news of the raids broke, former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles took to Twitter to denounce what he called a "tired government strategy to hide the economic disaster and debacle with arrests and persecutions."

Indeed, a new survey by respected local pollster Datanalisis says that support for Maduro's rule is dwindling as food shortages and galloping 57 percent inflation take their toll on his base among the poor.

Maduro's popularity, at 37 percent, is at its lowest level since a little more than a year ago when he won election as successor to his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed, and half of those who defined themselves as government supporters, view the country's outlook as negative, the poll said.

Scarcities have replaced security as Venezuelans' top concern, according to the polling data.

"It's the economy that's really hurting Maduro," said Smilde.


Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report. Luis Alonso Lugo and Bradley Klapper contributed from Washington.