Venezuela protest leaves several injured

(Venezuelan Govt Photos)

A peaceful march led by the student movement held Tuesday showing their discontent with the current management of the country and against the government of Nicolás Maduro ended with at least 20 protesters injured with pellet shots and an undetermined amount of people suffocated by tear gas.

According to news reports, the injuries were the result of the suppression of the Carabobo Police and the National Guard (GNB) to a peaceful march in the city of Valencia, one of the protests held in several Venezuelan cities to demand the release of those arrested in street demonstrations in recent months. The demonstrations were called the day of the anniversary of the battle that sealed Venezuela's independence.

Since February, Venezuela has been rocked by protests led by university students and opponents of the government against the unbridled inflation, shortages of basic goods and a high crime rate that plague the country.

The violent incidents that began in February in Caracas and other cities have left 43 dead, 873 injured and more than 2,500 prisoners, of whom 174 remain arrested, according to records of the Attorney General.

Meanwhile, the government held its traditional parade to commemorate the national holiday, where, according to the Minister for Defense Carmen Melendez, "the Bolivarian Army will show all the power gained in these 15 years of revolution to defend the homeland."

Reshuffling in Maduro's Cabinet

Plagued by a crumbling economy, months of protests, the region's highest inflation rate and chronic basic goods shortages, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ousted his planning minister, a confidant of late President Hugo Chávez, who served as planning minister through most of the past 15 years and is the brains behind the country's rigid system of price caps and currency controls that have restricted access to dollars for over a decade.

The policies implemented by the ousted minister, Jorge Giordani, a prominent leftist economist, were designed to prevent capital flight, according to the Venezuelan government. However, critics say they have deterred foreign investment, starved the private sector of hard currency needed for imports and led to the collapsed economy that Venezuela suffers today.

"I want to thank Professor Jorge Giordani, companion of the struggle and friend of our comandante Chavez," Maduro said on national television. "He has been in the revolutionary government continuously these 15 years except on a couple occasions. With all our love and recognition, we offer him our hand."

The shortage of basic goods is so severe on the shelves of Venezuelan stores that many Venezuelans depend on shipments of toilet paper, shampoo, soap and medicine sent from family and friends living abroad, most of them in South Florida.
But even Giordani's ousting may not mean much in terms of real economic change given that he was replaced by Ricardo Menendez, a former professor and industry minister who shares similar views.

Giordani's departure has also revealed a deep split within the government. The day Maduro announced the change in his Cabinet, Giordani published a long and detailed letter outlining what he says are the true causes of the economic debacle plaguing Venezuela: unbridled government spending, rampant corruption and mismanagement and ever-increasing debt of Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil company and main source of income.

Although some analysts see the change in the Cabinet as signaling a shift away from the policies and nationalizations heavily used by Chavez until he died of cancer in March 2013, most analysts agree that it is little more than window-dressing. One such analyst, Russ Dallen, of Caracas Capital Markets, told the Wall Street Journal that he sees this as "rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic."

Venezuela's annual inflation rate reached 61 percent in May after the government carried out the biggest devaluation since currency controls were implemented in 2003 with the introduction of an alternative currency supply system known as Sicad II that sells dollars for about 50 bolivars.

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