CARACAS: Venezuelan security forces have cleared barricades from the western city that launched the first in a wave of national anti-government protests, a military commander said Monday.
Vladimir Padrino, head of the armed forces’ strategic operations command, said that police and the national guard had removed the blockades in three key avenues of San Cristobal late on Sunday.
“We have ended the curfew imposed by terrorism in Carabobo, Ferrero Tamayo and Espana de SC [in San Cristobal]avenues without [causing]victims,” Padrino wrote on Twitter.
An independent journalist in San Cristobal and a member of the non-governmental Penal Forum confirmed that government forces had moved against the barricades.
Raquel Sanchez of the Penal Forum said the streets were cleared after a “disproportionate deployment” but she predicted the protests would continue.
About 250 soldiers and police participated in Sunday’s operation and 11 people were detained, according to National Police chief Manuel Perez. Penal Forum said 20 people were arrested.
The crackdown came two weeks after authorities arrested San Cristobal’s opposition mayor, Daniel Ceballos, on charges that he failed to take action against the barricades.
The Supreme Court sentenced Ceballos to one year in prison on Tuesday.
Students launched the first protest on February 4 to denounce the country’s runaway crime rate after the attempted rape of a young woman.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, meanwhile, said Maduro would be open to a Vatican envoy or panel of diplomats from the South American bloc UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) to help talks with the opposition get off the ground.
Jaua said the government also would consider a mediator proposed by opposition forces “as long as the point is for it to bring about better conditions” than the current two-month-old crisis.
The government has said it would negotiate but has struggled to get any opposition forces to sit at the same table.
Ordinary residents of San Cristobal have built barricades made of tree trunks, metal fences and trash across the city, which is the capital of Tachira state.
The government deployed paratroopers to Tachira, claiming that Colombian right-wing paramilitaries were present in the region.
Genesis Garcia, a student leader at Catholic University of Tachira, told Agence France-Presse that despite the “militarization” of the state, the protests would continue in San Cristobal.
“We are examining the situation to reactivate the freedom trenches,” she said, using the name the students give to the barricades.