Police response to rape complaint set off Venezuela demonstrations

AP/NY Times:
The violent protests that have roiled Venezuela's major cities and challenged its socialist government have their roots in a little-known incident on a college campus in a city far from the capital.

Just over a week before the Feb. 12 opposition rallies across Venezuela, students at the University of the Andes in San Cristobal in the border state of Tachira were protesting an attempted rape of a young woman on campus.

The students were outraged at the brazen assault on their campus, which underscored long-standing complaints about deteriorating security under President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

But what really set them off was the harsh police response to their initial protest, in which several students were detained and allegedly abused, as well as follow-up demonstrations to call for their release, according to students and people who live in the city of San Cristobal.

"It was shocking not just to students but to all of San Cristobal," said Gaby Arellano, a 27-year-old student leader who has been involved in the national opposition campaign. "It was the straw that broke the camel's back."

The protests expanded and grew more intense, drawing in more non-students angry about the dismal economy and crime in general, which led to more people being detained. Students at other universities decided to march in Caracas and the protest movement became a nationwide campaign when prominent opposition leaders decided to get involved.

The main rally on Feb. 12 in the capital turned violent, resulting in three deaths from gunshots and then the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Now, protests that continued throughout the country Friday, and are particularly fierce in San Cristobal, rarely, if ever, mention the attempted rape.

"I'm protesting because of the insecurity, for the scarcity and the abuse of power that we have been experiencing," said Maria Garcia, a 30-year-old mother in the Los Agustinos neighborhood of San Cristobal, where patrolling soldiers have strung coils to control protesters who lob rocks and Molotov cocktails. "I'm tired of waiting five or six hours in line for a kilo of flour."
...
Maduro seems to live in a paranoid fantasy of right wing militia.  He is unwilling to accept that there is a general uprising against his incompetent government.  In his cocoon, He can't seem to imagine that others in the country do not think they are living in a socialist paradise.

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