Protests against Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, and his government have led to violence, with hundreds of thousands of protesters filling the streets during the past few weeks. The violence peaked yesterday when three Venezuelans were killed in attacks stemming from the protests: two civilians and a national guardsman. In a rally dubbed “the mother of all marches” by opposition leadership, thousands of Venezuelans gathered to voice their anger at a government that has been taking measures in recent years to minimize political opposition, as well as mismanaging a crippled economy, leading to massive food and medical supply shortages. The move earlier this month by the Supreme Court to consolidate authority set off major protests. Despite the decision being reversed three days later, protests have continued.

The strongest critics have labeled Maduro a budding dictator, with calls for him to step down growing. Maduro has responded by saying the country’s internal problems are part of a broad foreign conspiracy to undermine the country, specifically from the United States and its imperialist agenda.

Protests have occurred off and on throughout Venezuela over the past year as the economic and political crisis has deepened across the country. A global decline in oil prices has hit the Venezuelan economy particularly hard—oil is its largest export by far—and combined with massive inflation has led to critical shortfalls in consumer goods.

Last July the military took over the distribution of food, as well as five critical sea ports to control industry. President Maduro has consistently turned to the Venezuelan military to shore up support for his regime, as well as flaunt its ability to fight a “looming invasion by the United States.”

The two civilians killed during the protests were reportedly shot by pro-government gangs, who have been described as thugs operating outside the law to target political opposition. The soldier was said to have been killed by an opposition sharpshooter.

In a further sign of rising economic tensions, the Venezuelan government seized the General Motors (GM) plant in Valencia on Thursday, which GM has called an “illegal judicial seizure of its assets.”

Image courtesy of the BBC