In Venezuela, violent unrest driven by growing deprivation may be more dangerous to the government than the mass political protests sweeping the country. While thousands of people organized by the country's opposition coalition participate in demonstrations that have caught the world's eye, President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) face a less visible threat from persistent, smaller and often violent protests in poorer areas of the capital city. In a country where inflation has run rampant for years and food shortages are growing more acute, an increasing number of people have taken to the streets.
A recent lower-level protest, held in the La Vega neighborhood of western Caracas, left 11 people dead: Three were gunned down and eight were electrocuted, likely an accident related to looting. Of course, spontaneous protests that turn violent aren't unusual in Venezuela; the currency swap pushed by the government in December brought rioters to the streets in Bolivar state.
But the location of the more recent protests, which have often been accompanied by looting, signals trouble ahead for the government. Beyond La Vega, violence has broken out in other Caracas neighborhoods: Quinta Crespo, Caricuao and Petare. That disquiet, coming in areas where the government once enjoyed significant support, is especially concerning for Maduro and the PSUV. The loss of favor among former stalwarts could thwart the ruling party's efforts to consolidate power and turn Venezuela into a one-party state.
With no economic relief in sight, it's likely that looting and protests will be on the rise in the coming months. Such outbreaks of violence can stretch security forces thin and turn public opinion against Maduro's government even more. As the PSUV moves to formally sideline the opposition, it faces the risk of mounting violent unrest across the capital. Cracking down on the riots may not be something all members of the PSUV are prepared to do, widening divisions within the government and the armed forces. As a result, Maduro may face pressure from within the party to schedule elections sooner or even resign to assuage the popular anger fueling the protests.