By Diego Oré
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition lawmakers on Wednesday said security forces used excessive violence during a raid to capture protesters in a sprawling middle-class apartment complex carried out after officers came under fire.
Videos taken during the raid show an armored truck smashing through the gates of the Los Verdes complex, in an operation that Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said resulted in the capture of 23 people who had been involved in attacks on security forces.
“These subjects were involved in violent acts in which several officials were injured by gun fire,” Reverol said, describing clashes at a barricade close to the apartments as the trigger for the raid.
Los Verdes is located in a Caracas neighborhood that has been the site of almost nightly clashes over two months since protests broke out against government restrictions on the opposition and chronic shortages of basic consumer goods.
With at least 68 killed since April, the increasing intensity of protests and the government response has led some to warn that Venezuela risks descending into deeper political violence.
The government calls violent protesters “terrorists” who want to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, and says that acts including attacks on police, the burning of vehicles and a looting and arson attack on a court building this week delegitimize their cause.
Dozens of car windows were smashed and at least 12 elevators broken during the operation on Los Verdes, said a Reuters witness at the site on Wednesday. One resident said an agent shot her dog in the eye.
“They are mafia criminals armed by the government,” said opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa, describing as “vandalism” the government action at the complex, which houses some 4,500 people.
Small protests and clashes rumbled on in several parts of Caracas and other cities on Wednesday, with security forces firing tear gas to clear a roadblock in a wealthy part of the capital and protesters burning a car.
Reverol said two people were killed in an accident when one motorcycle hit another after turning back from an opposition barricade on Wednesday.
The opposition street movement has been fanned by Maduro’s plan for July 30 elections for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution, which critics say are stacked in the government’s favor and will result in the opposition-controlled congress being dissolved.
The opposition is determined to stop the vote, calling instead for a presidential election. In a sign of how heated rhetoric has become, opposition lawmakers warn the situation could descend into armed conflict if protesters are not heard.
“If this government insists on going ahead, the world needs to know, sadly, what is coming here is a major war for the Venezuelans,” said lawmaker Juan Requesens at a sit-in protest blocking a Caracas highway on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Leslie Adler)