May 18 (UPI) — Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said he deployed 2,600 security forces to the border state of Táchira amid escalating anti-government protests.
Padrino López made the announcement on state television on Wednesday. He said he ordered 2,000 Venezuelan National Guard troops and 600 special operations soldiers to Táchira as part of the second phase of “Plan Zamora.”
The defense minister said the order aims to “maintain internal order, peaceful coexistence and the enjoyment of the rights of all citizens” to “defeat the coup d’etat in progress.”
At least three people were killed in Táchira this week, including a 15-year-old. In the state capital of San Cristóbal, most businesses are closed down and are guarded by soldiers to prevent looting and to protect from the damage of rioting.
The Venezuelan government and the opposition disagree on who is responsible for the damage that is destroying homes and businesses, as well as who is doing the killing in the nearly two months of protests in which more than 40 people have died.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro‘s regime says the opposition is inciting violent protests, which are supported by pro-capitalist, interventionist international organizations and governments attempting to undermine Venezuela’s government, an example being the United States. The regime also accuses “paramilitary” forces, some which he said hide in Colombia, of attempting to increase insecurity and of launching attacks against security forces.
The Venezuelan opposition accuses Maduro’s security forces of violently attacking and repressing peaceful protesters and of supporting “colectivos,” or “collectives” — a term used to describe civilian pro-government groups, some which have taken up arms against the political opposition.
Venezuelans have shared videos on social media of uniformed security forces carrying out acts of what they describe as unwarranted violence and vandalism, as well as videos of forces either helping or remaining unresponsive to acts of violence by “colectivos.”
Patricia De Ceballos, the mayor of San Cristóbal, on Thursday said the “colectivos” carried out an attack on Wednesday that damaged several businesses in the city’s industrial area.
De Ceballos questioned Padrino López’s “Plan Zamora” by saying it is the “union of armed civilians together with armed military to repress and take the life of the young, as it has already happened; to try to demobilize peaceful street protests.”
The recent protests began on March 30 after Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, said it would assume the National Assembly’s duties — a ruling it later reversed. The Venezuelan opposition said the TSJ’s move was akin to a coup d’etat in favor of Maduro’s regime.