Caracas, Venezuela – Heading for an appointment at a medical clinic staffed by Cuban doctors, Anna Guerreo is distraught about recent attacks on health care facilities allegedly perpetrated by members of the country’s political opposition.
Angry mobs burned clinics in Valencia and other cities on Monday night and early Tuesday, destroying property and harassing doctors during a melee of political violence that left seven people dead and dozens injured.
“Those who are linked to violence are not part of my project.“
– Henrique Capriles, opposition leader
Demonstrators also vandalised offices of the governing Socialist Party, the home of Tibisay Lucena, head of Venezuela’s election authority and other institutions connected to the state.
“The attacks were terrible, it’s very serious,” Guerro told Al Jazeera as she went for a spinal check-up at a hospital staffed by Cuban doctors. “I am really worried about the situation in the country.” Some opposition supporters circulated videos of what they claim were assaults by government partisans.
The violence follows Sunday’s tight presidential election when Socialist Party candidate Nicolas Maduro beat opposition challenger Henrique Capriles by a margin of about 1.5 percent, or less than 300,000 votes. The opposition alleges the vote was unfair and is demanding a recount of ballots.
Politicians from both camps held press conferences on Tuesday. Leaders tried to walk a fine line between calling for calm and keeping supporters mobilised for the ongoing showdown.
Capriles and Maduro both wore tracksuits emblazoned with Venezuela’s flag, attempting to appeal to nationalist sentiments but commonalities between the candidates ended with their wardrobes.
Capriles cancelled a demonstration that had been set for Wednesday, possibly as a reaction to Monday’s attacks that officials believe were perpetrated by opposition partisans.
|Protests have erupted after Sunday’s vote [EPA]|
“Those who are linked to violence are not part of my project,” Capriles said, calling for supporters to stay home and bang pots and pans. The sound of clanging metal reverberated across Caracas on Tuesday night.
Continuing his demand for a full recount, Capriles presented what he said was evidence of election irregularities.
Opposition observers were expelled from 283 polling stations on election day, Capriles said, and 583 voting machines were damaged putting their results into disrepute. He accused the government of “fascist” behavior and intimidation.
Blaming Capriles for fermenting conflict, Maduro encouraged the attorney general to take a tough line on troublemakers, saying the US was “behind the scenes writing the script” for opposition protesters who he called “Nazis”. He accused the US of planning a coup against his government.
Authorities are “investigating a small group of military officers” for helping to instigate unrest, Maduro said, urging Capriles to accept defeat.
“Election authorities checked 54 percent of the votes to make sure the computers were working properly,” Jose Osio, a tour guide and government supporter, told Al Jazeera, echoing Maduro’s statements. “When Capriles won the election for Miranda state governor, he won by just 30,000 votes. Authorities used the same equipment for that vote. The guy just isn’t humble enough to recognise he lost.”
The Cuban connection
After his press conference, Maduro toured a series of health care facilities. Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of a Cuban-Venezuelan medical cooperation programme.
Venezuela provides Cuba with about 100,000 barrels of oil daily in exchange for the services of doctors and other professionals.
The Salvador Allende health centre in Caracas, named after South America’s first democratically elected socialist president who was deposed by a junta in a US-backed coup, contains modern looking equipment administered by Cuban doctors.
Attacks on clinics with Cuban doctors were apparently sparked by a tweet from opposition journalist Nelson Bocaranda who claimed that Cubans working in a Centre of Interior Diagnosis (CDI) were concealing ballot boxes and preventing Venezuelans from looking inside.
The tweet, which has been deleted, is thought to have inspired mobs to launch attacks on health centres.
Educated in Cuba, the opposition believes Maduro is too close with the island’s communist government.
Cuban doctors at the Allende centre were not authorised to speak to the media, but Guerro, a housewife, said the treatment she receives there is excellent. “Before the government opened this centre I would go to the hospital, but the care wasn’t so good,” she said. “Here the care is great and everything is free.”
Investments in health, education and poverty reduction have been hallmarks of the socialist government since it was first elected in 1998.
Poverty dropped by 30 percent between 1995 and 2005, according to the World Bank, while extreme poverty dropped from 32 percent to 19 percent.
Maduro pledged on Tuesday to completely eradicate poverty by 2019, a promise the opposition believes impossible because of worsening inflation and other economic problems.
“I should have been spending the day as the president looking at how to increase salaries for workers,” Capriles said Tuesday.
In addition to lambasting the government’s economic management, the opposition accused the state of threatening journalists.
At the headquarters of Telesur, a Latin American news channel funded by Venezuela’s government, a reporter said the opposition is making life difficult for journalists.
“Even before electoral authorities announced results from the vote, journalists were being attacked,” Manuel Diaz, a news producer at Telesur, told Al Jazeera, citing the example of Barrio TV reporters who he said were beaten by opposition supporters.
“The same group being held liable for attacks on Barrio TV reporters came to our offices last night,” Diaz said. “I hope the call for staying peaceful from Capriles will have an affect on his supporters.”
Machine-gun totting soldiers guarded Telesur’s office on Tuesday, as post-election strife seems set to continue.
Follow Chris Arsenault on Twitter: @AJEchris