By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS – A pregnant 18-year-old woman was shot in the head and killed and a 20-year-old man shot in the buttocks as a food protest devolved into an open assault against a National Guard outpost in the El Junquito slum near Caracas on the final day of 2017.
Five-month pregnant Alexandra Conopoi and other demonstrators entered a Guard post, apparently in protest and accompanied by fellow demonstrators. She was killed, while Luis Alejandro Medina, 20, was shot in the buttocks.
Some 200 demonstrators have been killed protesting Maduro's rule from 2014, according to figures by local NGOs seen by @LAHT
. The National Guard is the most active law-enformcement agency in crowd-control.
Embattled President Nicolas Maduro announced a 40% minimum wage hike, the seventh minimum-wage hike of 2017, only hours after the confrontation, but the increase was swept under the table by social-media reaction to the shootings as much as by hyperinflation.
During his speech, Maduro also made some comments about a new plan to protect poor pregnant women, which were also negatively received by discontented Venezuelans. However, Maduro did not mention Conopoi's case directly, focusing instead on offering excuses for the country's many woes, making promises for 2018 and extolling his own economic measures, such as the reiterative minimum-wage hikes.
Hashtags "El Junquito" and "Guardia Nacional" took turns as top trending topics in Venezuelan Twitter, while Maduro's announcement hadn't made the top 10 as of this writing.
Violent protests, which seemed to die down in early August after embattled President Nicolas Maduro appointed (fraudulently, according to the opposition most nations of the world) a supra-Constitutional National Assembly. But they started anew around Christmas day, as subsidized food did not arrive as promised.
Opposition militants are calling for a "cacerolazo" (the banging of empty cooking pots, a typically Venezuelan form of peaceful protest) Sunday night at 8:00 to protest Conopoi's killing and Maduro's rule.
Maduro hiked the minimum monthly wage from 177,507 bolivars a month to 248,510 a month. In addition, Maduro hiked the food ticket subsidy given with wages from 279,000 to 549,000 bolivars a month.
All told, the monthly wage and food packet went from 456,507 to 797,510 bolivars per month.
The latest pay hike, which places the minimum wage at about $7 A MONTH using the black market dollar rate of 115,000 bolivars per dollar, is expected to continue feeding a hyperinflation rate of more than 2,000% in 2018.
The Central Bank stopped publishing official inflation rates, which is obligated to do according to the Venezulean Constitution, years ago, as the phenomenon started spiraling.
As usual with Maduro, he also promised to make more promises: he said he would make "announcements" pertaining "social protection" in early January, as Venezuelans fear it will just be the first of many inflation-inducing salary hikes in 2018.