Today’s report from the New York Times trashes the government for “combative tactics” and “cracking down” on protesters, but if you watch the accompanying video, all you see are protesters attacking police, and the police – without venturing forward, defending themselves with water cannon and tear gas.
One can criticize the decision of the government to block the march from going to hostile territory, but given the continuous presence of violent elements among the protestors, and that Venezuela is a country with a very high homicide rate and many armed civilians, it could have been the prudent thing to do. The government also believes, with some justification, that these protests seek to provoke violence in order to de-legitimize the government. Their stated goal is to overthrow the democratically elected government, and given that the vast majority of the country is against the protests, this really is their only chance of getting anywhere. And the government also knows that the media (both national private and international) will generally blame them for any violence.
In the United States, and especially here in Washington DC, you have to get a permit for marches like this, and they are often denied or re-routed; and if you try to defy this the police will generally beat you and throw you in jail. And these are actually peaceful protests here.
As for the violence so far associated with the protests since they started on Feburary 12, the statistics show that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces:
Of the 29 people killed (full details here),
-- 3 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by security forces; 1 other was killed by security forces but it's not clear if he was a protester.
-- 5 appear to be protesters allegedly killed by civilians (the opposition always alleges that these civilians are somehow taking orders from the government, but there has not been any evidence linking the government to any killings by armed civilians; and in a country where there are on average more than 65 homicides per day, it is most likely that these armed civilians are acting on their own).
-- 11 civilians appear to have died at the hands of protestors: four of them shot, and the rest killed by various barricades or other obstructions (e.g. motorcyclist beheaded by wire allegedly strung by protesters).
-- 3 national guard appear to have been killed by protesters
-- 1 pro-government activist appears to have been killed by security forces
-- 5 have died in circumstances that are too unclear to determine if they were really related to protests, but they are often included in press reports.
At least 21 security officers have been arrested and remain in jail for alleged violence against protesters, including the incidents described above.
[Editor's Note, 3/16/2014: This post has been edited slightly for accuracy.]