Venezuelans are increasingly resorting to hunger strikes as a form of protest or a way to press grievances against President Hugo Chavez's government, the representative of a human rights group said Thursday.
Marco Antonio Ponce of the Provea rights group said the organization had counted 35 hunger strikes so far this year _ compared to 105 in all of 2010 and five during 2009.
He said the increase appears to stem from the government's failure to address or even discuss demands of Venezuelans who have staged traditional street protests and marches.
"Venezuela's population has been turning to more radical forms of peaceful protest," Ponce said in a telephone interview.
Hunger strikes involving university students have drawn the most attention. One group of students successfully pressured Chavez's administration to release several government opponents who the protesters labeled "political prisoners."
As that strike drew to an end Feb. 23, another group of five students seeking more education spending stopped eating solid food outside the United Nations' office in Caracas. Those students say they have been consuming only saline solution and water for the last 18 days.
"We are willing to go as far as it takes," Alirio Arroyo, one of the protest organizers, said Thursday.
Student activist Gaby Arellano said that 14 more people, mostly fellow students, have joined the hunger strike since it began to demand increased budgets for Venezuelan universities that depend largely on government financing.
Higher Education Minister Yadira Cordova said the students have not accepted proposals from authorities to discuss their demands.