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Venezuelans pumping street presure on Maduro regime



Demonstration, the third in a week, seeks democratic voice. Opposition alliance calls for further protests this Saturday

CARACAS
Petroleumworld 04 07 2017

Albina Molina, a 75-year-old secretary clad in the opposition's white clothes, walked toward the main Caracas highway, a droplet heading for a river of dissent flowing across the capital.

“This is not the Venezuela I was born in," Molina said Thursday. “Here, there was abundance; now there is only authoritarianism, where the government can attack anyone who doesn't agree with it.”

For the third time in a week, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro attempted to march across the capital in protest of what they say is a power grab by the ruling socialists. In the largest demonstration in months, thousands clogged the city's main road, wearing tricolor caps of red, yellow and blue and waving Venezuelan flags.

Opposition leaders have been incensed since the country's top court last month abruptly tried to quash the nation's congress, the only elected body that openly challenged Maduro's rule. The decision was partly reversed following criticism that the country was tumbling into authoritarianism. And while international pressure has eased, Venezuela's opposition alliance has become emboldened, pushing to purge the courts of Maduro loyalists, to free political prisoners and to win new elections.

“We're not in a democracy, and the only way you can make a dictatorship respect the constitution is by making it,” National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara told the crowd Thursday, speaking from a jury-rigged sound system on a flat-bed truck.

Speaking in a webcast news conference later Thursday evening, Guevara praised the turnout and called on opposition supporters to rally again Saturday. He said several protesters had been injured by gunshots in central Anzoategui state, while Ramon Muchacaho, the opposition mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, said in a post on Twitter that at least 18 people were injured there.

“We ask the entire country to watch closely for what will be announced in coming days,” Guevara said.

Speaking in the same webcast, opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said he would not hide from any detention order, referring to rumors that authorities were seeking to detain him.

Hitting Bottom

The opposition is trying to build momentum after its attempt to oust Maduro with a recall referendum fizzled last year. The demonstrations -- while at times violent -- have so far remained sporadic and small, a far cry from when hundreds of thousands flooded the capital's streets in recent years.

Thursday's crowd in the relatively prosperous Chacao district, a longtime opposition stronghold, was larger, older and calmer than many in recent days. Protesters shielded themselves from the Caribbean sun with signs and umbrellas, before turning and marching along the highway toward downtown.

As in previous attempts to demonstrate in central Caracas, units of national guardsmen blocked the march's path with armored vehicles.

“We always try but we never quite make it, because the repression is brutal,” said Elias Bracho, a 20-year-old engineering student.

While dozens tossed stones at security forces, the mass of Thursday's protesters held back. Street vendors sold water and ice cream as volleys of tear gas were fired near the front of the crowd.

Opposition leaders have been incensed since the country's top court last month abruptly tried to quash the nation's congress, the only elected body that openly challenged Maduro's rule. The decision was partly reversed following criticism that the country was tumbling into authoritarianism. And while international pressure has eased, Venezuela's opposition alliance has become emboldened, pushing to purge the courts of Maduro loyalists, to free political prisoners and to win new elections.

“We're not in a democracy, and the only way you can make a dictatorship respect the constitution is by making it,” National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara told the crowd Thursday, speaking from a jury-rigged sound system on a flat-bed truck.

Speaking in a webcast news conference later Thursday evening, Guevara praised the turnout and called on opposition supporters to rally again Saturday. He said several protesters had been injured by gunshots in central Anzoategui state, while Ramon Muchacaho, the opposition mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, said in a post on Twitter that at least 18 people were injured there.

“We ask the entire country to watch closely for what will be announced in coming days,” Guevara said.

Speaking in the same webcast, opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said he would not hide from any detention order, referring to rumors that authorities were seeking to detain him.

Hitting Bottom

The opposition is trying to build momentum after its attempt to oust Maduro with a recall referendum fizzled last year. The demonstrations -- while at times violent -- have so far remained sporadic and small, a far cry from when hundreds of thousands flooded the capital's streets in recent years.

Thursday's crowd in the relatively prosperous Chacao district, a longtime opposition stronghold, was larger, older and calmer than many in recent days. Protesters shielded themselves from the Caribbean sun with signs and umbrellas, before turning and marching along the highway toward downtown.

As in previous attempts to demonstrate in central Caracas, units of national guardsmen blocked the march's path with armored vehicles.

“We always try but we never quite make it, because the repression is brutal,” said Elias Bracho, a 20-year-old engineering student.

While dozens tossed stones at security forces, the mass of Thursday's protesters held back. Street vendors sold water and ice cream as volleys of tear gas were fired near the front of the crowd.

“We're all tired and we all come out to protest," Carlos said. “We get scared or we conform, but one way or another, everyone just ends up going home.”

Members of the Maduro government profess to be largely unperturbed by the international outcry and the protests.

“Most soldiers in the armed forces are very clear," Diosdado Cabello, second in command of the ruling socialist party, told government supporters in downtown Caracas on Thursday. “Not even bloodshed will change Venezuela.”

See more: Why Latin America Is Moving Away From Populism (Video)



Story by Andrew Rosati from Bloomberg.

bloomberg.com 04 06 2017

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