Tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded streets across Venezuela Wednesday for what opposition leaders called “the mother of all marches”.
Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro took to the streets of Caracas, striving for their biggest show of force in months as they push against a government that has presided over the erosion of Venezuela’s economy and democratic institutions.
Violence erupted when thousands of opposition protesters tried to march on central Caracas, a pro-government bastion where red-clad Maduro supporters were massing for a counter-demonstration.
Massive rallies are being held in Caracas and other cities following weeks of violent demonstrations that had already left five people dead and resulted in clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces. Not so, Mr. Maduro’s government insisted, accusing bakeries of hoarding flour to destabilise his government and using it in expensive cakes and pastries rather than cheap, subsidised bread.
Growing dissatisfaction with the Maduro government set off protests last month when the country’s Supreme Court’s moved to take over the function of the National Assembly, widely seen as the last stronghold of the opposition. Activists say more than 400 people were arrested during protests on Wednesday. “Same place, same time”, said opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Wednesday.
“The US government, the state department, have given the green light, the approval for a coup process to intervene in Venezuela”, Maduro said in a televised address Tuesday, according to The Guardian. The opposition charges that this is because the ruling Socialist Party would be likely to fare poorly in such a vote.
“I don t have any food in the fridge”, said protester Jean Tovar, 32, who held rocks in his hands ready to throw at military police in Caracas.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay on Monday signed a joint statement asking for the Venezuelan government “to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration”, and avoid violence against protesters.
A message from the president broadcast on television and radio stations Thursday said: “I denounce Movistar de Venezuela and have asked for an investigation because they have joined the calls for a coup in the country and that is not their function”.
The opposition marched to demand early elections, the release of political prisoners, and humanitarian aid.
Last week, the bolivar showed record lows against the U.S. dollar on the black market, amid continuing anti-government protests.
A national guardsman was killed south of the capital.
Nicolas Maduro has been careful not to antagonise the new United States president, but the Trump administration has recently stepped up criticism of Venezuela’s government.
By mid-2016, food shortages were common during the country’s worst economic crisis in its history, according to The Guardian. The president in turn has urged his supporters, the military and civilian militias to defend the socialist “Bolivarian revolution” launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
“I participate in these protests, out of a sense of responsibility for being Venezuelan”. Last July, the government said it would take over a factory belonging to Kimberly-Clark Corp. after the American personal care giant said it was no longer possible to manufacture because materials weren’t available in Venezuela. Critics say elections have been delayed because Maduro is afraid of the outcome.
Demonstrators also gathered in the southern city of Puerto Ordaz, home to Venezuela’s struggling state-run mining companies, and in the border city of San Cristobal and the oil city of Maracaibo.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said she is investigating the Wednesday shooting incident amid conflicting reports over the cause of death. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections the opposition was heavily favored to win and cut off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections late next year.