Venezuelan opposition floods Caracas in vast anti-Maduro protest

Venezuelan opposition floods Caracas in vast anti-Maduro protest

CARACAS – Reuters
Venezuelan opposition floods Caracas in vast anti-Maduro protest

In this Sept 1, 2016 photo, demonstrators take part in the "taking of Caracas" march in Caracas. Venezuela's opposition is vowing to keep up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro after flooding the streets of Caracas with demonstrators Thursday in its biggest show of force in years. Protesters filled dozens of city blocks in what was dubbed the "taking of Caracas" to pressure electoral authorities to allow a recall referendum against Maduro this year. AP photo

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro flooded Venezuela’s capital on Sept. 1 in one of the biggest mass protests against socialist rule for more than a decade. 

Dressed in white and chanting “this government will fall,” hundreds of thousands rallied across Caracas to demand a recall referendum against Maduro and decry a deep economic crisis in the South American OPEC nation. 

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition estimated at least 1 million people took part after protesters streamed into Caracas from the Amazon jungle to the western Andes. 

“We are going to bring down Maduro!” said Naty Gutierrez, 53, whose 120 kilometers drive from Maracay into Caracas took three times longer than usual due to soldiers’ roadblocks. 

“We are going to defeat hunger, crime, inflation and corruption. They’ve done nothing in 17 years. Their time is finished,” she said, surrounded by thousands of people waving banners and national flags at one gathering point. The government, which mounted its own, smaller counter-protest, did not give numbers for the turnout. 

The opposition hoped its protests would prove they are the majority and heap pressure on Maduro and the national election board to allow a plebiscite on his rule, as allowed by the constitution half-way through a presidential term. 

But with the election board dragging its feet over the process and the government swearing the referendum will not happen this year, the opposition has no way to force it no matter how many people it brings onto the streets. 

The timing is all-important because if a plebiscite were held in 2017 and Maduro lost, his handpicked vice president would take over for the ruling Socialist Party, rather than triggering a new presidential election.
Maduro, 53, denounced what the opposition had billed as the “Takeover of Caracas” as a front for coup plans, akin to a short-lived 2002 putsch against his mentor Chavez, who died of cancer three years ago. Maduro has failed to replicate his charismatic predecessor’s popular appeal, and his ratings in opinion polls have halved to just over 20 percent. 

“We have stopped the coup today, the violent, fascist ambush,” Maduro told supporters, saying detentions of activists in recent days had prevented violence. At least a dozen opposition campaigners were still in custody, according to rights groups and the opposition. 

Extra police and troops were positioned around Caracas, and there were roadblocks on most major routes into the capital from the provinces, with buses being blocked and traffic crawling.