Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans held a protest in Caracas today to demand an end to socialist rule in the country. Reuters reports:
Dressed in white and chanting “this government will fall,” hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters flooded Venezuela’s capital on Thursday to press for an end to socialist leader Nicolas Maduro’s rule.
Protesters streamed into Caracas from the Amazon jungle to the western Andes. The opposition coalition estimated at least one million people took part in rallies to demand a recall referendum against Maduro and decry the deep economic crisis.
“We are going to bring down Maduro!” said Naty Gutierrez, 53, whose 75-mile (120 km) drive from Maracay into Caracas took three times longer than usual due to soldiers’ roadblocks.
Reuters notes there are smaller counter-rallies taking place:
Swearing loyalty to Chavez’s legacy and calling opposition leaders a wealthy elite intent on controlling Venezuela’s oil, red-shirted government supporters gathered for counter-rallies, though these were dwarfed by the opposition protests.
“The opposition want to topple the president, but they won’t be able too,” said lawyer and civil servant Adriana Jimenez, 44, at a government rally of several thousand people close to a huge inflatable puppet of Chavez in downtown Caracas.
The Associated Press is reporting that Maduro himself mocked the size of the rally:
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is mocking what he said is a low turnout of around 30,000 people for an opposition-organized demonstration that was meant to draw as many as 1 million.
Look at the size of this rally:
— Mariana_Atencio (@marianaatencio) September 1, 2016
Here’s some video from closer to ground level:
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) September 1, 2016
Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is marching today:
Seguimos! Gente, gente y más gente!Arriba VENEZUELA ! pic.twitter.com/za4x9kk0fr
— Lilian Tintori (@liliantintori) September 1, 2016
The opposition party wants the government to allow a legal referendum to take place this year which could remove President Maduro from office. The opposition delivered 1.8 million signatures to start the referendum process back in May but since then the government has been stalling any movement. In July the government announced it had found a few thousand ineligible signatures and said it constituted fraud by the opposition. Based on this claim the government moved to ban the opposition party.
The stall tactics by the government have a specific purpose. If the referendum is approved this year then President Maduro could be removed from office. However, if the referendum does not get a vote until next year Maduro’s vice president would take over if he is removed from office. That would keep the socialists in power allowing them to continue blocking reform efforts by the opposition party which now controls the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, people in the once prosperous country are nearing starvation with many referring to the economic crisis as the “Maduro diet.”