'The Taking of Caracas': Venezuelan opposition pressures for referendum

Bnamericas Published: Thursday, September 01, 2016

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital on Thursday to demand a referendum to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

The democratic unity coalition estimated that 1mn people took part in the so-called 'Taking of Caracas' protest aimed at pressuring the pro-government electoral council into validating the 1.8mn signatures collected in May in favor of a plebiscite.

The leftist Maduro, whose term ends in 2019, can only be recalled if the referendum is held this year. Starting next year, a recall would leave the presidency in the hands of socialist vice president Aristóbulo Istúriz.

The coalition is preparing another show of force on September 7, when it plans to march to the offices of the electoral council. "Today is the beginning of the final stage of our fight," democratic unity secretary general Jesús Torrealba was quoted as saying in local press reports.

Meanwhile, the government organized a counter march that relied at least partly on state employees. "Today the revolutionary and patriotic force of oil workers is present to defend our homeland and Caracas," said oil minister and president of national oil company PDVSA, Eulogio del Pino.

Nearly 70% of Venezuelans want Maduro ousted this year, according to a recent poll cited by Reuters, which also reported that a dozen opposition activists were arrested ahead of the protests.

The Maduro administration's response to the protests also included cracking down on foreign journalists. The Miami Herald's Andean bureau chief, Jim Wyss, was detained by Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday and expelled from the country. Journalists from the Al Jazeera network and US public broadcaster NPR were also turned away while trying to enter the country.

The government also closed national airspace to private flights and drones to prevent what it called possible attacks, and suspended public transport service to downtown Caracas.

The general frustration among the population of 30mn drove the democratic unity coalition's victory in December's legislative elections. But the ruling party-controlled supreme court voided the opposition's super-majority in the national assembly, hampering the presidential recall efforts.

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