Venezuelans shut down the capital again to protest government
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Thousands of protesters hauled folding chairs, beach umbrellas and coolers onto main roads across Venezuela on Monday for another national demonstration against the socialist government.
The “sit-in against the dictatorship” was the latest in a month and a half of street protests against President Nicolas Maduro that have resulted in dozens of deaths. Even before the protest started in Caracas, many businesses closed and taxi drivers suspended work in anticipation of traffic disruptions in the capital.
Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections. Polls say the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin, with triple-digit inflation and shortages of many basic foods.
The European Union is also calling for Venezuela to hold elections. EU foreign ministers said Monday that “violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country.” The U.S. has expressed grave concern about the erosion of democratic norms in the South American country.
The protests were triggered by a government move to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March, but have morphed into a general airing of grievances against the unpopular socialist administration.
As demonstrations take over Caracas almost daily, normal life has continued, but the atmosphere is suffused with tension and uncertainty. At fancy cafés, patrons show each other the latest videos of student protesters getting hurt or defaced statues of the late President Hugo Chavez on their phones.
Working class people who have to traverse the capital for their jobs have adjusted their schedules to account for traffic shutdowns and take siestas to wait out clashes between protesters and police.
On Monday, protesters stayed on the main roads for six hours, then began to disperse under a heavy rain in late afternoon. They pledged to take to the streets again Tuesday.
More than three dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that erupted after the government-stacked Supreme Court issued a ruling March 29 nullifying the opposition-controlled National Assembly, a decision it later reversed.
Maduro blames the opposition for the violence, claiming its leaders are instigating the unrest and working with gangs to remove him from power. At least two law enforcement officers have been killed in the demonstrations.
Crosses representing people who have died during recent protests are placed on the side of a highway in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday.