Venezuelan opposition calls for nationwide strike
Showdown looms as over 7 million reject government plan
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition leaders called Monday for a 24-hour nationwide strike to increase pressure on the socialist government after more than 7 million people rejected a plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate the ruling party’s power over the country, which has been stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.
The opposition also said the country’s National Assembly, which it controls, would name new members to the government-dominated Supreme Court, setting up a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro, whose party controls all but a few state institutions. Opposition parties also plan to sign a declaration calling for the formation of an alternative “government of national unity,” a step toward total rejection of government authority.
“Overall the package is pretty radical, especially the idea of a parallel government,” said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela. “I think it could lead to real chaos within the government.”
He noted, however, that the opposition moves were to be implemented in phases over the next week, starting with the nationwide strike on Thursday, giving both sides the opportunity to negotiate possible concessions.
Earlier in the day, opposition parties had floated the idea of escalating more than three months of street protests, which have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.
“Right now we have to escalate and deepen this street movement,” National Assembly President Julio Borges told radio station Exitos ahead of Monday’s opposition announcement, which was delayed for hours as government opponents discussed their next steps behind closed doors.
Speaking at an afternoon news conference, opposition leader Freddy Guevara made little mention of more protests, a sign that the opposition had decided to change tactics in the wake of Sunday’s vote.
“We call on the whole country to launch a 24hour national strike this Thursday, a massive, nonviolent protest, as a way to pressure the government and to prepare for the final steps, which will be next week, to confront this fraud on the constitutional and to restore constitutional order,” he said. He didn’t say what the final steps would be.
The opposition said 7,186,170 Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum rejecting Maduro’s plans for the July 30 election of an assembly that would remake the country’s political system. Maduro’s allies have called on the assembly to impose executive branch authority over the few remaining institutions outside the control of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos planned to discuss the Venezuelan crisis during a visit with President Raul Castro of Cuba, Venezuela’s closest regional ally, Colombia’s foreign minister said from Havana. “It would be hard for two presidents to meet these days without discussing Venezuela, because of its importance and the concern the whole continent has about Venezuela,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said.
Colombia has dealt with rising tensions and a growing number of people crossing the border from Venezuela.
Sunday’s vote was a strong but not overwhelming showing that fell short of the 7.7 million votes garnered by the opposition in 2015 legislative elections and the 7.5 million votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013.
“I thought it was going to be more,” said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school counselor. “But these 7 million people spoke and it was plenty.”
Assembly Vice President and opposition leader Freddy Guevara speaks Monday during an event in Caracas.