Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion calls for na­tion­wide strike

Show­down looms as over 7 mil­lion re­ject govern­ment plan

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NEWS - By Michael Weis­senstein and Fabi­ola Sanchez As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

JUAN BAR­RETO/GETTY-AFP

Assem­bly Vice Pres­i­dent and op­po­si­tion leader Freddy Gue­vara speaks Mon­day dur­ing an event in Cara­cas.

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