Ri­val fac­tions hit Venezue­lan streets

Po­lit­i­cal groups ral­lied across Venezuela in a strug­gle for con­trol of the cri­sis-wracked na­tion.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Scott Smith

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Ri­val po­lit­i­cal fac­tions took to the streets across Venezuela on Satur­day in a mount­ing strug­gle for con­trol of the cri­sis-wracked na­tion, where U.S.-backed op­po­si­tion leader Juan Guaido is at­tempt­ing to oust so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

It was the first march Guaido has led since Maduro loy­al­ists stripped him of le­gal pro­tec­tions he’s granted as a con­gress­man, open­ing a path to pros­e­cute and pos­si­bly ar­rest him for al­legedly vi­o­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

The ral­lies also fol­low crip­pling power fail­ures that left most of the coun­try scram­bling in the dark for days and with­out run­ning wa­ter or phone ser­vice.

Speak­ing be­fore sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple, Guaido urged them to stay united and to keep up pres­sure un­til Maduro leaves power.

“Some­thing is ev­i­dent to­day,” Guaido said. “Venezuela is not afraid and con­tin­ues tak­ing the streets un­til we get free­dom.”

Guaido tried to chan­nel Venezue­lans’ ire by call­ing crowds in the cap­i­tal to march to the head­quar­ters of the na­tional power util­ity, Cor­po­elec. His sup­port­ers said the blackout is an­other fail­ure of the so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment.

“This regime has made big mis­takes,” said Beatriz Cis­neros, a 62, crit­i­cal of Venezuela’s de­te­ri­o­rated petroleum in­dus­try, its bro­ken ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem and hospi­tals that fail to pro­vide ba­sic care. “We’re fight­ing

for Venezuela to have lib­erty.”

Many op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers marched along a sunny main av­enue car­ry­ing Venezue­lan flags. A nun draped the na­tional col­ors around her shoul­ders. An­other pro­tester car­ried a sign list­ing the lack of power, wa­ter and other ba­sic ser­vices, along with the slo­gan: “Don’t get used to it.”

Across the coun­try in Mara­caibo, the hub of Venezuela’s

once-thriv­ing oil pro­duc­tion, mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard fired tear gas at anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers, caus­ing some in­juries, lo­cal me­dia re­ported. The area has been among those hard­est hit by black­outs over the past two years.

Mean­while, large crowds of Maduro back­ers, many dressed in bright red, waved flags and danced as they marched to the pres­i­den­tial palace.

“Let’s fill the streets of Cara­cas with joy,” Maduro tweeted. “To­gether, in an un­end­ing mo­bi­liza­tion, we’ll de­fend our na­tion’s peace and in­de­pen­dence. No more in­ter­fer­ence!”

Maduro made a new call for dia­logue to­ward reach­ing peace in Venezuela with help from the fel­low Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, in­clud­ing Mex­ico and Uruguay. But he also against ac­cused his op­po­nents in­side Venezuela of stag­ing

at­tacks and said they should stop.

“Do you be­lieve that through ter­ror­ism you will achieve po­lit­i­cal power?” Maduro said. “Never! Not with elec­tric ter­ror­ism, not with po­lit­i­cal ter­ror­ism, not with mer­ce­nary ter­ror­ism. No!”

Guaido arose from rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity in Jan­uary when he was named head of Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion­dom­i­nated Na­tional As­sem­bly and said he was as­sum­ing pres­i­den­tial pow­ers to force Maduro from power. He says Maduro is il­le­git­i­mate due to al­legedly fraud­u­lent elec­tions last year.

He has gained sup­port from Wash­ing­ton and roughly 50 na­tions, but he has yet to budge Maduro, who main­tains con­trol over the gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary and is backed by for­eign al­lies in­clud­ing China, Cuba and Rus­sia.

Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day added to pres­sure on Maduro by im­pos­ing fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on two com­pa­nies in­volved in ship­ping oil from Venezuela to Cuba, along with nearly three dozen ships. Maduro blames the re­cent black­outs on U.S. “cy­ber-at­tacks” as part of a coup at­tempt to top­ple his gov­ern­ment.

Guaido, mean­while, has come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure from Maduro’s gov­ern­ment, which re­cently jailed his chief of staff and has taken le­gal ac­tions that could lead to his own ar­rest, though the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has warned of a strong re­sponse if the op­po­si­tion leader is harmed.

So­cial­ist party chief Dios­dado Ca­bello told re­porters on Satur­day that the au­thor­i­ties acted in ac­cor­dance with the laws in tak­ing the le­gal ac­tion against Guaido. Ca­bello also dis­missed the new sanc­tions, say­ing the United States has to re­sort to such mea­sures be­cause “it has no more ar­gu­ments.”

Amid sev­eral thou­sand Maduro sup­port­ers was Ana Mar­garita Urbina, 57, who wore a bright red shirt, the color of Venezuela’s so­cial­ist party, say­ing she marched to de­fend the coun­try she said is un­der threat from the im­pe­ri­al­ist United States.

“We’re on a mis­sion,” said Urbina. “We have a com­mon cause. Our coun­try is our mother.”

MA­TIAS DELACROIX/GETTY-AFP

Sup­port­ers of Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion leader and self-pro­claimed in­terim pres­i­dent Juan Guaido march Satur­day. A rally by Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s sup­port­ers was also held.

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