Venezuela’s opposition expresses rejection of Maduro with nationwide rallies


Venezuela’s opposition is maintaining pressure on leftist President Nicolas Maduro with nationwide protests on Saturday, while supporters of the leftist head of state are holding a simultaneous pro-government rally in Caracas.

The anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets to express thanks to the European Parliament for adopting a resolution Thursday recognizing Juan Guaido, the speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly, as interim president.

They also are showing their support for an ultimatum issued by major European nations, including Germany, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, which say they also will formally recognize Guaido if Maduro does not announce snap elections by Sunday.

The United States and several Latin American countries were the first to recognize Guaido after he proclaimed himself to be Venezuela’s legitimate president on Jan. 23.

In addition, the opposition is calling for “humanitarian aid” to be allowed into the country to alleviate severe food and medicine shortages. Maduro has refused to accept that assistance, saying that doing so would be opening the door to a military intervention.

Rallies are being held throughout Venezuela and in different parts of the world.

In Caracas, the anti-government demonstrators will gather in an area on Caracas’ east side, an opposition stronghold.

Local media and opposition parties say other opposition demonstrations will take place in more than a dozen other states.

Ricardo Gonzalez, a 58-year-old anti-government protester, told EFE that he was taking part in Saturday’s rally in Caracas because there is finally an “air of freedom” in Venezuela; he also hailed the support the opposition has received from the international community.

He expressed confidence that Maduro would be forced out of power soon and said he was keeping a bottle of liquor handy to celebrate the president’s ouster.

A woman who identified herself as Sandra also told EFE that she was attending the rally because Venezuela needs more international support.

Her husband, Franco, said he hoped Maduro relinquishes power soon, adding that he would be “asking for a military intervention” otherwise.

Meanwhile, thousands of Maduro supporters gathered in downtown Caracas on Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1999 inauguration of the late Hugo Chavez , Maduro’s political mentor and predecessor.

The pro- and anti-Maduro demonstrators were not expected to cross paths.

Chavez, who was an avowed socialist and vehement critic of US foreign policy, was removed from office for 48 hours in April 2002 in a putsch engineered by military brass, opposition politicians and leaders of the business community.

Maduro, who was first elected president in April 2013 after Chavez died of cancer earlier that year, effectively sidelined the National Assembly in 2017 by creating a new plenipotentiary body.

He then won a second term in office last year. The opposition boycotted that balloting, saying the process was fraudulent.

Venezuela, which also faces an acute economic crisis, has seen the exodus of millions of people in recent years due to severe food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said last month that the US government, in cahoots with its allies in Latin America and some officials of multi-lateral organizations, are following the “well-worn script of overthrowing those progressive projects that don’t fit their imperialist ambitions.”

He added that the leftist-led country has been the victim of “unprecedented hybrid warfare.”

The Venezuelan armed forces have publicly expressed support for Maduro, although in a video disseminated Saturday an air force general, Francisco Esteban Yanez Rodriguez, said he recognizes Guaido as interim president.

He also claimed that “90 percent of the armed forces” have abandoned Maduro.