By Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Barricades, tear gas, confrontations between protesters and security forces: These were the scenes that marked Venezuela’s day-to-day from April until July.
This Saturday, it’ll be two months without pictures of opposition protests against Nicolas Maduro’s government which were appearing in newspapers worldwide every day. Nonetheless, the country’s crisis is still alive and kicking and is moving forward like a steamroller.
Protests began nearly six months ago, on April 4th, which included some more violent episodes than others which left 123 people dead up until July 30th. The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) sparked this unhappiness with two rulings that stripped the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition majority, of its legal powers.
During these protests, which ended when the country voted for the controversial Constituent Assembly that the Venezuelan president put forward, the opposition tested different ways of protesting so as to weaken the Maduro’s support base. However, the government had the Armed Forces who were willing to contain these protests and stop them from reaching the center of Caracas, something which the opposition wasn’t able to do.
Maduro played the Constituent Assembly card, but because he didn’t hold a referendum so the Venezuelan people could decide whether this mechanism should be activated or not, it lost its legitimacy. In fact, 40 countries didn’t recognize it, while the United Stated deployed its range of sanctions against Maduro and members of his government.
After the country’s streets cooled down, the leadership became entrenched in his position, feeling stronger with the support he now have from the Constituent Assembly. In his latest provocation, he announced that he will present the 2018 state budget proposal to the Constituent Assembly, even though he should present it to the National Assembly (the opposition-majority Congress) by law.
Maduro blamed the opposition for the protests’ death toll and he blamed the ousted Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz – who fled abroad – of supporting the violence at protests.
As well as fatalities, the protests also left traces that can still be seen where confrontations took place in the municipalities of Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo, all of which lie in the city’s east. However, this isn’t only about graffitis insulting Maduro and his Interior Minister, Nestor Reverol, and his Defense Minister, General Vladimir Padrino, on walls.
There were also political consequences: The Chacao mayor, Ramon Muchacho, and the mayor in El Hatillo, David Smolaski, were dismissed and charged by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), which sentenced them to 15 months in prison for ignoring the order to stop protests. Both politicians refused to hand themselves over and they fled the country.
Over the past few weeks, groups of protesters tried to reactivate protests, but the Chacao police force, taken over by the national government, and the National Guard (military police) acted immediately to quash outbreaks of turmoil.
Meanwhile, there still seems to be no way out of the crisis. Maduro has refused to move the presidential elections forward, which are scheduled to take place in late 2018, and the economy is being destroyed by rampant inflation, heading towards hyperinflation.
Meanwhile, the opposition is busy with the campaigns for the elections of governors on October 15th, with the government threatening to bar any candidates it identifies with the protests.
The participation of the opposition in these elections is rejected by part of its supporters who call for abstention, claiming that by going to the polls they will be legitimizing a fraudulent National Electoral Council (CNE).
The MUD opposition coalition repeats that the political landscape will be a lot worse if the government appears winning the majority of 23 districts on October 15th.
The head of the opposition campaign, the mayor of Baruta, Gerardo Blyde, said that voting on October 15th will form part of their protest against the government.
“We will have a change towards substituting Maduro in the government. We hope this happens as soon as possible. We can’t allow ourselves to lose all of the districts because we abstain. We aren’t celebrating elections, we are facing a people who are starving,” he pointed out.
By the same token, the opposition candidate for governor in the state of Miranda, Carlos Ocariz, who is looking to take over for opposition leader Henrique Capriles, pointed out that pro-government forces want to stop the election. “We aren’t playing their game and we will go out and vote on October 15th,” he exclaimed.
For his part, Maduro has claimed that the Constituent Assembly returned peace to the country and warns: the governors elected will need to recognize this Assembly, if they don’t they will be removed from their positions.
Meanwhile, a new round of conversations between the government and opposition groups in the Dominican Republic has come to a standstill. The second round of discussions should have taken place on Wednesday but the opposition delegation refused to attend as it considers that there aren’t the right conditions to continue these talks at this time.