Venezuela’s political opposition movement called for massive protests on Wednesday, and the crowds of protesters – and violence in the streets – were just staggering.
The protest was called specifically to demand a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro, the successor to President Hugo Chavez, from office.
Venezuela has been named “the most miserable country in the world” by academics for a few years running. Johns Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke has measured inflation at about 284%. The country is running out of necessities such as toilet paper and basic food, which people wait in lines of up to eight hours to receive.
Rolling blackouts are common, and the oil-rich country even cut its workweek to save power. On Monday, The New York Times published a heartbreaking report of the humanitarian disaster in the country’s hospitals.
But still, Maduro will not go. And, of course, there were pro-ruling-party protesters in the streets as well on Wednesday, just not nearly in the same force as the opposition, which is being led by Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state.
- Thomson Reuters
What’s worth noting now, though, is that an important shift is taking place in the way Venezuelans are talking about Maduro and his regime.
They have started disconnecting it from Chavez. To the people, Chavez is still close to God.
(Need proof? Check out this video from Venezuelan TV comparing Chavez, who died in 2013, to Christ for the poor.)
Maduro, though, does not have that same grace. In denying the people a referendum on his rule, he has allowed the opposition to paint him as antidemocratic.
Say what you want about Chavez, but he won elections. He was popular. On the other hand, Maduro won his 2013 presidential election against Capriles by only a hair, even though his party controlled the media, voting infrastructure, and (at the time) all branches of government.
Maduro’s party lost control of the legislature at the end of last year.
And now he is losing control of the narrative. Instead of being against Chavez, the opposition has moved against his antidemocratic refusal to allow the referendum. The head of the legislature, who is part of the opposition, has taken up this line, as has Gen. Carlos Alcalá Cordones, who was selected by Chavez. He told Venezuelan media that the referendum was not just an option, as Maduro has said, but an obligation.
The Organization of American States has also turned against Maduro, calling him a traitor to his people.
It sounds as if we’re getting somewhere here.