A furious Venezuelan opposition vowed mass street protests next week, accusing the Socialist government of staging a coup by blocking efforts for a recall referendum against unpopular President Nicolas Maduro. With Maduro vowing to hold onto power, his opponents cranked up the heat in a stand-off that is destabilizing the volatile, oil-rich South American state, stricken by food shortages and violent crime. The opposition MUD coalition called for nationwide demonstrations from next Wednesday against the decision to annul a key stage in the referendum process. “A coup d’etat was carried out yesterday (Friday) against all Venezuelans,” said Henrique Capriles, a leading MUD figure.
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Authorities on Thursday quashed the opposition’s main strategy to get rid of the man they accuse of driving the oil-rich country to the brink of economic collapse. The National Electoral Council (CNE) said it had indefinitely suspended the recall referendum process after criminal courts in five states ruled the opposition had committed fraud in an initial petition drive.
The opposition had been gearing up for the last hurdle in the complex process: a three-day drive starting next Wednesday to collect signatures from four million voters demanding a recall referendum. Now that the courts and electoral authorities have stymied that bid, Capriles said Wednesday would instead mark the start of a wave of street protests.
“We will take Venezuela from end to end. People will be mobilized in every corner of our country to restore constitutional order,” he said. “We will mobilize as much as we have to,” he said. “The referendum was going to be a pressure valve,” said Jose Vicente Haro, a constitutional expert.
“When the institutional paths are closed, there is a rise in violence and political conflict.” The top heads of the armed forces have previously pledged loyalty to Maduro but Capriles has insinuated in the past that mid-ranking officers suffering in the crisis may feel differently.
“I hope the patriotic military servicemen of our country will uphold the constitution,” he said yesterday. The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the decision to halt the referendum process. “By doing so, we believe the CNE prevents the Venezuelan people from exercising their important constitutional right,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby. Maduro has accused Washington of plotting to overthrow him. He brands the crisis a capitalist conspiracy.
Maduro’s camp hinted it would seek to have opposition leaders jailed over the alleged fraud. “Let us hope that those responsible will now be sought out and detained and go to prison for the deception they have committed,” Maduro’s number two, Diosdado Cabello, said in a speech. The MUD says Maduro and his allies control the courts and electoral authorities and are using them to cling to power.