CARACAS (Reuters) – Energised by a massive vote against President Nicolas Maduro in an unofficial plebiscite, Venezuela’s opposition mulled yesterday how to escalate protests and block a new congress it fears may enshrine Socialist Party hegemony.
After months of demonstrations that have led to nearly 100 deaths, the Democratic Unity coalition brought millions onto the streets on Sunday for an informal referendum intended to de-legitimise a leader they call a dictator.
Now, opposition leaders are promising “Zero Hour” in Venezuela to demand a general election and stop the leftist Mr Maduro’s plan to create a controversial new legislative super-body called a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.
Opposition tactics may include lengthy road blockades and sit-ins, a national strike or possibly even a march on the Miraflores presidential palace, similar to events before a short-lived coup against Mr Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002.
“Today, Venezuela stood up with dignity to say freedom does not go backwards, democracy is not negotiated,” Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled legislature, said shortly after midnight when the referendum results were announced.
“We don’t want a fraudulent Constituent Assembly imposed on us. We don’t want to be Cuba. We don’t want to be a country without freedom,” he added, promising further announcements on opposition strategy.
Mr Maduro, whose term is due to end in early 2019, dismissed Sunday’s event as an internal exercise by the opposition with no bearing on his government.
Most Venezuelans oppose the Constituent Assembly, which will have power to rewrite the constitution and annul the current opposition-led legislature, but Mr Maduro is pressing on anyway for the vote in two weeks’ time.