Venezuelan Opposition Stages March as Rightwing Violence Breaks out again in Merida State

Venezuelan opposition leaders grouped under the banner of the Roundtable of Democratic Unity led a march through the streets of the capital on Saturday, beginning from various points in the city center and concluding at the Centro Comercial Único, in the largely middle class opposition neighborhood of Chacaito.

By Lucas Koerner
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Caracas, January 25, 2015 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan opposition leaders grouped under the banner of the Roundtable of Democratic Unity led a march through the streets of the capital on Saturday, beginning from various points in the city center and concluding at the Centro Comercial Único, in the largely middle class opposition neighborhood of Chacaito.

The march was headlined by speeches by Henrique Capriles and María Corina Machado, who blamed the government of Nicolás Maduro for inflation and shortages, denying responsibility for what the President terms an “economic war” waged by the opposition with the intent of destabilizing the country.

Although turnout at the march was not huge, opposition leaders hope that the mobilization will inaugurate a new period of opposition unity in the leadup to National Assembly elections this December. The opposition mobilization comes one day after a march by thousands through the streets of the capital backing President Maduro and commemorating the over 5,000 revolutionaries assassinated during the forty years of pacted democracy that preceded Hugo Chávez, known as the Fourth Republic.

Opposition Leaders Call for Peaceful Demonstrations in Wake of Opposition Violence in Mérida

Henrique Capriles, opposition presidential candidate in 2013 and governor of Miranda State, called for marches “every day until food appears.” This call for escalated opposition protests comes in the wake of the latest discovery of contraband items illegally hoarded by private distributors in Catia on Friday, which this time included 33 tons of household products, such as rice, diapers, dishwash soap, mayonnaise, tooth paste, deodorant, among other everyday items.

In their speeches, opposition leaders stressed the peaceful and nonviolent character of their demonstrations, declaring that “Venezuela wants change.” Nonetheless, this announcement on Saturday follows a day of violent student protests in the opposition stronghold of Mérida, where masked youth attempted to force their way into several local businesses, including the Cosmos supermarket. Friday’s disturbances represented a bitter reminder for local residents of the “Guarimba,” the several months of violent student demonstrations in early 2014, in which opposition activists set up street barricades throughout the country, paralyzing mobility and commerce as well as taking the lives of at least 43 people.

That same day on Friday, a spokesperson for the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup urged the Venezuelan opposition to refrain from resorting to violence, denouncing the visit by rightwing ex-presidents Sebastián Piñera, Andrés Pastrana, and Felipe Calderón, of Chile, Colombia, and Mexico to opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was sent to jail for inciting violence this past year.

Despite reported calls for peaceful protests on the part of opposition leaders, some at Saturday’s march voiced support for violence if peaceful demonstrations fail to force President Maduro’s resignation.

According to Dilia Ortiz, 61, of El Calvario, if the “peaceful way” fails, “The extremists would regrettably come to talk violence...imagine, unimaginable situations...We believe in  a peaceful, democratic salida, [exit of of President Maduro’s government], but I repeat, it’s not the only salida, this is our right, and everyone protests how he or she likes. All salidas are possible, both peaceful and extremist, it’s our right.”

If this violent, extremist salida becomes necessary, she went on, “we can accept assistance from other countries, why not, United States and any others would be welcome.”

During President Maduro’s speech to the National Assembly on Wednesday, he showed a video of phone conversations between Vice-Admiral  Iván Carratú Molina, military official José de Jesús Gámez Bustamante, a self-proclaimed “expert in psychological operations” trained at the School of the Americas, and opposition student leader Franklin Hernández, in which they discussed plans to violently disrupt the planned chavista march for Friday, January 23. Nevertheless, not all present at Saturday’s march endorsed the legitimacy of violence. Leopoldo Loreto, 55, a doctor from El Marqués, maintained that, “The peaceful way is the only salida.”

Divisions Remain

Despite the appearance of unity on Saturday, the Venezuelan opposition, insists ex-foreign minister and ex-defense minister José Vicente Rangel, remains severely divided. "The internal climate [of the opposition] has become unbreathable, its leadership doesn’t meet, there’s no vision of tactics and strategies, the myth of unity is deflated.” He went on to state that the various positions taken by the opposition, including a convening citizen congress, waiting for National Assembly elections, and demanding the renunciation of President Nicolás Maduro, “lack consistency and contradict the will of the people, who want peace and dialogue.”

The political analyst identified a further problem for the opposition, namely their lack of an alternative program: “They don’t dare to define themselves as capitalists. What is their model? They’re afraid of saying, for example, that they uphold the capitalist model or that they defend the model that drove the country to disaster during the Fourth Republic.”

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