Caracas, January 24, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), marched in central Caracas Monday, marking the anniversary of the civic-military uprising that overthrew Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
According to MUD spokespeople, Monday’s march was called to demand that the National Electoral Council (CNE) set a date for municipal and gubernatorial elections this year, after regional elections planned for 2016 were postponed until 2017 by the CNE last October. Opposition leaders are also demanding that presidential elections due next year be brought forward in response to the declining popularity of current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected to a five year term in 2013.
“We also want to reach an agreement so that presidential elections are advanced to put an end to the crisis and allow the people to decide their destiny,” opposition spokesperson and National Assembly Secretary José Ignacio Guédez told press.
On Monday morning thousands of opposition marchers set out from three different locations in the capital en route to the CNE headquarters, where organizers intended to hand in an official MUD document demanding the “return to democracy” in Venezuela.
Nonetheless the route was closed-off by national police acting on a Supreme Court order emitted last year, which prohibits mobilizations in the vicinity of CNE offices due to acts of violence by opposition activists.
Despite the closure, opposition leader for the Justice First party Henrique Capriles Radonski was able to hand over the MUD document to the CNE rector and opposition sympathizer, Luis Emilio Rondon, who left CNE premises to meet with march organizers in central Caracas. A smaller march also took place in Valencia, Carabobo, but was dispersed by authorities when opposition supporters attempted to cross a police line to get to the CNE.
Monday’s march drew much lower numbers than opposition demonstrations organized at the end of 2016, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital against the government as part of the opposition’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign to force a recall referendum against the president. The recall process was suspended by the Supreme Court in October pending an investigation into tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures collected by the opposition.
The lower than expected turnout has led some political observers to speculate that the opposition has lost significant support over recent months, in particular due to internal divisions over how to secure the removal of President Nicolas Maduro and whether to participate in the currently suspended national dialogue with the government.
The stagnation of talks with the government alongside the failure of the recall referendum has left the opposition without an ostensible strategy for taking power before the 2018 elections. Meanwhile an attempt by the National Assembly to put the president on “political trial” for the abandonment of his post was shot down by the Supreme Court earlier in January for overstepping the Venezuelan Constitution.
Monday’s march commemorating the civil-military uprising against Jimenez comes on the heels of controversial statements made by new MUD National Assembly President Julio Borges in early January calling on the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) to mutiny against the elected Maduro government.
“Brothers in uniform of the FANB, the challenge is simple. Do you want to be the heirs, worthy of the Liberator [Simon Bolivar], or be remembered as the guardians of Nicolas Maduro?” stated the MUD leader January 5th.
Thousands of pro-government Chavistas also staged a march to commemorate the important historical date on Monday with a parade from Caracas’ Cemetery of the South to the National Pantheon, where the remains of Venezuelan legendary guerrillla leader and journalist Fabricio Ojeda were laid to rest alongside other national heroes.