Venezuela Divided Over Opposition’s General Strike

Both sides of Venezuela’s political divide claimed victory Thursday, after an opposition strike threatened to paralyse the country.
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim and Katrina Kozarek
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Venezuela's opposition says millions of workers have joined their 24 hour general strike, though life continued as usual Thursday in much of the country. (AVN)
Venezuela's opposition says millions of workers have joined their 24 hour general strike, though life continued as usual Thursday in much of the country. (AVN)

Puebla, Mexico, July 20, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Both sides of Venezuela’s political divide claimed victory Thursday, after an opposition strike threatened to paralyze the country.

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition called the 24 hour strike to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to abandon plans to form a constituent assembly at the end of the month. Once elected, the assembly will have the power to propose changes to Venezuela’s constitution, though the government says any changes will need to be put to a referendum.

The strike saw businesses close and roads blocked in wealthy areas of Caracas, while working class neighborhoods appeared largely unaffected.

"We have to continue working, and we can't stop for people who want to interrupt our lives,” Caracas resident Oscar Mendible told state broadcaster teleSUR.

Mendible argued the opposition’s call to strike was a burden on ordinary Venezuelans.

“There's a dictatorship of a small group, they force people to not go to work, and that is not democracy, that is a dictatorship imposed by those people,” he said.

Elsewhere in the capital, residents said striking wasn’t an option in the country’s current economic climate.

"How can I eat if I don't work?" fruit vendor Jose Ramon told Reuters in Catia.

In the industrial western city of Barquisimeto, the Proletarian Agency of Information, a grassroots media group, reported several cases of alleged sabotage from business owners, administrators, barricades and protestors, however many workers have made in effort to maintain production. In the case of DISICA, private company that supplies PDVSA with iron construction material, the agency reports that the workers “continue working and have not stopped operations... there is no legal patronal representation... no medical service, and no representation in the department of health and work security.”

State owned diary company Lacteos Los Andes has alleged that since early hours of the the afternoon, they have been under attack by armed opposition groups. The groups are allegedly armed with home-made mortars and molotov cocktails, and have reportedly “tried to set on fire to an industrial gas tank...” according to the Proletarian Agency of Information.

Public transport has also been reportedly affected elsewhere in the country, with workers complaining of delays caused by absent workers and opposition barricades.

“This has to be fixed, we can't live our lives this way, blocking here, blocking there, they're blocking the streets to their same people," one Caracas resident told teleSUR.

In Barinas, opposition mayor Jose Luis Machin declared victory, stating the strike had managed to totally paralyze his city’s transport system.

"The strike is a total success: 98 percent of businesses are closed, 94 percent of public transport is not circulating," he said.

Other opposition leaders have estimated millions of Venezuelans have refused to turn up to work, though this has been heavily disputed by the government.

“The 700 largest companies in the country are working at 100 percent of their capacity,” Maduro told state broadcaster VTV.

The also government said almost all 2.8 million public employees have turned up to work. This included state oil firm PDVSA, which management said has been unaffected by the strike.

“Today the Venezuelan people triumphed, and demonstrated [their will to] work .. despite the call to strike by sectors of the opposition,” he said.

Back on the streets, the general calm was interrupted by a few outbreaks of violence. Authorities have reported opposition groups staged an attack near the VTV headquarters, and a post office was also allegedly torched. In the former incident, the broadcaster's onsite nursery was evacuated after the station said they were threatened by anti-government groups. Six people were arrested in connection with the incident, according to state media.

Elsewhere, security forces battled opposition groups armed with improvised mortars in some parts of the capital, according to Reuters. One death has been reported by opposition media, with newspaper El Nacional citing local journalists in Valencia as stating one protester was killed in clashes with the National Guard.

Despite failing to coax workers in much of the country, Thursday’s strike has already been labelled the largest in over a decade.

The largest major work stoppage in recent memory took place in 2002, when opposition aligned officials at PDVSA blocked staff from turning up to work. The lockout came just months after a coup temporarily ousted Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

The opposition also tried to call a nationwide strike last year, though participation was well below expectations.