Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters streamed on to the streets of the capital on Saturday for what they described as the final push to force Nicolás Maduro from power.
“I believe [the end] is coming very soon – this week,” said Barbara Angarita, 49, as she and thousands of other demonstrators poured down the Avenida Principal de las Mercedes in Caracas. “We must have a free country, free for all Venezuelans and for our descendants.”
The feeling that the end was nigh for Maduro – who took power following Hugo Chávez’s 2013 death and has led his country into economic ruin and humanitarian crisis – was inescapable as huge columns of flag-waving demonstrators processed through Caracas and other major cities across Venezuela.
“I think for the fist time we are close – very, very close … I guess this is what people in Germany felt in 1989 when the Wall came down,” said Sol Castro Cipriano, 62, a retired university professor. [Continue reading…]
It was a sunny Friday afternoon in a town square. A pleasant breeze rustled the leaves of the palm trees that shaded crowds of people waiting around a small, open-air stage. The president squeezed through the tightly packed audience, stood before a lectern, and gave a brief, reassuring speech before hundreds of smiling onlookers. Then he took questions from reporters, and after joining the crowd in singing the national anthem, left.
In many countries around the world, this scene would be perfectly normal — a campaign event, perhaps, or the dedication of a memorial. But this is Venezuela and this was Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, who took the oath of office as interim president on Jan. 23 in a direct challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, the man who represents the normal that Venezuelans are so horribly used to.
In Venezuela, it isn’t normal for high-ranking government officials to speak in public. When they do, it’s usually in the form of highly choreographed campaign events with heavy security, where public employees are forced to attend wearing red. News conferences are somber affairs, held in the Miraflores Palace before handpicked reporters who are rarely allowed to ask questions, and must instead sit through hours of bellicose rhetoric that all Venezuelan television channels and radio stations are forced to broadcast. Whenever an opposition rally is announced, the city wakes up to heavily fortified military blockades, armored tanks and squads of policemen in riot gear who eventually disperse the crowds with tear gas and rubber pellets, or, lately, gunfire. The last time I tried to ask a soldier why they were shooting at us, I was shoved, pinned down and almost got taken away.
Our normal means living in a country that we are made to feel we are not a part of, under a government that makes us know that we are not welcome. Our normal means relying on social media and YouTube — whenever the internet is not blocked — and WhatsApp chats — if there isn’t a power outage — to find out the death toll of from the latest protests: You never know if a loved one was killed. Here, it is normal to be fearful and silenced, even though we know that we are a majority. More than anything, it is normal to not dream, because we are too busy surviving. We have normalized indignity and anguish, and we have normalized dictatorship. [Continue reading…]
As the political and economic pressure on Nicolás Maduro mounts, Venezuela’s president believes there is one person he can rely on – Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin has accused the opposition leader Juan Guaidó of an “illegal attempt to seize power”, backed by the United States. Moscow says it will do “everything required” to support Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela’s “legitimate president”.
But Russia’s appetite for protecting relations with Caracas may be more limited than its rhetoric suggests. [Continue reading…]