The country’s opposition plans to take to the streets Wednesday to agitate for a presidential recall, even as the beleaguered administration warns that the effort is futile and risks triggering violence.
In a nationally televised speech, President Nicolás Maduro became the latest official to tell the opposition that their hopes for new elections this year were misguided. He said organizers had missed a key date to implement the recall and that their planned demonstration would be met with the full force of the law.
Evoking national protests in 2014 that left 43 dead, Maduro said opposition demonstrators would be barred from entering the center of Caracas to avoid bloodshed. He also reiterated claims that his opponents are trying to oust him at all costs.
“They don’t want a referendum, they want a coup,” he said. “They want foreign intervention.”
Venezuela is in deep economic and political trouble, featuring shortages of basic goods, runaway inflation, power outages and rampant crime. Massive lines to buy everything from diapers to chicken (when they’re available) have soured the national mood, and a recent poll by DatinCorp showed that 69 percent said they would vote to oust the president.
The National Assembly has lost its political viability...it’s only a matter of time before it disappears.
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro
Even so, Maduro’s socialist administration still holds the levers of power — particularly the courts and the electoral authority.
The administration issued a decree Monday giving Maduro broad powers to fight everything from crime to climate change. And the government has suggested the measures are necessary to stave off coup plots from Washington and Bogotá. Maduro has called for military exercises Saturday to dissuade a potential invasion.
Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state who has been pushing for the recall, asked Venezuelans on Tuesday to reject the decree power grab.
“The decree would give Maduro exceptional powers and he’s not above the constitution,” Capriles said during a news conference.
Congress on Tuesday blocked the emergency decree, according to local media, but analysts expect the courts will declare the measure constitutional.
“If Maduro wants to apply [the emergency decree] by force then he needs to go get the tanks and war planes,” Capriles said.
The rhetoric comes amid the growing impression that the opposition is running out of legal maneuvering room even as it has seen its ranks bolstered by the crisis.
The president highlighted his challengers’ impotence Tuesday, saying the opposition-controlled congress is irrelevant.
“The National Assembly has lost its political viability,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time before it disappears. It’s disconnected from national interests.”
Even so, the opposition hopes to be heard Wednesday when it marches to demand that the National Electoral Council green-light a recall. Organizers say they’ve collected more than 2 million signatures (more than 10 times the number needed) to trigger the first phase of the process.
If the recall were held this year, new elections would be held. If they are pushed back into next year — as the administration suggests they will —Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz would finish out Maduro’s term until 2019.
Capriles said ousting the president through a referendum is a national birthright.
“The people want a change,” he said. “They want a solution that’s within the constitution, without shortcuts and without violence.”