Thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in Venezuela in a massive revolution against the elite.
The uprising, dubbed the ‘taking of Caracas,’ aims to force the government for a recall referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.
It came two days after thousands of government supporters also took to Caracas’ streets to show support for Maduro, who spoke to the crowd.
“Do they want peace?” Maduro asked to the crowd at the August 30 march, accusing the opposition of planning violence and, potentially, a new attempted coup. “Do they want democracy? We will have democracy, but if they try to come at me with a coup, with ambushes and violence, the revolution will respond.”
Government leaders have ramped up efforts in recent weeks to show strength and unity ahead of the opposition’s march. The August 30 rally followed three pro-revolution demonstrations in the preceding days. Government supporters also held a competing rally on September 1.
Maduro called on his supporters to maintain the intensity in the streets to counteract the opposition’s attempt to oust him via a recall referendum. “We have to be clear about the will of the people in their unbreakable struggle, the popular organisation, to struggle,” he said.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, which was drafted by an elected constituent assembly and passed by popular vote in 1999 under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, all elected officials can be recalled after the mid-point of their term. In 2004, the opposition managed to initiate a recall referendum against Chavez, which he easily won.
However, the process, which involves 20% of electors signing a petition, is heavily contested over current attempts to initiate a recall referendum against Maduro.
The competing street mobilisations coincide with this attempt. Opposition leaders said their demonstration aimed to pressure the National Electoral Council (CNE) to set the dates for the next stage of the recall process, which is the collection of signatures of 20% of voters.
The date for any recall referendum is crucial. If it is held before January 10 and Maduro loses, new elections would be called. If held after January 10, the country’s vice president would become president until the end of the current presidential term in 2019.
The schedule for the recall referendum was announced on August 10 by the CNE president, Tibisay Lucena. The next stage of the process will be held from October 24-30, when the opposition will have to collect signatures from 20% of registered voters. This amounts to 3.9 million people in total.
Maduro said on August 30 that the far right Popular Will party, led by jailed leader Leopoldo Lopez and his wife Lilian Tintori, is behind a coup plot against his government. He also said he was considering stripping all Venezuelan politicians of immunity protections to allow the courts to prosecute suspected coup-plotters in parliament.
Days before the right-wing demonstration, a group of hardline government opponents was arrested after authorities found them with explosives and the uniforms of National Armed Forces.
Meanwhile, supporters of the government have reiterated their call for peace to achieve stability in Venezuela. In recent months there has been a wave of violence against government supporters, left-wing activists and public servants, which many believe is an attempt to undermine the future of the Chavista movement in the country.
Due to threats of violence at the opposition march, extra police and troops were positioned across the city. The aim was to prevent a repeat of past violent actions by the opposition.
In some parts of the city, opposition protests turned violent. People were caught on film burning cars and debris, trying to close down streets, throwing Molotov cocktails and attacking police.
Some prominent opposition figures made thinly-veiled threats of violence if the CNE did not reverse its decision that the referendum cannot possibly be held this year.
Maduro said the opposition rally is intended to disguise a coup, similar to the 2002 US-backed failed coup against Chavez’s democratically-elected government. Chavez was briefly ousted by the military, until a mass uprising by the poor restored his government.
Thousands of supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution have taken to the streets in response to the coup threat, and to seek to prevent a repeat of the 2014 right-wing gurimbas (a form of violent street protests often used by the opposition), which left 43 people dead.
At the August 30 pro-government march, Maduro called on the Venezuelan people to defend peace in the capital city and fight against the right wing’s constant plans to destabilise the country with violence.
“They have failed once again, victory belongs to the people, to peace and to the revolution,” said Maduro.
Maduro announced the implementation of a “peace plan” for Caracas that will run through to the end of the year. As part of the plan, 50 sports fields for young people will be either built or revamped, 115 schools will be inaugurated and the Barrio Adentro mission, which provides free health care, will be expanded to reach 100% of Caracas residents.
Maduro also announced other plans for funding to refurbish hospitals and a plan to replace elevators in old buildings, among other measures to renovate poor communities.