Venezuela’s political opposition movement called for massive protests on Wednesday, and the crowds of protestors — the violence in the streets — were all just staggering.
The protest was specifically called to demand a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro, late President Hugo Chavez’s successor, from office.
Venezuela has been named “the most miserable country in the world” by academics for a few years running. Johns Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke has measured inflation at around 284%. The country is running out of everything from toilet paper to basic food, and people can stand in line for up to 8 hours for basic necessities.
Rolling blackouts are common, and in fact the oil-rich country was forced to cut its work week to save power. On Monday, the New York Times published a heartbreaking report of the humanitarian disaster in the country’s hospitals.
But still, Maduro will not go. And, of course, there were pro-ruling party protesters in the streets as well on Wednesday, just not nearly in the same force as the opposition, which is now being led by governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles.
What’s worth noting now, though, is that there is an important shift going on in the way Venezuelans are talking about Maduro and his regime.
They have started disconnecting it from Chavez. To the people Chavez is still close to God.
(Need proof? Check out this video from Venezuelan TV comparing Chavez to Christ for the poor.)
Maduro, though, does not have that same grace. In denying the people a referendum on his rule, he’s allowed the opposition to paint him as anti-democratic.
Say what you want about Chavez, but he won elections. He was popular. On the other hand, Maduro won his 2013 presidential election against Capriles by only a hair, despite the fact that his party controlled the media, voting infrastructure, and (at the time) all branches of government.
Maduro’s party lost control of the legislature at the end of last year.
And now he’s losing control of the narrative. Instead of being against Chavez, the opposition has moved against his anti-democratic refusal to allow the referendum. The head of the legislature, who is part of the opposition, has taken up this line, as has General Carlos Alcalá Cordones, who was selected by Chavez. He told Venezuelan media that the referendum is not just an option, as Maduro has said, it’s an obligation.
The Organisation of American States has also turned against Maduro, calling him a traitor to his people.
Sounds like we’re getting somewhere here.