Defiant Venezuelan opposition marches for recall vote



Critics of President Nicolas Maduro marched through Caracas on Wednesday to demand that the recall process go forward. But Venezuela’s socialist government is digging in its heels as an economic collapse further threatens its hold on power.

The pro-government elections board missed its own Monday deadline to certify signatures on a petition demanding the start of a recall process. And now government supporters have lodged an official complaint with elections officials calling for the disqualification of the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition. .

Socialist party leader and Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez said the opposition falsified names during the first round of signature-gathering for the recall.

“We have come to request the cancellation of the registration of the MUD coalition because of their involvement in the biggest electoral fraud ever in the country’s history,” he said.

Critics of President Nicolas Maduro marched through Caracas on Wednesday to demand the recall process go forward. Hundreds of police in riot gear blocked protesters’ path to the elections headquarters, forcing them down an alternate route.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles warned that if elections officials did not allow the people to move ahead with the process, they would be responsible for the consequences.

“The people don’t want violence, but the people’s patience is running out. That’s why we demand a democratic solution,” he told a cheering crowd. “They will not give it to us, we have to fight for it. We all have to unite and fight for the same thing.”

Delay tactics

If a recall vote succeeds this year, Venezuela would see new presidential elections and Capriles would be among the strongest candidates. If the vote is delayed until 2017, Maduro would simply be replaced by his vice president. Opponents say officials are stretching out a process that should take weeks to fill an entire year.

Maduro has consistently said the recall will not happen. With the economy projected to contract by 8 percent this year after a 5.7 percent fall in 2015, polls indicate the government could lose badly.

The opposition is also demanding the government release political prisoners. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that many imprisoned activists allege that they have been tortured behind bars.

At the same time, the government is easing its pressure in some areas.

This month, officials released several anti-government activists widely seen as political prisoners and Maduro last week accepted an opposition proposal to ask the Vatican to facilitate dialogue with officials.

The government also has allowed its currency to weaken to its lowest official rate ever – much closer to the black-market rate – a move outside analysts widely see as necessary to start righting the collapsing economy.

As the march dispersed, opposition leaders promised to hold more events on Thursday and Friday to keep up the pressure on the government. But at a supermarket line nearby, the political drama seemed removed from the increasingly difficult daily struggle to find food.

“What’s the point in protesting? The people in power are going to do what they’re going to do,” said housewife Luz Bastez.

“What I’m worried about is whether the milk is going to run out at this store.”