CARACAS – Venezuelans began turning out of their homes and offices at noon Wednesday, filling the streets of Caracas in the latest defiant demonstration against President Nicolas Maduro.
Hundreds of opposition supporters gathered in the early stages of a second nationwide protest called by National Assembly President Juan Guaido, who is appealing to world leaders and, crucially, the armed forces to recognize him as the rightful head of state.
About 30 people draped in Venezuelan flags and blowing whistles blocked Romulo Gallegos avenue in eastern Caracas, chanting “Guaido! Guaido!” Near Altamira’s business district, men and women in office clothes walked out of their buildings and stood on the sidewalks. Passing cars honked to join in the protest.
“I want to see my country free; enough of so much repression. I am here for my son, for my family and for all my friends who have left the country,’ said 40-year-old Nancy Torres, a physiotherapist who lives in the Horizonte neighborhood. “We don’t have food, we don’t have medicine, they are killing us. We want free elections.”
Two dozen people in Palo Verde, a working-class neighborhood near Petare, Caracas’s biggest slum, chanted “We are not afraid!” They held signs reading, “Petare needs humanitarian aid.”
Major demonstrations kicked off in the crisis-wracked country last week after Guaido, the 35-year-old head of the National Assembly, invoked a resolution in Venezuela’s charter that would let him lead an interim government in the absence of a legitimate president. The U.S. and more than a dozen other nations quickly recognized Guaido and are pressuring Maduro to step down, accusing him of rigging his re-election last year and leading the once-rich country into ruinous poverty.
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Venezuelan crude, the country’s only significant export, and froze state bank accounts and assets. Last week, the European Union demanded the regime convene fresh elections within eight days.
Guaido has called for another nationwide protest Saturday when the EU’s deadline expires.
Despite dismal approval ratings and risking further imperiling the economy, Maduro has refused to back down. The 56-year-old anointed successor to the late Hugo Chavez insists his opponents are launching a U.S.-backed “coup” to end two decades of socialist rule. Since Guaido has laid claim to the presidency, Maduro has been touring the nation’s military installations as top generals and admirals swear their allegiance to him on state television.
But in the downtown Caracas working-class neighborhood of La Candelaria, some were unswayed.
“It’s unfair people are dying due to lack of medicine,” Morelia Obelmejia, a 63-year-old homemaker, said Wednesday. “There is no rule of law anymore and Maduro doesn’t seem to care that we’re starving. They say they’re socialist and democrats, but they’re not.”