Energized by a massive vote against President Nicolas Maduro in an unofficial plebiscite, Venezuela’s opposition mulled on Monday how to escalate protests and block his plan to rewrite the constitution for the purpose of having Socialist Party hegemony.
After nearly four months of street rallies that have led to nearly 100 deaths, the Democratic Unity coalition brought millions onto the streets on Sunday for an informal referendum intended to de-legitimize a leader they call a dictator.
Now, opposition leaders are promising “Zero Hour” in Venezuela to demand a general election and stop the leftist Maduro’s plan to create a controversial new legislative super-body called a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.
Opposition tactics could include lengthy road blockades and sit-ins, a national strike, or possibly even a march on the Miraflores presidential palace, similar to events before a short-lived coup against Maduro’s successor Hugo Chavez in 2002.
“Today, Venezuela stood up with dignity to say freedom does not go backwards, democracy is not negotiated,” Julio Borges, who leads the opposition-controlled legislature, said.
“We don’t want a fraudulent Constituent Assembly imposed on us. We don’t want to be Cuba. We don’t want to be a country without freedom,” he added, promising further announcements on opposition strategy.
Maduro, whose term is due to end in early 2019, dismissed Sunday’s opposition event.
“Don’t go crazy, calm down,” he said in a message to the opposition, vowing his Constituent Assembly would bring peace to the volatile nation.
Maduro, 54, narrowly won election in 2013 but has seen his ratings plunge, to just over 20 percent, during a brutal economic crisis.
Most Venezuelans oppose the Constituent Assembly, which will have power to rewrite the constitution and annul the current opposition-led legislature, but Maduro is pressing on anyway for the vote in two weeks’ time.
In three questions at Sunday’s event, opposition supporters voted overwhelmingly – by 98 percent – to reject the proposed new assembly, urge the military to defend the existing constitution, and support elections before Maduro’s term ends.
Sunday’s nearly 7.2 million participation compared with 7.7 million opposition votes in the 2015 legislative elections that it won by a landslide and 7.3 million votes for the opposition in a 2013 presidential poll narrowly won by Maduro.
Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, noting that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 abroad.
Garcia said final results would be released Monday.