Venezuela’s flagging opposition movement has hit the streets for its first major protests in months, as leaders sought to reignite their campaign to force Nicolás Maduro from power after his leftist ally Evo Morales was toppled in Bolivia.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets on Saturday morning in towns and cities across the crisis-stricken south American country, hoping the dramatic sea change in Bolivian politics might portend similar change in Venezuela.
“The whole of Venezuela awakes,” the movement’s young leader Juan Guaidó said in a Twitter message to demonstrators who had gathered in cities including Maracaibo, Barquisimeto and the capital, Caracas.
Maduro supporters staged a rival demonstration in Caracas to denounce what organisers called “US coup-mongering in Bolivia and Venezuela”.
Anti-Maduro demonstrators chanted “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” as they processed through Caracas carrying their country’s yellow, red and blue tricolor flag.
“The dictatorship is mistaken if it thinks we are afraid,” Hayber Farias, a youth leader from Guaidó’s party, said as he joined the demonstration.
Guaidó lead supporters to the Bolivian embassy in Caracas and insisted: “I don’t know if it will be today, tomorrow or Monday. But what I can guarantee you …. is that we will have freedom in all of Venezuela.”
But Guaidó’s campaign has lost steam since the start of this year when Maduro’s downfall seemed to many a matter of time and Saturday’s marches appeared far smaller than the massive mobilisations that rocked Venezuela in January, February and March.
One veteran of those protests said they had decided to stay at home on Saturday: “It sounded pointless.”
Since Guaidó’s failed attempt to spark an uprising on 30 April momentum has ebbed away from his movement and international attention – and support – has fallen away.
The left’s recent return to power in Argentina robbed Venezuela’s opposition of one important regional ally, Mauricio Macri, although Guaidó continues to enjoy the backing of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, Colombia’s Iván Duque, as well as the US and European powers such as the UK and Germany.
Many key members of Venezuela’s opposition have also been forced to flee into exile amid a crackdown that began after the botched attempt to bring Maduro down on 30 April.
Raúl Gallegos, a Venezuela specialist from the Control Risks consultancy, said Saturday’s demonstrations were designed to signal both at home and abroad that Guaidó’s crusade against Maduro was “alive and well”.
“Everything that is happening in Latin America has made it very clear that Venezuela has lost its pre-eminence in the news cycle. And with the departure of Evo Morales they are trying to take advantage of that momentum and say: ‘Maybe we are the next Bolivia.’”
Gallegos said that kind of rapid change seemed improbable in Venezuela – but with its economy in ruins and international pressure unlikely to ease in the immediate future, the situation remained unpredictable.
“When a regime is holding on through fear and intimidation … it entails a number of risks and vulnerabilities for those in power. So the idea that this is over – I wouldn’t be so quick to call it that way,” Gallegos added.
“It’s still a climate that lends itself to unexpected events that could lead to a successful coup or the emergence of a new type of leadership within the opposition … that could be much more radical in its approach towards the government.”
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