Anti-socialist protesters flooded Venezuela’s capital in one of the largest mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s rule in over a decade – and one of the largest protests in world history.
Chanting “this government will fall,” millions rallied across Caracas to demand a recall referendum against Maduro amid the crippling economy in the OPEC country.
“We are going to bring down Maduro!” said Naty Gutierrez, 53, who persevered 75 miles of military roadblocks to reach the protest. “We are going to defeat hunger, crime, inflation and corruption.”
“They’ve done nothing in 17 years.”
She was surrounded by fellow citizens waving banners and national flags.
Protesters poured into Caracas from all across the country, according to the Democratic Unity coalition, which opposes the ruling party.
Hyperinflation, multiple years of recession, shortages of basic goods and long lines at stores have destroyed the lives of Venezuela’s 30 million people.
“As F.A. Hayek could have predicted decades ago, continued state control of economic activities in Venezuela had led to increasing control of the private life of everyone, and so it happened in Venezuela,” economist Iván Carrino of the Mises Institute wrote. “Authoritarianism, already running at high levels, grew even bigger, and today not only are there political prisoners such as Leopoldo López, but also businessmen who are imprisoned and persecuted for being suspected of causing an ‘economic war’ that seeks to undermine the government.”
“The truth is that a boundless government has spent well beyond its means, issuing currency without control to cover budget deficits. After that, when inflation came, the Venezuelan state decided not only to control currency prices but every price in the economy, creating shortages in basic services and giving rise to what is now a humanitarian crisis.”
However, the people finally won a decisive opposition win in a December legislative vote.
Maduro’s opposition hopes the protests will heap pressure on the Venezuelan government to allow a direct vote on his rule, granted by the constitution half-way through a presidential term.
If Maduro loses, new elections would be held and polls indicate the opposition would win. But if a vote is delayed until after Jan. 10, and Maduro loses, his vice president would finish his term ending in 2019.
Maduro was quick to respond to the unrest.
“If they’re coming with coups, ambushes and political violence, the revolutionary will provide an uncommon and overwhelming response,” he told supporters, adding that his opponents are plotting a coup like the one that briefly toppled his mentor Hugo Chavez in 2002.
He claimed authorities had arrested people wearing military fatigues and C4 explosives who planned to fire upon the crowds dressed as National Guard members, but his claim is likely false and intended to demonize the protesters.
But instead of discouraging Venezuelans’ enthusiasm, the saber-rattling rhetoric appears to be energizing the opposition, said Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst from Caracas.
“The government made a big mistake by throwing fuel onto the flames,” he said, adding that
had the government minimized the protest’s importance it would have likely failed to garner much support.
Firmly in power since Hugo Chavez took office in 1999, the socialists are losing power due to collapsing oil prices and the failing state-run economy that has left the country in chaos.