Venezuelan Security Forces Block Anti-government Protest in CaracasMay 20, 2016 in Venezuela
Security forces clashed with thousands of protesters trying to reach the headquarters of Venezuela’s electoral body Wednesday to demand a referendum to recall unpopular President Nicolas Maduro. The clashes occurred after police blocked access to the National Electoral Centre and used teargas to disperse the crowd. A few demonstrators were arrested and one protester was carried off unconscious, according to witnesses. Opposition leaders warned Venezuela was a “time bomb” and said blocking democratic avenues for Maduro’s removal meant Venezuelans would increasingly take to the streets.
The anti-government protest came days after socialist President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency due to what he called plots from within the country and from the US to topple his leftist government. The decree gives the government and security forces broad authorization to ignore most constitutional safeguards in a bid to keep order and supply basic food and services, and to counter an energy shortage. The measures are to last for 60 days with the option of being renewed for further periods of 60 days. President Nicolas Maduro also said that Venezuela would hold national military exercises to prepare the country for “any scenario”.
Two weeks ago, the electoral body received a petition signed by 1.85 million people demanding a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The constitution establishes that a referendum will be called to decide if the president remains in power if a second petition is signed by at least 20 percent of the electorate, nearly four million people. However, the government made it clear that the referendum would not go ahead. Venezuela’s Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz said the referendum would not take place due to procedural errors. Isturiz said the opposition had “acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud.” The opposition fear authorities are trying to delay a referendum until 2017, when — under the Constitution — the presidency would fall to the vice-president.
On Friday, US intelligence officials warned that Venezuela was descending into economic and political chaos that was likely to end in street violence, military suppression of citizens’ rights, and a possible coup to remove President Nicolas Maduro. According to recent polls, President Maduro’s approval ratings fell to a low of 33 percent, with two-thirds of Venezuelans thinking Maduro’s presidency should end this year. The discontent emanates from a shrinking economy, rising inflation, and severe food and power shortages.