Venezuela is hurtling toward a high-stakes confrontation as Dictator Nicolas Maduro’s iron grip slips and opposition support grows in a once wealthy capitalist nation now impoverished by socialism.
Maria Sanchez reporting from Caracas for AFP writes that Wednesday and Thursday, the opposition is staging its second nationwide strike in a week, then another mass protest is planned on Friday, upping the pressure on the leftist leader.
The National Assembly, controlled by the opposition, has already made moves toward what some are calling a “parallel” state by appointing 33 supreme court judges to rival ones loyal to Maduro.
On Sunday, things between the two sides are expected to come to a head.
That’s when Maduro is to hold a controversial election to choose 545 members for a body, called the Constituent Assembly, tasked with rewriting the constitution drafted under his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.
The vote has been strongly criticized inside Venezuela and internationally, particularly among heavyweight Latin American states such as Brazil and Mexico. US President Donald Trump has threatened unspecified economic sanctions if it goes ahead.
Maduro, a former bus driver elevated to power by Chavez, continues to expand totalitarian rule as his intelligence officials arrested two of the opposition-appointed judges Tuesday, bringing to three the number detained. Maduro vowed that the opposition’s judges would be arrested “one by one” and their assets frozen.
The opposition, which organized an unofficial referendum against the constitutional revision in which a third of the electorate rejected Maduro’s plan, has called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote. The president’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, has also broken ranks with him over the Constituent Assembly and become a vociferous opponent.
Meanwhile, street protests against Maduro continue. In four months, more than 100 people have died during the demonstrations.
The oil export-dependent economy is shrinking 12 percent this year, after a contraction of 18 percent last year, according to the latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund. Inflation is projected to top 720 percent and food and medicine are scarce.
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Breitbart.com is reporting that pictures have emerged of the Venezuelan military presenting soldiers with toilet paper rolls in what appears to be a reward for their loyalty.
“Is handing our soldiers personal hygiene products supposed to be a Maduro and [Defense Minister] Padrino victory, that they then show off? They do not respect the Armed Forces!” Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote in a tweet on Sunday.