CARACAS May 1 Venezuelans poured onto the
streets on Monday in rival May Day marches as the opposition
began a second month of anti-government protests and red-shirted
supporters rallied behind socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro on Sunday announced a 60 percent increase to the
monthly minimum wage to counter the impact of triple-digit
annual inflation which has eroded people's buying power. He
touts the move as evidence of strong worker protection under
"21st century Socialism."
But foes say the increase, which takes the minimum wage to
nearly $50 a month at the black market rate, is further proof of
Maduro wrecking the oil-rich nation's economy with chaotic
policies like currency controls and excessive money printing.
Millions of Venezuelans are struggling to eat three square
meals a day or afford basic medicines amid a fourth year of
"Who can stand this? So much hunger, misery, crime ... The
prices are going up far more than the salary rises," said Sonia
Lopez, a 34-year-old social security worker and mother-of-three
at an anti-government rally in the poorer western side of
"There are days my kids eat, and days they don't," she
added, waving a Venezuela flag signed in the past by now jailed
opposition leader Antonio Ledezma.
Thousands of supporters of both sides gathered in Caracas
and other major cities. The government laid on hundreds of buses
for its backers but closed subway stations in the capital and
set up roadblocks, impeding opposition mobilization.
"No matter the obstacles today, even cats will mobilize
against this corrupt, drug-trafficking top brass and its
leader," said Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in
the 2013 presidential election.
Government opponents are demanding elections, autonomy for
the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid
channel from abroad and freedom for more than 100 jailed
Maduro retorts that they are violent protesters seeking a
coup to allow a Washington-backed right-wing government get its
hands on Venezuela's oil wealth.
Twenty-nine people, including supporters of both sides and a
National Guard sergeant, have died in unrest since early April.
"The workers are in the street to defend our president
against the violent coup-mongers," said Aaron Pulido, 29, a
union worker with migration department Saime gathering in
downtown Caracas in a sea of red banners.
"They destroyed five Saime offices around Venezuela in the
last month ... There's never violence in our marches," he added.
Police and National Guard troops, whom the opposition
accuses of using excessive force in near-daily clashes, were out
in force across the capital, many behind riot shields with
armored vehicles waiting in side streets.
Some government workers acknowledged they had been coerced
into attending. "We're here because they tell us to. If not,
there are problems," a 34 year-old worker with a state aluminum
company, just off a bus after an all-night journey from southern
Ciudad Bolivar, told a journalist until a supervisor cut off the
(Editing by W Simon)