CARACAS May 24 Angry Venezuelans barricaded
streets in parts of Caracas and the opposition geared up for
another protest on Wednesday as the announcement of two election
dates failed to appease anger against President Nicolas Maduro
and an economy in tailspin.
After nearly two months of protests demanding an early
presidential vote, the pro-government electoral council on
Tuesday said voting for a controversial "constituent assembly"
would be held in July and delayed state elections in December.
Maduro foes countered that was a sham designed to confuse
Venezuelans, prompt infighting among the opposition over
strategy, and allow the unpopular leftist government to dodge
free and fair elections they would likely lose.
Opposition lawmakers say the assembly, whose 540 members
will be elected on a municipal level and by community groups
like workers, will be filled with government stooges who will
merely obey Maduro's orders to rewrite the constitution.
"Once installed, this constituent assembly will eliminate
governorships, mayors, and the National Assembly," said
opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa.
"There's been a break in Venezuela's constitutional order,
and the streets are our way to rescue it," he added.
The South American OPEC member has been racked by strife
since early April, with at least 55 people killed as protests
and anger boiled over due to an economic meltdown.
Venezuela is suffering triple-digit inflation, a fourth year
of recession, long lines at shops and widespread shortages of
basic foods and medicines.
Maduro says he is facing an "armed insurrection" and the
constituent assembly, a super body that will supersede all other
public powers, is the way to restore peace to Venezuela.
Opposition supporters planned to march to the electoral
council on Wednesday, although the demonstration would likely be
blocked by National Guard soldiers. Over and over in the last
weeks, troops and police have faced off with masked youths
hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.
The opposition-led National Assembly wants a referendum
asking Venezuelans if they approve of Maduro's constituent
RIOTS AND LOOTING
Looting, barricades and riots are now commonplace around
Venezuela, as the protests spin out of control, given hunger,
hopelessness, easy access to weapons and gangs taking advantage
of the chaos.
In many places, schools are canceled, public transport is
halted, and streets are barricaded. Some neighborhoods look like
war zones after nighttime pillaging of bakeries and warehouses.
At some intersections, hooded young men ask passersby for
money to "collaborate with the resistance." Traffic was blocked
in various parts of the capital early on Wednesday.
The trouble has been particularly bad this week in Barinas,
the home state of Maduro's mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez
that the socialists regard as the "cradle of the revolution."
Seven people died in protests there in the last few days,
according to the state prosecutor.
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader elected in
2013, paints the opposition as coup-mongers seeking to stoke
violence and overthrow his "21st century Socialism."
Over 2,700 people have been arrested since early April, with
more than 1,100 still behind bars and some 330 being tried in
military tribunals, according to rights group Penal Forum.
Maduro is facing some rare public dissent from within his
own ranks. The prosecutor has panned his assembly plan and a
Supreme Court magistrate also criticized it. Opposition leaders
say various military dissenters have been rounded up.
(Additional reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Alexandra
Ulmer; Editing by W Simon)