CARACAS – Many Venezuelan streets were barricaded and deserted on Thursday for a strike called by foes of President Nicolas Maduro to demand elections and the scrapping of plans for a new congress they fear will consolidate dictatorship in the OPEC country.
From the Andes to the Amazon, millions joined the 24-hour shutdown, staying at home, closing businesses or manning roadblocks in a civil disobedience campaign the opposition hopes will end nearly two decades of socialist rule.
“We must all do our best to get rid of this tyrant,” said Miguel Lopez, 17, holding a homemade shield emblazoned with “No To Dictatorship!” at a barrier on a Caracas street devoid of traffic.
Many private transportation groups heeded the strike call, while students, neighbours and activists hauled rubbish and furniture into streets to erect makeshift barriers.
In some places, however, such as the poor neighborhoods of Caracas, streets and shops were still buzzing, while motorbike taxis replaced buses.
“I have to work to subsist, but if I could, I would strike,” said clothes seller Victor Sanabria, 49, in the southern town of San Felix. “We’re tired of this government.”
In a speech, Maduro vowed some of the strike leaders would be jailed and insisted the action was minimal, with the 700 leading food businesses, for example, still working.
He said opposition supporters attacked the headquarters of state TV and burned a kiosk of the government postal service, but were repelled by workers and soldiers. “I’ve ordered the capture of all the fascist terrorists,” he said, singling out a Caracas district mayor, Carlos Ocariz, for blame.
In clashes elsewhere, security forces fired tear gas at protesters manning barricades. Youths shot fireworks at them from homemade mortars. More than 80 people were arrested by early afternoon, a local rights group said.
Violence during four months of anti-government unrest has taken about 100 lives, injured thousands, left hundreds in jail and further damaged an economy in its fourth year of a debilitating decline.
US President Donald Trump weighed in on the dispute this week, threatening economic sanctions if the July 30 vote goes ahead. Individual sanctions could be applied to Maduro allies such as Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino or Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello, US officials have told Reuters.
“If they don’t sanction me, I would feel bad!” mocked Cabello at a rally of supporters on Thursday.
As well as a presidential election, Venezuela’s opposition is also demanding freedom for more than 400 jailed activists, autonomy for the legislature and foreign humanitarian aid.