Venezuelan opposition leader vows final push against Maduro amid new blackout

Juan Guaidó’s wife meets with Donald Trump and Mike Pence in Washington

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó greets supporters  in Caracas on Wednesday. Photograph:  Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó greets supporters in Caracas on Wednesday. Photograph: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

 

The opposition figurehead battling to topple Nicolás Maduro has told supporters to prepare for a final nationwide push against Venezuela’s authoritarian leader after the country suffered its fourth massive blackout in less than three weeks.

Addressing a rally in Caracas, Juan Guaidó said it was time for Venezuelans of all social classes to increase pressure through what he called Operación Libertad (Operation Freedom) – a mobilisation across the country that would culminate in a massive march through the capital.

Although he did not say when the march would take place, members of his team say it could end at one of its most politically sensitive addresses: the Miraflores presidential palace.

“At its heart, Operation Freedom means [exerting] maximum popular political pressure of the kind never before seen in Venezuela,” said Mr Guaidó, who most western governments now recognise as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader.

Referring to some of Caracas’ most populous slums and working class communities – traditionally loyal to Mr Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez – Mr Guaidó said: “We must march from Catia, from La Vega, from Antímano, from Caricuao . . . from Petare, from El Valle. There must be 20, 30 or 40 different assembly points [around Caracas] so there is no way they can repress us.”

Mr Guaidó admitted such a huge demonstration could not be organised “from one day to the next” and would be preceded by a rehearsal on April 6th. The opposition leader said he would spend the coming weeks and months touring Venezuela and liaising with local committees to prepare.

He also hinted at the potential risks of marching on such a sensitive location, saying “responsibility” was needed in the demonstration’s planning: “We will not be cannon fodder.”

Upping the ante

But after the latest breakdown in Venezuela’s electricity service, Mr Guaidó said it was necessary to up the ante.

“Today Venezuelans woke up in the dark once again because of an inefficient, corrupt and thieving regime . . . What we are asking for, and what we are fighting for every single day, is to live normally,” he said.

As Mr Guaidó spoke in Caracas, his wife Fabiana Rosales was in Washington, where she was given a high-profile reception by Donald Trump and his vice-president Mike Pence. “We are with Venezuela,” the US president said, at the start of a meeting with Ms Rosales and other opposition figures.

US president Donald Trump meeting Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó at the White House in Washington. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters
US president Donald Trump meeting Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó at the White House in Washington. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Mr Maduro and his inner circle have put a brave face on the latest power cuts, which struck on Wednesday morning, less than three weeks after the start of a six-day nationwide blackout.

“United Venezuela will prevail,” tweeted Delcy Rodríguez, the vice-president, shortly before Wednesday’s power failure. She denounced the “criminal imperialist attack” her administration accuses of attacking the national grid in order to topple Mr Maduro.

But there was anger and on the streets of Venezuela’s capital – where many citizens are now living without water as well as light – as citizens faced up to another period of profound uncertainty and deprivation.

Crumbling infrastructure

Despite government claims, many people suspect the blackouts are the result of crumbling infrastructure caused by years of corruption, incompetence and under-investment.

“I feel hopelessness and despair,” said Nohelia van Praag, a 43-year-old preschool teacher from Caracas.

Franklin Piccone, a teacher and activist from eastern Caracas who works in the city’s slums, said: “There is no way this government can last six years. They have shown they have no answers. It’s just failure after failure.”

“We are talking about a failed state,” Mr Piccone added. “We are in a situation of total lawlessness.”

People on the streets of Venezuela’s capital Caracas on Wednesday as businesses remained closed during a continuing blackout. Photograph: Cristian Hernandez/AFP/Getty Images
People on the streets of Venezuela’s capital Caracas on Wednesday as businesses remained closed during a continuing blackout. Photograph: Cristian Hernandez/AFP/Getty Images

The internet monitoring organisation NetBlocks reported that 91 per cent of Venezuela was knocked offline by Wednesday’s blackout.

Maria Laura Antunes, a 59-year-old Caracas resident who had turned out for Mr Guaidó’s rally, said she had fled Angola, the country of her birth, in 1975 because of the war there and feared having to abandon her adopted home because of Venezuela’s collapse.

“This is so serious. If there isn’t change, it will be impossible to stay here,” she said. – Guardian