Venezuelans protest to demand power, water and end to Maduro
Tens of thousands attend rally to support opposition leader Guaido as crisis worsens
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a rally against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters
After weeks of power cuts and limited access to water, tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets at the weekend to back opposition leader Juan Guaido and protest against President Nicolas Maduro, who they accuse of wrecking the economy.
Venezuelans, already suffering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine, say the crisis has worsened over the past month. That is when crippling nationwide power outages began to leave vast swaths of territory in the dark for days at a time, cutting off water supplies and cell phone service.
Mr Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly and recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state by most Western nations, had called for rallies on Saturday to mark the start of what he has billed as a new wave of “definitive” protests to oust Mr Maduro.
Mr Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, denouncing Mr Maduro as a “usurper” for beginning a second term after a 2018 election widely considered fraudulent. Mr Maduro, who retains the support of the military and allies including Russia and China, has derided Mr Guaido as a US puppet and said he will face justice.
In Caracas, thousands of opposition supporters assembled at a main rally point in the eastern El Marques district. Protesters said their homes had been without water for days and many had taken to drawing it from unsanitary pipes or streams running off the Avila mountain overlooking Caracas.
At one point, the crowd chanted, “The water has gone, power has gone, and now Maduro what’s missing is that you go too.”
Two massive power outages in recent weeks led Mr Maduro’s government to cancel school classes and left many businesses shuttered. The resumption of services has been uneven, with cities such as San Cristobal, Valencia and Maracay still reporting intermittent blackouts.
“We haven’t just come to demand water and power. We’ve come to demand freedom and democracy,” Mr Guaido said at the Caracas rally, surrounded by a cheering crowd. “We can’t let ourselves become used to this, we can’t put up with it, we aren’t going to let these crooks keep hold of our country.”
While no immediate protest-related violence was reported in Caracas, witnesses reported clashes between protesters and police in the steamy oil hub of Maracaibo.
The ruling Socialist Party staged a rival march in Caracas’ centre on Saturday, with several thousand people, mostly state workers clad in red shirts and red baseball caps, banging drums and dancing salsa.
Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, a parallel legislature controlled by the Socialist Party, on Tuesday approved a measure allowing for the possible prosecution of Mr Guaido by stripping him of his parliamentary immunity.
The chief prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into Mr Guaido and his alleged links to the blackouts and to “incidents of violence” in January, but it has not yet ordered his arrest or officially charged him with any crime.
The US government on Friday took another step in its efforts to force Mr Maduro out, by imposing new sanctions on Venezuelan oil shipments, and promising “stronger action” against key ally Cuba for helping to keep his government afloat.