Flaccid Venezuelan Response to National Strike Jeered by Maduroby and
Support of walkout is mixed as capital continues to function
President suggests opposition efforts need peformance enhancer
A one-day national strike called by the opposition to increase pressure for a recall referendum on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was met with less than overwhelming participation and a gibe from the socialist leader that his detractors would benefit from a little chemical help with their performance.
“The country is functioning at 100 percent,” Maduro said at a televised event for student literacy in downtown Caracas. The opposition “needs a little Viagra to see if they can get something up in country.”
The sexual reference, in front of the assembled children, punctuated his threatening stance toward those who would comply with the opposition’s call for a 12-hour walkout and business blackout, which included sending government monitors to see which businesses might have closed and vowing to expropriate those that had.
“A company that closes will be taken over by the people,” Maduro said Thursday. During his address Friday, Maduro said authorities had inspected 1,000 businesses and that all were working.
It didn’t look like it earlier in the day, as typically clogged roadways flowed freely and shops were shuttered across the capital. This demonstration followed a rally of tens of thousands who took to the streets of Caracas on Wednesday as Maduro’s opponents ramp up their efforts to oust the unpopular president after authorities here suspended a recall referendum against his rule.
It’s a waiting game the government is playing, because a referendum to recall the president must occur before the start of the year to effect a change in the party in power. After 2017, Maduro’s vice president, currently Aristobulo Isturiz, would assume his post and, presumably, continue his policies and cement the socialists’ grip on power.
Maduro may have blunted the strike a bit by raising the minimum wage by 40 percent on Thursday, effective Nov. 1, and by threatening to seize shuttered businesses. So, rather than grinding to a halt, Caracas was mostly functioning Friday.
Both sides claimed victory on the day. Differing views of the strike emerged on social media, with the opposition alliance posting pictures of empty streets while government officials posted pictures of busy metro stations and buses.
“If the strike failed, what’s with the hysteria from the government focusing on it?” Henry Ramos Allup, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, wrote on Twitter. “It appears that the immense majority of the country respected it.”
Despite growing frustrations with almost two decades of socialist rule, and faced with triple-digit inflation and chronic shortages of consumer staples, many Venezuelans said they had little choice but to go about business as usual.
“If I don’t open, I don’t sell anything and if don’t sell anything I can’t buy food,” said Andres Marquez, 65, who kept his appliance shop running in eastern Caracas.
The threat of inspections and expropriations was illustrated Thursday, as police intelligence officers were parked outside the headquarters of Venezuela’s largest closely held company, Empresas Polar, the company said, and outside the home of its president, Lorenzo Mendoza. Maduro has repeatedly accused Mendoza of attempting to undermine his administration.
The opposition-controlled National Assembly made a demand this week that Maduro, whom they accuse of making a mockery of the constitution, appear before the body for hearings that would amount to a symbolic political trial. If the government doesn’t resume the referendum process, the opposition has vowed to march on the presidential palace next week.