Venezuelan Shops Shuttered in One-Day Strike to Pressure Maduro

  • Support of walkout is mixed as capital continues to function
  • In lead-up, Maduro threatened to expropriate closed businesses

Typically clogged roadways flowed freely and shops were shuttered across Caracas on Friday after Venezuelans walked out of their jobs in effort to pressure President Nicolas Maduro out of office.

After rallying tens of thousands to the streets of the capital on Wednesday, Maduro’s opponents convened a 12-hour national strike as they ramp up their efforts to oust the unpopular president after authorities here suspended a recall referendum against his rule.

In the days leading up to the shutdown, the ruling socialists showed no signs of changing course. Maduro raised the minimum wage and threatened to expropriate shuttered businesses hours before the strike kicked off.

“A company that closes will be taken over by the people,” he said Thursday.

But rather than grind the country to a halt, Caracas was mostly functioning Friday, with both sides claiming victory. Drastically 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. 

Authorities were inspecting closed businesses early Friday -- as Maduro and top government officials had threatened -- according to accounts from shop owners on the streets and members of the opposition on social media that couldn’t be verified independently. The day before, intelligence police were parked outside the headquarters of Venezuela’s largest privately held company, Empresas Polar, the company said, and outside the home of its president, Lorenzo Mendoza, whom Maduro regularly accuses attempting to undermine his administration.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly is now demanding 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.

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