CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition supporters will take to the streets nationwide on Tuesday to keep the heat on embattled President Nicolas Maduro and to demand he allow humanitarian aid into the country where food and medicine shortages are rife.
Opposition supporters take part in a rally to commemorate the Day of the Youth and to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero
The rallies will take place nearly three weeks to the day that opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to declare himself Venezuela’s legitimate president, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.
Most Western counties including the United States have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president, but Maduro retains the backing of powerful nations like Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
The two sides are at loggerheads over the issue of humanitarian aid, which the opposition says has become necessary due to Maduro’s mishandling of the once-buoyant OPEC nation’s economy.
The 35-year-old Guaido is coordinating Western relief efforts, while Maduro, who denies there is a crisis, is blocking supplies from coming in.
“We will return to the streets … to demand the entry of humanitarian aid that will save the lives of more than 300,000 Venezuelans that today are at risk of dying,” Guaido said on Twitter late Monday. “This is a time to unite and fight!”
Maduro has denounced the attempts to deliver aid as a U.S.-orchestrated show to undermine and overthrow his government. U.S. supplies were among the first delivered to a collection point established in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.
“The Ku Klux Klan governing the White House today wants to take possession of Venezuela,” Maduro said in an interview with the BBC.
“Venezuela is not a country of famine. In the west, Venezuela’s situation is distorted to justify any sort of intervention,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will discuss Venezuela later Tuesday by phone, Lavrov said.
‘UNITE AND FIGHT’
Guaido has vowed that the opposition, which he has regalvanized after several years of in-fighting, will keep protesting to pressure Maduro to step down so new presidential elections can be held.
The opposition will also hold an all-night vigil on Tuesday in a Caracas square to demand that Maduro let aid in.
Maduro’s critics had staged two major rounds of protests, the last in 2017, against what they call his dictatorship, but they subsided in the wake of a government crackdown. The current wave kicked off on Jan. 23, with a massive protest in Caracas during which Guaido was sworn in as president in front of thousands of supporters.
The ruling Socialists, who have been in power for two decades, rallied in Caracas on Tuesday to “demand respect of the fatherland’s sovereignty.” A few thousand people gathered, including many state employees, holding “Defend the Country” banners.
Guaido on Monday announced the first delivery of humanitarian aid, including vitamin and nutritional supplements for children and pregnant women, to a network of health centers, without explaining how it had gotten into the country.
He said it was a small-scale donation, given that the government has so far blocked deliveries from Cucuta.
Guaido has appealed to the military to disobey orders and let aid in after previously promising them amnesty. That would spell the beginning of the end for Maduro, analysts say, though there is no sign of it happening.
Maduro’s adversaries say he has run roughshod over democratic institutions and ravaged the nation’s economy through nationalizations and a corruption-riddled exchange control system.
Maduro counters that he is victim of an “economic war.”
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Angus Berwick, Leslie Adler and Jeffrey Benkoe