Venezuela: protests amid water and fuel shortages

Shortages of gasoline, water and electricity: two months before the legislative elections, Venezuelans are calling for better public services, but the small scale of these demonstrations and the inability of the opposition to channel the movement do not represent “Risk” for Nicolas Maduro, analysts say. The figure is impressive. Since the beginning of the year, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflicts (OVCS) has counted more than 5,800 protests across the country, plunged into the worst crisis in its recent history.

Half of them aimed to protest against shortages of electricity, water and domestic gas, and 18% against the chronic lack of fuel. In the provinces, and more and more in Caracas, “apagones” (power cuts) are commonplace and gasoline shortages lead to kilometer queues at service stations. However, these demonstrations generally bring together only a handful of inhabitants of a district or a village who block, which a road, which access to a public building, before returning home.

Confidence in Juan Guaido wanes

On Monday, teachers called for demonstrations to demand better salaries, a slogan relayed by the leader of the opposition Juan Guaido. Alas, in full confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the response has been timid. In Caracas, they were only a few dozen pounding the pavement, according to journalists from Agence France-Presse. “At the present time, the opposition’s mobilization capacity is practically nil,” says Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Datanalysis cabinet. And to point out the lack of “articulation” of the demonstrations which, therefore, “do not represent a major risk for the government” of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, in power since 2013.

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Especially in Caracas the demonstrations are more rare and sparse than in the provinces. And in this hyper-centralized country, if the capital does not move, nothing moves. The contrast is stark with the huge anti-Maduro protests that gathered tens of thousands of Venezuelans in early 2019, after Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president, deeming the leader’s re-election “fraudulent”. Juan Guaido has since been recognized as such by nearly sixty countries, but despite international pressure, Nicolas Maduro is still in power. He continues to have the support of the military and, internationally, of Russia, Cuba and Iran. Moreover, according to Datanalisis, only 17% of Venezuelans believe that Juan Guaido and the opposition are today able to bring about a change of government.

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Maduro’s response “continues to be repression”

For Félix Seijas, director of Delphos, another polling institute, the “weakened structures” of the opposition parties have a lot to do with it. He points to the “persecution” of these formations, whose leaders have been imprisoned and certain governing bodies “disqualified” by the courts. In this context, it is “difficult to spur” the demonstrations. In addition, explains Marco Ponce, director of the OCVS, Nicolas Maduro has a tendency to “militarize” the towns and villages whose populations manifest. “Its response continues to be repression,” he emphasizes.

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At the end of September, the rural state of Yaracuy, west of Caracas, was the scene of several demonstrations for better public services. The police used tear gas and rubber buckshot to disperse the crowd. NGOs have recorded several dozen injured and arrested. But two months before the legislative elections of December 6, Marco Ponce foresees a new “wave of demonstrations”.

A vote “neither fair nor free”

The challenge for the Chavist power is to take over the National Assembly from the opposition which has controlled it since 2015. However, the legitimacy of this election is questioned on all sides. Juan Guaido, who chairs the unicameral Parliament, as well as the main opposition parties will boycott him.

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According to them, the elections have no chance of being held in a fair manner since the National Electoral Council is controlled by members appointed by the Supreme Court, in the service of power. The European Union has unsuccessfully called for a postponement of the vote and the United States has already called it “neither fair nor free”.

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