Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition accused Friday Nicolas Maduro’s government of crossing a line after it arbitrarily decided on Thursday to suspend the opposition drive for a recall against the president.

Venezuela is on the edge of a crisis after the government blocked the presidential referendum that was due to this year. The opposition referred to such actions as dictatorship-like, arbitrary and unconstitutional. Former presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, said it was a coup d’état against Venezuela and that the government shouldn’t take Venezuelans for fools.

Ramos Allup, Capriles, Venezuela
National Assembly President Ramos Allup (right) and Opposition leader Capriles Radonski (left) in a press conference held on October 21, 2016, in Caracas, Venezuela. Image credit: EFE/Cristian Hernández.

“What we saw yesterday was a coup,” said Henrique Capriles, leader of the recall effort. “We’ll remain peaceful, but we will not be taken for fools. We must defend our country.”

Venezuela in a dictatorship

17 years have passed since a socialist government was installed in Venezuela, right after Hugo Chavez won the presidential elections in 1999. Before Chavez’s death, the former president pointed Nicolas Maduro, 54, as his successor. Maduro, a former bus driver, won the 2013 elections with 50.3% of the votes. However, his term has faced an acute economic and political crisis, with low oil prices, which is the source of 96 percent of Venezuela’s incomes.

This year, according to the Venezuela constitution, a referendum against Maduro could take place. However, the dramatic decline in Maduro’s popularity – even among Chavez’s followers – has driven the government to take unconstitutional measures to block the recall requested by the opposition; making it possible for Maduro to complete his term which is set to end at the beginning of 2019.

Venezuela protests: "The Caracas takeover"
Opposition demonstrators at the “Caracas takeover” on September 1, 2016. Image credit: EFE.

The opposition is asking for help to the international community, which thinks that Venezuela has indeed become a dictatorship. Some international figures such as Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have shown concern about Venezuela’ current situation.

“This is a big deal and reveals that the government was fearful of what could happen in the three-day signature collection period. They have effectively postponed the recall referendum indefinitely. This measure makes it difficult to think of Venezuela as a democracy,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Venezuela is approaching to a dangerous scenario

The Electoral Council (CNE) said Thursday that the recall had to be suspended in response to the announcements made by the courts of four Venezuelan states that concluded last week that there was fraud in the first stage of the petition for recall. The latter consisted in collecting the signatures of 1 percent of the electorate. But, the truth is that according to Venezuelan’ legislation those low court’s decisions couldn’t invalidate the process made back in August.

Maduro, Venezuela
A handout picture made available by the presidential official website shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) shaking hands with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro (L) in Tehran, Iran, 22 October 2016. Image credit: EPA.

“In adherence to the constitution, the National Electoral Council abides by the decisions ordered by the tribunals and has sent instructions to postpone the process of signature gathering until new judicial instructions are known,”  said the CNE in a statement.

This was a shock to all Venezuelans, who intended to participate in the next stage of the referendum process set for next week. And of course, the opposition coalition announced on Friday its position regarding the state of democracy in Venezuela. They highlighted the need to keep in mind what is established in the constitution given the fact that Maduro has crossed the line into a dictatorship.

According to polls, Maduro had no chance of winning the recall. It all became more dramatic after the Electoral Council decided to postpone for mid-2017 the regional elections, which were due to be celebrated by the end of 2016, according to terms set in the Constitution.

Venezuela is taking the streets in protest

The opposition leaders invited the whole Venezuelan community to take the streets to join in a peaceful protest against the dictatorship. Capriles said people will fight against the dictatorship as democrats do. He highlighted that the government is pushing Venezuela into a very dangerous scenario.

Though there have been some demonstrations of disagreement against the government’s last actions led by students from different national universities, the first big march was set for Saturday.

Opposition demonstrators hold a poster saying “Maduro, exhausted people are talking to you. This is enough. Referendum.” on October 21, 2016. Image credit: EFE/Cristian Hernández.

“This is the time for national unity,” wrote former congresswoman Maria Corina Machado on her Twitter account. “Every single person must take to the streets, with strength, and without fear, to make the transition a reality.”

Maduro, who is currently on tour in OPEC countries, warned his detractors not to “go crazy.” The president didn’t get the legislative approval to go abroad. According to the Constitution, this could be understood as the abandonment of his position.

The government has also decided not to allow eight leaders of the opposition, including Capriles and opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba, to leave the country. The document submitted gave no reasons for such bans.

Source: Reuters