President Nicolas Maduro’s adversaries launched a two-day national strike on Wednesday in a final push to pressure him into abandoning a weekend election for a super-congress they say will institutionalize autocracy in Venezuela.
Neighbours gathered from dawn in cities around Venezuela to block roads with rubbish, stones and tape, while many cafes and businesses remained closed in protest against the ruling Socialist Party’s planned Constituent Assembly vote.
“We need to paralyse the whole country,” said Flor Lanz, 68, standing with a group of women blocking the entrance to a freeway in upscale east Caracas with rope and iron sheets.
“I’m staying here for 48 hours. It’s the only way to show we are not with Maduro. They are few, but they have the weapons and the money,” added decorator Cletsi Xavier, 45, beside her.
There was less enthusiasm, however, for the strike in working-class neighbourhoods and rural zones where the government has traditionally drawn more support.
Overall, fewer people appeared to be heeding the shutdown than the millions who participated in a 24-hour strike last week.
Many Venezuelans, regardless of their political view, were fretting about the impact of disruptions on their wallets – and stomachs. The OPEC nation is immersed in a brutal economic crisis, with shortages of basic foods and medicines.
“I closed last week, but now I need to open in order to eat,” said Isabel Fernandez, 36, who sells vegetables at a market in the Catia neighbourhood of the capital where all the stalls were open albeit with fewer customers than normal.
The opposition, which has majority support after years in the shadow of Maduro’s popular predecessor Hugo Chavez, says Sunday’s election is a farce designed purely to keep the Socialist Party in power. Its No. 1 demand is conventional elections, including for the presidency, to remove Maduro.