By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The main opposition coalition in Venezuela, MUD, announced Monday a general strike all day for Thursday, after millions of Venezuelans rejected embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to ditch the existing Constitution on Sunday.
At about the same time MUD was announcing the strike, as a means to further push Maduro to further abandon his plans, the White House backed the non-binding plebiscite, and decried Sunday’s violence in Venezuela (during which a 61-year-old woman was killed and three other female seniors severely wounded) as having been perpetrated by “government thugs” and asked that Maduro hold “free and fair” elections soon.
MUD said 7.6 million Venezuelans voted against Maduro’s plans to hold a Constituent Assembly to replace the current Magna Carta. Government spokesman Jorge Rodriguez disputed the figure, saying only 2 million Venezuelans voted against the Presidential initiative.
Thursday’s protest will be a “civic stoppage” or a “paro civico”, said Freddy Guevara, an opposition lawmaker that was acting as MUD spokesperson. “Paro civico” in Venezuelan politics usually means that all work will stop but the protest will be peaceful.
In a tweet later, Guevara urged all Venezuelans to halt their activities Thursday, not only traditionally anti-Maduro private businessmen. “Watch it. Civic Stoppage Thursday CAN’T be businessmen alone. The country belongs to all and ALL must guarantee that Vzla stops on Thursday.”
Additionally, and emboldened by Sunday’s turn out, the National Assembly will further challenge Maduro’s rule by appointing new justices to the Supreme Court and directors to the CNE electoral board, two cornerstones of Maduro’s hold on power, prodding Spain’s “El Pais” into saying the opposition was creating “a parallel government” in Venezuela.
Wire services said the stoppage “turns up the heat” for Maduro. However, “the heat” is already pretty high, after 107 days of continuous protest which have resulted in 115 demonstrators and security forces killed.
"We condemn the violence inflicted by government thugs against innocent voters," White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said Monday.
Sunday's "popular consultation" was an “unmistakable statement” against the Maduro regime, Spicer said, adding: "We congratulate the Venezuelan people for the huge turnout in the referendum yesterday”.
The capital city of Caracas was mostly peaceful, except for a protest in Chacaito, against a hike in bus fares that doubles the existing price to Bs 300. Some 75% of the Venezuelan labor force subsists on minimum wage, the lowest in the region at under $30 a month.