Washington, D.C.—On September 1 the Venezuelan opposition will hold a major demonstration in the streets of Caracas in support of a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America), a research and advocacy organization that has monitored the situation closely, urges the Venezuelan government to not only respect the rights of its citizens to participate in peaceful assembly, but also ensure their safety. WOLA also calls on opposition organizers to scrupulously prevent the protest from becoming violent.
“Venezuelans are exercising their legitimate right to protest in the face of growing economic hardship and the frustration of their manifest desire for change,” said WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde, a leading expert on Venezuelan politics. “This is a time for clear heads on all sides to demonstrate leadership and seek peaceful resolution without resorting to violence.”
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has openly attempted to dissuade state employees from supporting the referendum. On August 22, a spokesman for the Maduro administration announced a purge of government employees who support the referendum, declaring that managers in key cabinet ministries would have 48 hours to find other jobs if they had signed a referendum petition.
In addition to the administration’s firm hostility towards the referendum, a number of prominent opposition activists and politicians have either been detained, arrested, or had their homes raided in the lead up to the protest. For example, Yon Goicoechea—a leader of imprisoned opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez’s Popular Will party—was arrested on dubious charges, and opposition leader Daniel Ceballos was transferred from house arrest to prison.
“Rather than promoting peaceful dialogue, the government appears to have chosen to pave the way for deeper confrontation by intimidating and harassing opposition figures,” said WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans want solutions, this hostility is both unjust and counterproductive.”
The planned protest comes as the opposition is attempting to push for a recall referendum of President Maduro. As WOLA has noted, electoral officials haveplaced multiple obstacles to this process in an apparent attempt to delay a vote and leave the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) in power through 2018.
Ahead of the demonstration, WOLA calls on both the Venezuelan government and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition to actively seek dialogue with each other and address the concerns of all Venezuelans.