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 start 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 residents of a neighborhood or village who block a road, access to a public building, before returning home.
On Monday, teachers called for demonstrations to demand better salaries, a slogan relayed by the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido. People, weary, in full lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, responded timidly. In Caracas, they were only a few dozen pounding the pavement, according to AFP journalists.
“At the present time, the opposition’s mobilization capacity is almost zero,” says Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Datanalysis cabinet. And he points to the lack of “articulation” of the demonstrations which, as a result, “do not represent a major risk for the government” of Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, in power since 2013.
Not to mention that in Caracas, the demonstrations are rarer 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.
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.
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”.
The challenge for the Chavista 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. 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 called, in vain, for the postponement of the vote, and the United States has already called it “neither fair nor free”.