Opposition Fails To Maintain Momentum In Venezuela

Venezuela has cracked down on student protests, leaving 29 people dead. The main square in Caracas, where protesters were based, has been dismantled. The opposition is divided over what to do next.

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The Venezuelan government has been trying to put an end to student-led protests that have gone on for a month now. Authorities yesterday arrest a mayor who had joined the opposition. Another mayor was removed from office. Now the problems that sparked the protests remain: inflation, crime, food shortages. But the protests are waning. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on what's next for the opposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING OF VEHICLE BACKING UP)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: In the streets this past weekend, municipal workers were going through the neighborhoods removing the barricades and roadblocks made of garbage and other detritus that had been put up.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS BLOWING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a protest the same day in Valencia, an industrial town two hours outside the capital, this woman, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, said that she would continue to take to the streets no matter what actions the government takes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before these protests, she says, the situation in Venezuela wasn't as obvious. But this has raised our voice to the world about what is really happening here. But while protests in Venezuela are far from over they have - at least for now - failed to attract the critical mass necessary to threaten the government. President Nicolas Maduro has taken to the airwaves excoriating then opposition, blaming them for the violence that has killed more than two dozen people and calling them Chuckys after the horror film character.

ERIC OLSON: The opposition really faces some major challenges to not just maintain what they had on the streets, which is difficult, but actually demonstrate that it's spreading it's growing, they're moving beyond their base. So far, there's very little evidence of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eric Olson is associate director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. He says before these protests the government was riven with internal disputes after the death of Hugo Chavez and the close electoral victory of Maduro last year. Now, it seems those differences have been put aside.

OLSON: They've circled the wagons again and united behind Maduro.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which leaves the opposition with a pressing question: what now? The problem is there is no consensus on the answer. In Valencia, an opposition stronghold we spoke to one of the most prominent municipal mayors Enzo Scarano.

ENZO SCARANO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These protests turned a social problem into a political one, he says. This all helps the government. I think it was a huge mistake that some in the opposition are advocating the overthrow of the government. He says the opposition needs to wait for the next electoral opening to vie for power. The call for Maduro to step down is wrongheaded, he says, and the people don't support it.

But other parts of the opposition feel street protests are the only way forward. They cite the lock that the government party has on power and on the media. According to Venezuela's constitution, Maduro needs to go through at least half of his term before there can be a referendum for him to step down. But they say he needs to go now. That faction is headed by the jailed Leopoldo Lopez and legislator Maria Corina Machado. NPR spoke to her after a rally in Caracas.

MARIA CORINA MACHADO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you have a democratic country, the people can ask for a change of government, she says, as stipulated by the constitution. But when it's a dictatorship, like we have here, what we need is organization and public pressure to enact change. That opposition in Venezuela has a long history of divisions but the difference of opinion is now is poisoning the wells further. One activist told me that what is happening behind the opposition scenes is a civil war, and far from helping the protests expand, he said, it may be what does them in. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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