BORIS VERGARA/EPA -  Members of the opposition participate in a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas
BORIS VERGARA/EPA – Members of the opposition participate in a rally to commemorate May Day in Caracas

Venezuelan opposition protests vote

By Emilia Diaz-Struck and Published: May 1

CARACAS, Venezuela — Unable to force a sweeping review of last month’s disputed presidential election, opposition supporters marched in the streets Wednesday to demonstrate their fury at the ruling party’s efforts to blunt a recount.

On International Workers’ Day, Venezuelans from both sides of the sharp political divide staged rallies, as is custom in Latin America. But in Caracas, the capital, and in the provinces, thousands of the government’s adversaries heeded the call of opposition leader Henrique Capriles to demand a complete audit of the April 14 vote.

Capriles, a 40-year-old governor who claims the election was stolen by Nicolás Maduro, characterized the protests as “the fight for truth against lies” and pledged to keep the pressure on the government.

But Capriles being forced into the streets was indicative of another reality: The opposition has limited options for redress in a country where the ruling United Socialist Party controls the electoral board and the Supreme Court, which Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, packed with loyal supporters.

The opposition is also unlikely to get a hearing in the National Assembly, whose president, Diosdado Cabello, a force in the ruling party, has thrown opposition legislators off committees and banned them from speaking for refusing to recognize Maduro as president.

When opposition lawmakers on Tuesdayunfurled a banner reading “coup against the parliament,” Maduro’s allies delivered a beating that left several lawmakers bruised and battered, the government’s critics said.

For Julio Borges, a leading adversary of Maduro who was shown bleeding profusely in a video that went viral, it was the third time he had been attacked on the floor of the chamber.

“What we’re left with is to go into the streets to protest,” said Mayerlica Cedeño, 48, a teacher who joined anti-government demonstrators in Caracas. “We’re taking the streets but without guns. We do it with horns and signs and banners. We want the votes to be counted.”

‘Democracy or dictatorship?’

Opposition leaders and some human rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, say recent government actions against the opposition are raising concerns about whether officials are violating rights and becoming increasingly authoritarian.

“It’s getting completely out of control, completely out of line,” said JoséMiguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, which has compiled reports on abuses in Venezuela. “Is it a democracy or a dictatorship? I think Venezuela is on the verge of losing any serious claim to being a democracy.”

On Monday, a retired general, Antonio Rivero, was charged with conspiracy and inciting violence after a video surfaced of him appearing to coordinate protests. That came five days after an American filmmaker,Timothy Tracy, was arrested and accused of being a secret agent spearheading plans to destabilize the government.

The National Assembly has also announced an inquiry into violence that officials say left nine people dead after Capriles refused to recognize Maduro’s victory. The government contends that Capriles plans to use the unrest to take power. He was been warned that a jail cell awaits him.