Venezuela: Power cuts – not power struggle – could see off Nicolas Maduro
After two days of power cuts that have forced shops to close, created huge queues for fuel in a country with the largest known oil reserves in the world, brought even more mayhem and death to hospitals, and has now ensured the much feared National Guard are constantly on the streets, it is perhaps unsurprising there was considerable trepidation over what would happen at the latest pro-opposition rally in Caracas.
For the first time in weeks, the government decided to change tack and attempt to disrupt the rally, not with force, but with an overwhelming security services presence designed to intimidate and snuff out the mass movement of people across the capital.
They literally flooded the main arteries of Caracas with national police, military, intelligence officers and every piece of hardware at their disposal.
If anyone doubts the sheer might of the security services in Venezuela, they wouldn’t after what we saw today.
On one of the main highways we were greeted by a fairly standard National Police road block. But the officers were backed up by a row of water cannon wagons, a series of armoured cars mounted with tear gas firing tubes, then a string of troop carrying lorries filled with National Guard in full riot gear and finally a contingent of military intelligence.
This was just one unit, on one bit of road, and there was much more of the same across town.
There were rallies in Caracas for the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, and sitting president Nicolas Maduro.
We filmed tens of thousands attempting to cross from the opposition supporting east of the city to the generally Maduro-supporting west. But quickly it became clear that wasn’t going happen.
National Guard blocked all the routes linking the two parts of the city. Trucks known as “vampires”, with huge metal sheets that extend sideways, closed the roads; supported by dismounted armour clad guardsmen, it was clear the way was blocked.
Disgruntled and a little confused, the crowds were stopped from trying to push past the guards by roving opposition politicians. They are trying to maintain an absolute no violence policy.
That policy keeps people safe, but many in the opposition are beginning to agitate for more direct action, more violent protest. Some, in fact a growing number, believe that they are losing momentum and need to step things up.
On motorbikes we tried to make better progress, but time and again we were blocked from crossing town until we found a short cut through the grounds of a hospital.
Finally we made it to the west. Tens of thousands had made it to the Guaido rally point.
As we emerged from a side street, I could see him addressing the crowd from the roof of a car using a megaphone.
The men who had been building his usual stage had been arrested in the early hours of the morning.
Nobody could really hear him. But his actions spoke louder than words. He beat his heart with his hand and fist clenched, pumped the air. People around me cheered and cried.
The problem for the opposition is that despite all this emotion and jubilation, Maduro remains in absolute control here.
The government is determined and his supporters who attended a rally today are equally confident that there will be no change here. The “tough it out” strategy could probably work forever, if everything in life remained equal.
But it doesn’t.
For the past two days there have been country-wide power blackouts. The government says, without offering evidence, that power turbines have been sabotaged. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t think it is anything but incompetence, poor infrastructure investment and corruption.
What it has brought is chaos and anger.
Ironically, it may not be a political power struggle that damages Maduro, but a more mundane and potentially more dangerous power cut.
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