With the world's attention focused on Syria and North Korea in recent weeks for obvious reason, another geopolitical hotspot is on the verge of eruption. According to AFP, after weeks of increasingly more violent protests, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the army into the streets as the insolvent nation braces for what the opposition has vowed will be the "mother of all protests" on Wednesday.
Maduro, who recently backed down from a bid to usurp supreme power after a Supreme Court decision left the local Congress powerless, only to reverse itself following furious blowback even from his own party, has faced violent protests over recent moves to tighten his grip on power, and ordered the military to defend the leftist "Bolivarian revolution" launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
"From the first reveille (on Monday morning), from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets... saying, 'Long live the Bolivarian revolution,'" Maduro said Sunday night in a televised address. State TV showed images of army units marching in the streets of Caracas as Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino watched although there was no sign of soldiers on patrol Monday morning in the capital.
As noted previously, Venezuela has been rocked by two weeks of unrest since Maduro's camp moved to consolidate its control with a Supreme Court decision quashing the power of the opposition-majority legislature. The court partly backtracked after an international outcry, but tensions only rose further when authorities slapped a political ban on opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
In the ensuing protests, at least five people have been killed and hundreds wounded as riot police clashed with demonstrators. All this took place as the country was scrambling to collect $2 billion to make a bond principal repayment for domestic energy giant PDVSA (which it did last week), even if it meant briefly running out of gasoline for domestic consumption.
Maduro's recent attempt to concentrate power - which unlike those of Erdogan proved unsuccessful for now - led to a powerful backlash, with near daily protests around the country and capital; these are expected to climax on Wednesday when Maduro's opponents have called for a massive protest, a national holiday that marks the start of Venezuela's independence struggle in 1810.
Meanwhile, the president's supporters have called a counter-demonstration the same day. As AFP puts it, April 19 is a touchy date in Venezuela "where Chavez and Maduro have built a politics of populist, left-wing nationalism around the struggle for independence from colonial Spain and its hero, Simon Bolivar."
Maduro is fighting off the center-right opposition's efforts to force him from power amid an economic crisis that has sparked severe food shortages, riots and looting.
Maduro denounced his opponents as "traitors" and called the new deployment a sign of the military's "honor, unity and revolutionary committment."
Despite pervasive public anger at the Maduro regime driven by an economic collapse that has resulted in the Bolivar losing all value in recent years, so far the key arbiter of Venezuela's fate - the army - remains on his side.
Opposition leaders have urged the military, the only remaining pillar of Maduro's power, to turn on the socialist president. So far, they have been unsuccessful, and if Wednesday's preview is any indication, this won't change any time soon: the defense minister vowed the army would show its "fighting spirit ahead of April 19," but said the deployment was "a call to peace." "We don't want confrontation." For the ordinary people, millions of whom have little if anything left to lose, a confrontation may be the only option.
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