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Defy emergency decree, urges Venezuela's opposition

May 17, 2016

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles urged lawmakers to reject a 60-day state of emergency decreed on Monday. Struggling with recession and low oil prices, Venezuelans are increasingly dissatisfied with their government.

Venezuela Caracas Venezulaner demonstrieren gegen Präsident Maduro
Image: Reuters/M. Bello

As Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress prepared to debate President Nicolas Maduro's state of emergency, Henrique Capriles said that he expected parliamentarians to reject the emergency measures. However, that would send the matter to the Supreme Court, which is expected to uphold the socialist government's approach.

Should the court defy parliament and uphold the move, Capriles said, then "it is up to us ... to ignore this decree."

On Wednesday, opposition groups in Venezuela plan nationwide marches demanding that electoral officials validate a referendum to oust President Maduro. Last week, similar marches were met by riot police and tear gas.

"If Maduro wants to apply this decree he will have to bring out the warplanes and the tanks into the street, because he will have to apply it through force," Capriles told a news conference. He described the decree as a "barbarity - Maduro wants to put himself above the constitution, and he isn't."

Hyperinflation, food and power shortages

The country is struggling through its third year of economic recession, brought on by plunging oil prices that are just 40 percent of what they were two years ago.

Across the country, neighbors have taken to blocking roads or gathering near state utility offices to show their rage over power-cuts, food prices or lack of water. There are also videos of mobs breaking into shops, swarming onto trucks or fighting over goods.

More and more Venezuelans are turning up before dawn at huge state-run supermarkets hoping to get subsidized food.

Bid to oust Maduro

As well as the ecnomic chaos, President Maduro faces a domestic bid to remove him from office. The opposition needed 200,000 signatures to submit a petition for a recall vote, they claimed 1.8 million. But the government needs to validate the petition before the process can proceed, and the electoral commission is yet to respond.

According to a Venebarometro poll, almost 70 percent of Venezuelans want a change of government.

Maduro, meanwhile, has sought to lay the blame elsewhere, attributing the state of emergency in part to a US conspiracy to oust his government. Maduro accuses the US of fomenting domestic unrest by collaborating with right-wing Venezuelan tycoons. In response he has ordered military exercises for Saturday to show the country's ability to fend off foreign "armed intervention."

"Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela's fascist right, who are emboldended by the coup in Brazil," Maduro said in one of his daily speeches to the nation.

On Tuesday, Maduro said that a US military plane had made "illegal entry" over Venezuelan territory. He said his air force had detected two incursions by a US E-3 Sentry plane - a modified Boeing 707 with a radar unit on its back - on May 11 and May 13. He said the government in Caracas would lodge a formal complaint.

bik/msh (AFP, Reuters)