Three dead, hundreds arrested, but no bloodbath. The ongoing protests in Venezuela are a sliver of hope for the country, writes DW's Uta Thofern.
Millions of people have remained at home. The military and police have unleashed tear gas, but not resorted to machine guns. The real news in the last few hours: Civil war has not begun - far from a sigh of relief, but cause for cautious optimism.
The "mother of all protests" has been bad enough: Two protesters reportedly shot in the head; a police officer apparently shot in the back; dozens injured; and more than 400 arrested. The right to free expression was hardly upheld, as the opposition's marches to the city center of Caracas were blocked by a massive police response. Undeterred by the regime's war-like rhetoric, demonstrators across the country made their presence felt in the thousands.
The opposition has planned more marches for Thursday and Friday. The sheer number of people fed up with life under the regime has been decisive in the momentum towards change in Venezuela. That is all it has since the regime took away the opposition's legislative powers, despite its majority.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro revealed his true character with repeated and blatant abuse of the country's supreme court. At his behest, the judges' dissolution of parliament was a sleight of hand and a strategic blunder: The international community finally lost its patience with Maduro and his games. Warnings from abroad came raining down upon him. The United Nations will take up the situation at Colombia's request.
There's a chance for renewed dialogue on new terms should the opposition succeed in keeping up the pressure and ensure the demonstrations remain peaceful. The regime has so far been able to play for time by breaking ever newer promises and talk without end. Meanwhile, the opposition has canceled protests. The government has to deliver if there are new negotiations. The opposition should take the Chavistas - who take their name from the late leftist former president Hugo Chavez - at their word that a regime change would send them to jail in the thousands.
Maduro's government remains two-faced. On one hand, it dangles the prospect of new elections. On the other, demonstrators are denounced as subversive and opposition leaders have been detained. At the same time, Maduro appears ready to talk while still praising the militias and collectives, promising them arms. His talk of the people and fatherland sounds increasingly similar to the nonsense statements coming out of the East German politburo shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Maduro cannot be trusted. His remaining supporters could reconsider, however, and win back the rule of law along with the opposition. Those on the street yesterday were their fellow citizens, not murderous bands of US-sponsored coup plotters.
"Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism," said East German leader Erich Honecker in the summer of 1989. And he was right: It was people who did.
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