Wednesday's modest protests were a far cry from last week's gigantic backlash when around 1 million people took to the streets. The challenge now for the opposition is to keep the pressure on the embattled president.
Protesters took to the streets of Venezuela again on Wednesday pushing for a referendum that would oust President Nicolas Maduro from office more than two years before his term ends.
But the number of protesters was down sharply from last week's demonstration, when organizers say 1 million or more took to the streets.
"We have to do something. Voting and peaceful protest are the only weapons we have," said Rosmina Castillo, 52, demonstrating in the town of Los Teques, just southwest of the capital, Caracas. "The government holds virtually all the power and can't come up with any more ways of avoiding the recall."
The opposition MUD coalition is demanding a recall vote before early January in order to oust Maduro. If he were to lose a recall vote before January 10 it would trigger a snap election. But a loss for the president after that date would simply allow him to appoint his vice president to finish his term, which ends in 2019.
Vice President Diosdado Cabello insists there is "no chance" a referendum will be held before the January deadline.
Wednesday's protest (at top) paled in comparison with last week's demonstration when 1 million took to the streets
Economy on the brink
Venezuela's economy is on the brink of collapse, driven largely by a sharp drop in oil prices. For most of the country's 17 years of socialist rule the economy prospered on the back of solid prices for black gold.
Chronic shortages of basic foods and medicines have led to looting and a surge in violent crime. Meanwhile the economy is in its third year of recession and runaway inflation is expected to top 700 percent this year.
The key now for Maduro's opponents is to keep up the pressure.
"The opposition's road map is to try to keep people participating. The challenge is to stay active and peaceful in the street while pushing a referendum," said political analyst Luis Vicente Leon.
Maduro told his supporters Tuesday night that his opponents were planning to oust him in a violent "coup." But he assured them that the antigovernment protesters were "isolated."
But cracks are beginning to appear in Maduro's camp. Ana Elisa Osorio, once a steadfast ally and a former minister in the government of Maduro's famed predecessor, Hugo Chavez, said this week that recent events show Maduro is "not up to the job."
bik/sms,kl (AFP, Reuters, AP)