With his recent "state of emergency" declaration and decision to put the army on high alert against the threat of hostile "interventions," Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro continues to show that he has no intention of being either pushed or voted out of power.
Since opposition parties won a parliamentary majority in December, Maduro and his deputies have done everything to curb the legislature's powers, alternately declaring it fraudulent, treacherous or illegitimate, and using the Supreme Court to block new legislation.
Parliament has barked back, but done little else, first failing to pass a law to free political prisoners and now finding itself obstructed in its constitutional bid to hold a referendum on sacking Maduro.
The government and opposition positions "have reached a point of maximum tension," Colombia's El Espectador observed on Wednesday, with Maduro's vice president, Aristóbulo Istúriz, saying "there won't be a referendum here," and leading opponent Jesús Torrealba saying Maduro is ready to sacrifice "the people's blood."
The government, the Colombian daily reported, "is forcing the opposition to take to the streets... while preparing to suppress protests, citing its right to use force" to prevent a coup, which "has been the excuse for everything in the past 17 years."
An editorial in Spain's El País on Monday said Maduro and his clique are no longer accepting any laws, "not even those established" by his late predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Opposition leaders have urged people to disregard any declared state of emergency as a fraud and a farce.
"Let Maduro bring out the tanks," former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonsky declared, insisting that the opposition will pursue its marches planned Wednesday to the offices of the national electoral commission. That government body is slowly — very slowly — reviewing the 1.8 million votes the opposition has garnered for its recall referendum against the Venezuelan president.
Just as commentators expected, Maduro has accused unnamed elements of trying to turn these marches into "violent events."
Spain's El País reported on Wednesday that Capriles Radonsky, in turn, addressed the army, saying it must realize that "the hour of truth has come. We don't want a military solution, but this is unacceptable."
Miguel Henrique Otero, editor of El Nacional, one of Venezuela's two main opposition newspapers, claims the army provided a partial check on Maduro's ambitions, noting that the defense minister warned Maduro not to commit electoral fraud last December. But Otero also indicated that parliament's popularity may well plummet if Venezuelans see it as consistently incapable of standing up to the regime.
Stalling has been one of Maduro's most effective tools against his opponents. Another opposition daily, El Universal, speculated on Wednesday that "there must be" people inside the regime "suffering" from the current disaster and willing to talk to the opposition, people who do not agree with the regime's "ridiculous" strategy of blaming "imperialism" for the country's ills. But El Universal did not support this speculation with the names of any actual regime moderates.
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2001, a Venezuelan daily that often focuses on crime, recently observed that the country's instability has led its insurance sector to introduce new policies, including protection against "mutinies, popular uprisings, labor disturbances and malicious damage."
A sign of what's to come in Venezuela?