Tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded streets across Venezuela Wednesday for what opposition leaders called “the mother of all marches.” A deepening economic crisis is helping fuel the protests, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of the South American country.
Protesters clashed with government forces in a number of cities nationwide. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to batter back demonstrators. Hundreds were arrested and at least two people were killed. General Motors says Venezuela illegally seized one of its plants.
“This is a government in the final phase of how these regimes behave,” one opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, said. “It is becoming a 21st-century dictatorship.”
Protesters are outraged at the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro recently tried to use the Supreme Court to limit the power of the legislature, and the socialist country has been slammed by a devastating economic crisis, resulting in food shortages and increased crime. Yesterday, the U.S. denounced the violence by government forces.
“We are concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
Maduro held his own counter-rally on Wednesday, telling a sea of supporters dressed in red that the protests are an attempted coup and also threating the opposition leader.
Home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela has enjoyed an economic partnership with Russia.
Eduardo Gomez, an expert of emerging economies and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said this is a “tricky” situation.
“Putin is going to be resolved in supporting Maduro’s decision. You have to remember Venezuela has one of the largest oil reserves in the region. It’s seen as a huge economy for Russia and potentially doing trade with Russia,” Gomez said. “In the long term, their relationship is going to improve and strengthen with Putin and Maduro in Venezuela.”