Venezuela opposition holds ‘consultation’ to bolster support

World News

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó holds hands with supporters during a visit to La Lucha neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Guaidó’s coalition is holding a referendum which culminates on Saturday. It asks Venezuelans at home and abroad to say whether they wish to end President Nicolas Maduro’s rule and hold fresh presidential and legislative elections. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans at home and abroad voiced frustration with President Nicolás Maduro in a survey wrapping up Saturday, days after the governing party won congressional elections boycotted by the opposition, which called the vote a fraudulent maneuver aimed at consolidating Maduro’s power.

Politician Juan Guaidó, who leads the campaign as head of the outgoing National Assembly, urged Venezuelans to weigh in via cellphone apps or at in-person polling places in Venezuela, other Latin American nations, the U.S. and Europe.

The opposition calls it a “people’s consultation.”

Mirla De Lorenzo, a 50-year-old bank employee, voted in her Caracas neighborhood, saying she’s willing to take any opportunity to express herself if there’s any chance it could bring international attention to Venezuela’s plight and trigger an end to Maduro’s rule.

“We’re definitely tired of this situation that’s brought us nothing but poverty,” she said, adding that her daughter moved to Spain and her sister migrated to Chile, among relatives who’ve fled the crisis.

“You can’t compete with deceitful people, with people who use force, with people who have weapons,” she said. “There is no way.”

A small but steady flow of people appeared at stations set up all across Caracas, with no reports of violence.

While having no legal force, the survey will unify the foes of Maduro, opposition leaders say. They say that includes the 5 million Venezuelans who have fled the nation’s hyperinflation and lack of basic services such as reliable running water, electricity and gasoline.

The survey asks whether Venezuelans wish to end Maduro’s rule and hold fresh presidential and legislative elections, while seeking greater pressure from international allies.

“Venezuelans, wherever you are in the world, you’re part of this process,” Guaidó said at a rally Friday in Caracas. He said people crave a way to “reject this dictatorship.”

Guaidó, acting as the National Assembly’s leader, proclaimed himself interim president in early 2019, arguing that Maduro was an illegitimate leader because his most popular challengers were barred from running in the presidential election the previous year. Guaidó, 37, won broad support at home and from dozens of nations including the U.S., but his efforts failed to weaken Maduro’s hold on power, and support for the opposition has weakened.

Risa Grais-Targow, a Venezuela analyst for the Eurasia Group, said that in addition to seeking to unite Venezuelans who don’t like Maduro, the referendum is meant to send a message to international supporters.

On Jan. 5, the term of the current opposition-dominated National Assembly ends and Maduro’s forces take over the last governmental body not controlled by the president’s socialist party, though Guaidó and his political allies vow to continue fighting.

”They’ve organized a process for their foreign partners from the U.S. to the European Union and regional governments,” Grais-Targow said. “So they can continue to back him even when he’s no longer in control of the National Assembly.”

Domestic support for the opposition has waned as Venezuelans grow frustrated over Maduro remaining in power nearly two years after Guaidó vowed to end his rule and end the nation’s crisis.

U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story praised the opposition’s survey from Colombia’s capital, where he’s worked since the U.S. and Venezuela broke diplomatic ties and the U.S. closed its embassy in Caracas.

“We’re proud to see the people of Venezuela in the street voting for their right to democracy, justice, liberty,” Story tweeted.

Maduro’s popularity is low, too. Just 31% of Venezuela’s voters cast ballots in last Sunday’s congressional elections — less than half the turnout for the 2015 legislative elections.

Maduro, 58, holds power with support from the military and international allies including Iran, Russia, China and Turkey.

Maduro’s ruling party staged a celebration in the historic center of Caracas on Saturday to celebrate their win in the congressional election. Newly elected members of the National Assembly include Maduro’s wife and son.

Politicians gave speeches condemning the domestic opposition and U.S. policy interference in Venezuela. Salsa music played and people danced.

Maduro, who accuses the opposition of trying to incite violent street protests and being the source of damaging U.S. sanctions, dismissed the referendum during a televised political rally Thursday.

“Nobody can think that a consultation by internet has any legal or constitutional value,” the president said.

___

Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP

___

Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.