Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets Wednesday in nationwide pro- and anti-government marches in commemoration of International Workers’ Day.
On the opposition side, Juan Guaido had promised the day’s mobilization would be the “largest march in history,” marking the “final phase” of his effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro, known as “Operation Freedom.”
While considerable in size, the march did not, appear to exceed that of previous anti-government demonstrations which Guaido has been holding since he declared himself “interim president” on January 23.
Speaking at the rally, which concluded in the upscale eastern Caracas neighbourhood of El Marques, Guaido assured supporters that the “definitive” overthrow of Maduro was at hand.
The opposition leader also unveiled the next stage of “Operation Freedom,” which he said will include “escalating strikes” by public employees leading to a “general strike.” It is not clear at the time of writing whether any trade unions have endorsed the call.
The opposition march came on the heels of Tuesday’s failed military putsch led by Guaido and fellow hard-right Popular WIll party leader Leopoldo Lopez, who escaped his house arrest with the help of rogue national intelligence agents.
From the early hours of Tuesday morning, military units alongside opposition militants occupied the Altamira overpass in eastern Caracas and tried to take the nearby La Carlota airbase. The insurrection was thwarted when the majority of armed service members withdrew, claiming that they had been deployed under false pretenses of an official military drill. Guaido later attempted to lead a march into western Caracas but was stopped in Chacaito by the National Guard, with Leopoldo Lopez subsequently fleeing to the Spanish embassy.
Tuesday’s violent clashes between opposition supporters and authorities continued during Wednesday’s march, with security forces deploying tear gas in Caracas and other cities, notably in the eastern Caracas district of Altamira and the surroundings of La Carlota airbase.
For his part, President Maduro also led a massive pro-government march through the streets of Caracas in repudiation of the previous day’s escalating coup efforts and threats from Washington.
The march, considered among the larger Chavista mobilizations in recent years, began at multiple points before concluding at Miraflores Presidential Palace where Maduro addressed the crowd.
“Here the people of Venezuela stand victorious again,” he told supporters, referring to Tuesday’s events.
Maduro also pledged that Saturday and Sunday will see the Bolivarian Congress of the Peoples, which groups parties and social movements, hold meetings to debate and receive proposals in view of improving government policies.
Likewise speaking on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the US might resort to military action to topple Maduro “if that’s what’s required.”
“The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo said on Fox Business Network.
US officials, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, have repeatedly stated that all options, including a military intervention, are “on the table.”
Bolton reacted to the failed military putsch on Tuesday by urging Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Presidential Guard Commander Ivan Hernandez to “do what is right for Venezuela.” He has claimed that Moreno, Padrino and Hernandez held talks with Guaido to negotiate the departure of President Maduro, but offered no evidence to substantiate the allegations.