Venezuela News Review | Oct 25-31

This week’s headlines in Venezuela are dominated by the opposition’s mass demonstrations and strike, Maduro’s announcement of a minimum wage increase and his threats to jail opponents, and the beginning of the talks between government and opposition. 

Large anti-Maduro protests fill the streets in Venezuela

Anti-government protesters filled the streets of Venezuela's capital and other major cities in a show of force against Presidential Nicolas Maduro, whose allies enraged the opposition by blocking a recall referendum against the socialist leader.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators shut down Caracas' main highway on Wednesday, many chanting "Democracy yes! Dictatorship no!" And police clashed with protesters in other cities in what opposition leaders called "the takeover of Venezuela."

Nationwide at least 140 people were detained by police, according to the Foro Penal human rights group. A police officer was shot and killed, and two others injured, under unclear circumstances in central Miranda state.

"Maduro has shown how scared he is that the people will express themselves," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said.

The protests come after electoral authorities blocked a recall campaign against Maduro last week. The face-off escalated on Tuesday when the opposition-led legislature voted to put Maduro on trial, accusing him of effectively staging a coup.

Venezuela hikes minimum wage 40%

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro just increased the nation's minimum wage by 40 percent. It is the fourth time Maduro has raised the minimum wage this year.

But that's still not much in a country where inflation is expected to soar by nearly 500 percent this year and 1,660 percent next year, according to forecasts by the IMF.

Venezuela's minimum wage, including food subsidies, is rising to 90,812 bolivars a month, which is just $67 a month, according to the unofficial exchange rate, and $138, if the government's highest exchange rate (it has three) is used as a reference.

The raise came one day before opposition leaders, who want to oust Maduro, planned a nationwide strike of businesses.

Streets empty due to strike after Venezuela's Maduro orders 40% wage hike 

The Venezuelan opposition (also known as the MUD) on Friday held a nationwide partial strike against President Nicolas Maduro, who ordered a 40 percent minimum wage increase amid an economic and political crisis.

The MUD called for a nationwide strike because it accuses Maduro's regime of unconstitutional actions, specifically after the opposition's efforts to recall the embattled leader were suspended.

"Streets empty, like the stomaches of Venezuelans and shelves," Venezuela's Foreign Policy Committee President Luis Florido, an opposition National Assembly legislature member, said in a statement of the strike. "Civil disobedience to restore the Constitution!"

 Venezuelan president threatens to jail opponents 

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro threatened on Friday to jail his political opponents if they follow through on their vow of launching a legislative trial to remove him from power.

Maduro sharpened his tone in a volatile political and economic crisis that has sparked food shortages and riots in the South American oil producer.

"If they launch a supposed political trial, which is not in our constitution, the state prosecution service must bring legal action in the courts and put in jail anyone who violates the constitution, even if they are members of Congress," Maduro said in a speech Friday.

Talks begin between Venezuela’s government and opposition

Members of Venezuela's opposition sat down with the government for talks aimed at defusing the nation's political crisis as embattled President Nicolas Maduro seeks to fend off a campaign seeking his removal.

Maduro kicked off the talks Sunday night in the presence of mediators from the Vatican and former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

The talks are mired in distrust. Many of the president's foes fear they could be a stalling tactic designed to ease pressure on the unpopular socialist leader, who many Venezuelans blame for triple-digit inflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.

Fifteen parties belonging to the Democratic Unity opposition alliance boycotted the talks, saying they were not prepared to sit across from the government until it released several jailed opposition activists and reversed its decision to cancel a constitutionally allowed recall referendum against Maduro.

Additional headlines 

- Local and foreign journalists trying to cover rising political tensions in Venezuela have been obstructed and have come under attack, including by Venezuelan security forces and immigration officials. Many of the attacks occurred during last week’s nationwide marches in which protesters demanded that the socialist government allow a recall election that could remove President Nicolás Maduro from office.

- Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has paid down its $1 billion 2016 bond that matured on Friday, pushing the OPEC nation's international reserves to their lowest level in 20 years. The payment comes days after PDVSA announced the completion of a $2.8 billion bond swap that exchanged bonds maturing in 2017 for new bonds maturing in 2020 as a way of easing a heavy payment burden over the next year.

Analysis and Commentary

Writing for Miami Herald, Franco Ordoñez said “Nine months after the secretary-general of the Organization of American States threatened to invoke the hemispheric organization’s Democratic Charter against Venezuela, the 34-nation group continues its wait-and-see approach. The Venezuelan government essentially has dared the United States and the United Nations-like OAS to just try and take action in response to its suspension of a recall referendum that could have ousted President Nicolás Maduro.

And ended his article by saying “The United States shouldn’t act alone, according to Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, who said multilateral pressure would be more effective. But it’s time for the OAS members to act, he said….The United States appears to also want to move through the OAS, with a State Department spokesperson calling the group the “appropriate forum” to express concerns and offer recommendations.