Venezuela Opposition Plans Protests as Mugabe Joins NAM Summit
(Bloomberg) -- While details of which heads of state will be attending a summit in Venezuela this weekend remain sparse, the opposition alliance opposed to the government of President Nicolas Maduro is planning to greet all of them with a new wave of protests.
The opposition alliance called for all supporters to demonstrate throughout the country on Friday morning, including in Margarita Island -- where the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement is taking place -- as they demand a timeline to hold a recall referendum on Maduro’s rule.
Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba, secretary general of the opposition alliance, criticized the heavy military presence on the island at a Monday address and called the summit a "meaningless show."
“The government is incoherent and acts in bad faith,” Torrealba said at a Thursday news conference. “One part of the government talks about dialogue, and then another part tries to blow it up.”
The summit opened Tuesday as Venezuela seeks to divert attention from the collapse of the nation’s economy by hosting members of 120 nations in the Non-Aligned group, that include countries such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. The organizers have promoted the summit as “the biggest diplomatic event” in the country’s history, with heads of state and government expected to meet Saturday and Sunday, according to the summit’s website.
So far only one such leader is known to have showed up.
State TV images showed Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, the 92-year-old leader who has ruled the African nation since independence in 1980, landing on Margarita Island on Thursday morning, surrounded by aides. He made no comments and no briefing was scheduled.
Without a formal agenda and list of participating officials, local and foreign journalists on site scrambled to identify other participants during what appeared to be a speech on nuclear armament from an North Korean delegate later identified as Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry said they had an agenda but could not comment on why it wasn’t being provided to the press. President Maduro’s schedule was not released.
Friday’s protests will take place as Maduro also faces strong criticism from former regional allies, such as Brazil and Argentina. Earlier this week Argentine President Mauricio Macri expressed his “disgust” with Venezuela’s human rights record in comments that followed harsh rebukes from Brazil and Chile over what they say is a lack of due process in the country.
Still, Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz told reporters in Margarita the country had already passed its worst moments and ruled out any recall vote this year. He said the government was already making important economic decisions and planned to move away from indirect subsidies to direct subsidies for Venezuelans.
“The hardest moments in Venezuela have already passed, and we’re taking off little by little,” he told reporters. “May was the worst month in the history of the revolution when we hit rock bottom, but December will be the best ever.”
Isturiz said that Venezuela’s government was willing to hold a dialogue with the opposition but that it would not negotiate. The government’s opponents said they won’t hold proper talks until conditions are met to hold a referendum to oust Maduro this year.
“We will march for acceptable conditions for the referendum and against the waste of the Non Aligned Summit,” Torrealba said Thursday.