By SCOTT SMITH and JORGE RUEDA, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is struggling to draw protesters into Venezuela’s streets just days after calling for daily demonstrations to drive President Nicolás Maduro from power, trying to reignite a movement he started early this year.
Only several dozen people answered Guaidó’s call in Caracas on Monday, some scuffling with security forces. That fell far short of what the opposition had hoped to achieve, after Guaidó at a large demonstration Saturday appealed for sustained protests against the government.
Office worker Ofelia Briceño said she was done marching until the opposition gets organized and can present a clear approach to lure the military away from Maduro. A passing group of marchers failed to persuade Briceño and her co-workers to abandon lunch plans and join them in the street.
“It’s crazy that they ask people to come out, but there’s no plan. Everything is so haphazard,” Briceño said. “I’ve gone out marching many times before, but no more.”
Guaidó rose to lead the opposition in January and later claimed presidential powers under the constitution alleging Maduro’s re-election was illegitimate. He vowed to oust the socialist president and hold new elections.
The opposition leader won the backing of the United States and more than other 50 nations that contend Maduro won a second term in 2018 through fraudulent elections.
Guaidó initially drew huge crowds when he declared himself interim president. Many thought change was imminent, but Maduro has kept power — primarily with backing with might from the military.
In a speech Saturday, Guaidó called for persistent protests, pointing to Bolivia where 18 days of upheaval prompted the resignation of Maduro ally Evo Morales, who fled to self-exile in Mexico.
The opposition has at least three marches planned this week, including Thursday when university students will try approaching Fuerte Tiuna, the nation’s most important military base and seat of the defense ministry.
School teacher Yldemar Acevedo was among one small but vocal group of protesters in Caracas on Monday who answered Guaidó’s call and clashed with national police dressed in riot gear.
The police shoved protesters with their shields and struck them with their hands, but Acevedo said she would not quit, no matter the personal cost.
“We’re not backing down from our protests,” she said, adding that the events in Bolivia emboldened her. “The only way they will understand that we have any power is for us to come out into the streets.”
Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal Venezuela analyst with the London-based consulting firm IHS Markit, said Morales’ ouster in Bolivia may serve as a source of inspiration.
But Venezuela’s opposition also confronts Maduro’s “military regime,” known to use heavy-handed tactics that include arbitrary arrests and torture.
These are effective tools used by the military and national police to increasing degrees to match protests, deterring shows of resistance, Moya-Ocampo said.
Maduro defends the strong response to protests, saying Guaidó is a puppet of the White House bent on toppling him to exploit the nation’s vast oil reserves.
“It’s very difficult to maintain momentum when you’re facing such a strong security apparatus,” Moya-Ocampos said. “They’re willing to use force against protesters and willing to treat an unarmed population as an enemy combatant.”