“Look,” one protester told The New York Times at a 2014 rally. “I’ve got a rock in my hand, and I’m the distributor for Adidas eyewear in Venezuela.”
The opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), consists of about 15 fractious political organizations. Now that this is not a problem, and with growing international support, the MUD must figure out the best way to remove Maduro from power. The military and its weapons are on Maduro’s side, so violence is not an option. With food scarcity growing, the opposition is in a bind to focus and sustain the momentum of its protests, and the government knows this. Maduro, in an attempt to placate public opinion, announced Sunday a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage—the third such increase in 2017 and the 15th since he assumed the presidency in 2013. The handouts withstanding, many of the reasons for the anger against the government haven’t changed: Inflation is expected to reach 2,000 percent by 2018—up from 720 percent this year. And, as The Associated Press reports, even with the new wage increases and mandatory subsidies in place in Venezuela, the minimum take-home salary has risen to the equivalent of $50 per month.
Opinion against Maduro went from flagging to hostile in March. The Supreme Court, which is seen as controlled by the president, passed an order to strip congress off its powers. The decree was partially meant to give Maduro sole power to set up oil ventures, but a sentence in the order would have centralized power in the executive, essentially eliminating congressional authority. The order was widely criticized, even by Maduro’s own party. Amid the criticism, Maduro quickly reversed the decision. “The controversy is over,” Maduro said of his failed maneuvering, “the constitution has won.”
Under Chavez, the illusion of democracy was carefully pruned—though he still had a wide base of support among the country’s poor and middle class. But Maduro has struggled to maintain the facade. For the past year, the opposition has used almost every political tactic to oust him, and each time the socialist government has sidestepped it, bending law until it’s unrecognizable. Maduro jailed Leopoldo López, the opposition leader, for organizing anti-government protests in 2014. More recently, the courts banned Henrique Capriles, a current governor and past presidential candidate, from running for office for 15 years. “When the dictatorship squeals,” Capriles said after the decision, “it’s a sign we’re advancing.”
Now the opposition has put itself in a prime spot to remove Maduro, and the best way to do this, Smilde told me, is to to maintain pressure on the government by continuing massive demonstrations. “Right now the opposition is enjoying a very rare moment of unity,” Smilde said. There is, however, dissent about what the focus of these protests should be. On the radical—or perhaps optimistic—side of the spectrum, the opposition wants to re-initiate the recall referendum. This would almost certainly end in Maduro’s dismissal. Part of Chavez’s legacy was a move to a six-year presidential term, with the caveat that in the third year citizens had the chance to recall their president. So when Maduro took away the opposition’s legal right to a referendum vote, he sullied a principal enacted by his predecessor and political mentor. The other major issue with fighting for a recall is that under Venezuela’s constitution Maduro would be replaced with his vice president, leaving the socialist party and its cronies in place. Smilde said the opposition also has tendency to overestimate its power.