Just days after a massive protest swept through Caracas, which according to estimates saw some 2 million participants demanding an end to Maduro's reign, the Venezuelan president was chased at a regular political event by a crowd of angry protesters banging on pots yelling that they were hungry.
Videos published by activists from the Margarita locality of Villa Rosa on Friday night, showed scores of people banging pots and pans and jeering the socialist president during a visit to inspect state housing projects.
Scenes from the confrontation late Friday, which appeared in social media videos, captured the attention of Venezuelans, many of whom blame the unpopular president for the country’s food shortages. Maduro had traveled to Margarita Island off Venezuela’s northern coast to inaugurate a number of new public housing units and give a televised address to the near-insolvent nation. During the speech, he denounced his opponents’ calls for his removal from office, calling them “vampires” and saying they were preparing for violence.
However events quickly turned sour when the locals turned on their unpopular president. In one video, Mr. Maduro tries to calm the pot-bangers by walking among them, only to be surrounded as the furious crowd yells obscenities. “What is this?” an astounded voice behind the camera asks in one of the video clips according to the NYT.
Así fue el cacerolazo que le dió el Pueblo a Maduro en Margarita,allí lo ven pasando! pic.twitter.com/6kMwTLzIz7— Henrique Capriles R. (@hcapriles) September 3, 2016
It is extremely unusual to see Maduro openly booed. His public appearances are normally carefully choreographed to show only cheering red-shirted supporters, Reuters adds. "The people loathe him and last night they made that very clear with the pots-and-pans protest," exulted opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who published three videos of the incident on his Twitter feed.
As expected, the crackdown was instant: following the humiliating protest, Venezuelan authorities arrested more than 30 people; among those detained was Braulio Jatar, the director of a local news Web site called Reporte Confidencial, said the site, which had reported on protest against the president. After Maduro left Villa Rosa, a rundown area known in the past as a pro-government stronghold, intelligence agents moved in, opposition and rights campaigners said. "Right now, there are more than 30 people detained ... as a result of the incident in Villa Rosa," Alfredo Romero of Penal Forum rights group said on Twitter.
Venezuelan politicians wasted little time on Saturday in using the confrontation to advance their agendas. “The people of Villa Rosa in Margarita have no fear,” wrote Henrique Capriles, an opposition governor who lost to Mr. Maduro in the presidential election in 2013. “Through banging pots, Maduro was run out of town.”
Alternatively, Pedro Carvajalino, a pro-government television anchorman, said the protesters had been sent by Mr. Capriles and other members of the opposition. “It was a lack of respect to presidential dignity,” Mr. Carvajalino said.
The government has yet to officially mention the incident, and the Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Since narrowly winning election to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013, Maduro's popularity has plummeted due to an economic crisis. The opposition say this week's protest drew more than a million people in what appeared to be the biggest such demonstration in more than a decade.
Meanwhile, buoyed by Thursday's self-styled "Takeover of Caracas" grand protest, the opposition are planning further street actions to demand a recall referendum against Maduro this year. But with the election board dragging out the process and Maduro vowing there will be no such vote in 2016, it is hard to see how the opposition can force it. Which likely means that any upcoming regime change will be violent, as Maduro - and the army to whom he has effectively all but handed over power - have left the millions of angry, starving Venezuelans no peaceful alternative.