Days after Venezuela was rocked by the worst riots in over a year, with nearly 30 people dying in April from violence related to protests demanding the departure of Maduro who has again been accused of violating democratic norms, Maduro responded by hiking salaries and handing out free homes as he tries to counter a strengthening protest movement calling for his removal.
According to AP, Maduro said on his Sunday TV show that the minimum wage will rise 60% starting May 1. Workers will earn at least 200,000 bolivars per month including food subsidies. Sadly, in light of Venezuela's hyperinflation, that amount to less than $50 at the black market exchange rate.
It's the third wage increase this year as triple-digit inflation erodes workers' savings. AP also notes that Maduro watched as authorities in several states handed over the keys to hundreds of new apartments.
Separately, Bloomberg reported that Venezuelans were gearing for demonstrations to mark International Workers’ Day, even as last month's clashes prompting Pope Francis to renew his call for a negotiated solution to the crisis embroiling the South American country. The opposition will rally from 26 points across Caracas on a hot, rainy day in a march being promoted on social media with the hashtag “the people rebel against the coup.”
Subway stations across Caracas were closed, as the government traditionally tries to prevent protesters from reaching the government center in the downtown area. President Nicolas Maduro will speak at a pro-government march there, and he has promised major announcements this afternoon.
As Bloomberg adds, opposition leaders are seeking to maintain momentum that brought over a million supporters into the streets in marches last month to protest what they said was an illegal power grab by the Supreme Court to curtail the power of the National Assembly they control.
Congress president Julio Borges warned Sunday that Maduro would try to further usurp Congress’ authority. "It would be a continuation of the coup, Cuba style” he said at a press conference, adding that the opposition had expressed their concerns to other countries in the region. “Maduro is trying to put out a fire with gasoline.”
Also on Sunday, Pope Francis appealed at a Mass in Vatican City for an end to violence that he said is “exhausting the people.” Previous marches and anti-government protests over the past month have resulted in a least 29 deaths. The papal statement comes after a Vatican-sponsored dialogue last year failed and many opposition leaders criticized the process, saying it merely bought the government time and extended the crisis.
The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay agreed with the pope’s call. Such a deal would end violence, uphold the rule of law, free political prisoners, restore the powers of the National Assembly and define an electoral schedule, according to a press release sent Sunday evening from Argentina’s Foreign Ministry.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who last week said the country would pull out of the Organization of American States, slammed the statement from the regional bloc. “Every statement that supports opposition factors in Venezuela fuels the coup-plotting and violence and tries to not recognize a legitimate government,” she wrote in a post on her Twitter account.
Ahead of a potential clash between the two protests, the battle extended into social media, with the opposition alliance posting pictures of protesters facing tear gas-clouds. Pro-government accounts, meanwhile, showed supporters dressed in red attending rallies that featured an inflatable balloon of the deceased former President Hugo Chavez.
Jose Andres Rauseo, a 66-year-old lawyer from the largely anti-government Bello Monte area, said clashes erupted there, with tear gas and national guard troops blocking the way. Protesters chanted “Dictator out, Maduro out,” and waved flags, he said.
“We brought provisions including vinegar and Maalox to deal with the gas, because we know the repression will come. We don’t know where the march will end, but we’re prepared to keep going,” he said.
Last week opposition lawmakers unveiled demands that included the designation of an impartial electoral board, early presidential elections, an immediate date for overdue regional elections, government authorization to accept humanitarian aid shipments of food and medicine, respect for the autonomy of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the release of all political prisoners, and the disarmament of pro-government groups known as colectivos. It is unlikely that Maduro will meet any of the demands.