Four days before the national vote to elect a Constituent Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition has called on citizens to join a civic strike for 48 hours.
Starting on Wednesday, the strike will carry on through Thursday, and a mass march has also been called for on Friday.
“Businessmen, do not open [your businesses], workers do not attend work, and all people go out and [shut down] the streets,” said Jose Manuel Olivares, consituent assembly deputy and opposition member.
The strikes and march are intended to voice disapproval with President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution and move forward with the Constituent Assembly elections.
Maduro, whose term ends next year, says the initiative is the way to empower the people and bring peace to a country that has endured months of protests and clashes.
I loathe all these strikes, and the acts of violence that are taking place in my country. I'm sure that a country is not built by violence, by strikes, and by immobilising the population
“I loathe all these strikes, and all the acts of violence that are taking place in my country. I’m sure that a country is not built by violence, by strikes, and by immobilising the population,” Rossana Melendez, an environmental manager who supports the government, told Al Jazeera.
Yet critics say the assembly is intended to institutionalise what they view as a corrupt regime that does not want to leave power.
“It is time to give it all. Each citizen should ask what role will they play in the rescue of Venezuela, and ask if what they have done is enough and even question whether they can give more,” said Freddy Guevara, a member of the opposition coalition, which is known as the MUD.
International pressure has also increased with warnings of sanctions by US President Donald Trump and a call during the last Mercosur summit to restore institutional order.
In response, Maduro said: “It is not possible to pretend that Donald Trump, or Juan Manuel Santos, or Mauricio Macri, will give orders to the government of Venezuela.”
Maduro has said he will continue with the plans, despite the international pressure and the results of the unofficial referendum that took place last week, when more than six million Venezuelans voted against the constitutional reform.
“Tension is really high. There is more violence in the country. The opposition is threatening the population to vote against the Assembly,” Leon, a Venezuelan doctor, told Al Jazeera.
We probably won't stop the government, but this shows that a majority is against the Constituent Assembly, and that we are trying to exhaust all the possible peaceful ways to make this government leave
Over the weekend, Maduro said his government was “ready for any scenario”.
The government plans to deploy more than 230,000 soldiers to maintain stability on Sunday.
— Prensa FANB (@PrensaFANB) July 21, 2017
Translation: In order to ensure peace and security, we start the deployment for operation Republic “National Constituent Assembly 2017 election” – The Ministry of Defense.
But many citizens are willing to press on with the strike.
“I participate in the strike as a protest at the government’s initiative, and as a protest against the very poor conditions of life that the majority is experimenting,” opposition supporter Amaranta Sofia told Al Jazeera.
“We probably won’t stop them, but this shows that a majority is against the initiative, and that we are trying to exhaust all the possible peaceful ways to make this government leave,” she added.
Simon Calzadilla, second vice-president of the National Assembly, urged people to prepare and stock up on food in the face of the protest and strike announced for the next three days.
The National Federation of Transport also announced its participation in the strike.
Maduro called for dialogue.
“I am ready to reach a peace agreement, of national coexistence and a cycle of dialogue and talks,” he said on Monday, during his weekly show.
Maduro has also urged citizens to come out on Thursday to the closing of the election campaign of the National Constituent Assembly in Caracas, saying: “Under rain, thunder or lighten we will continue with the election of the candidates for deputies to the Constituent Assembly.”
Government supporter Rossana Melendez said that “more than 100 days of chaos” has exposed the opposition protesters’ demands as “empty speech”.
She argued that the demonstrators “do not [work] toward the reconciliation of the country; they do not work for Venezuela”.