Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Saturday rallied thousands of demonstrators, calling for them to use midterm elections to underscore public opposition to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s special emergency powers.
The march came just hours after one of Capriles’s closest aides, Alejandro Silva, was taken out of his hotel, roughed up and detained.
Capriles said Silva was released after 14 hours in government detention — and that authorities gave Silva no explanation, nor did they charge him.
“All of the chaos we are seeing is going to get worse ... if the ruling [socialist] party wins the midterms,” he said, referring to the Dec. 8 vote.
Maduro says he needs the strengthened hand, which he won for a year, to counter inflation and shortages his government blames on “parasitic” conservative business interests.
The opposition says the new powers are a tool granted to the government for electoral gain ahead of Dec. 8 municipal elections.
“I am asking you. Please. Let’s change this situation December 8,” Capriles said in Caracas, as rallies were held around the country.
Maduro maintains that the opposition, whom he only narrowly beat in polls following the death of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez earlier this year, are waging “economic warfare” against the country.
He has said he will use the year-long expanded powers to impose caps on private sector profits and crack down on speculators.
Maduro said the opposition —without naming any names — was using the protest to “provoke a confrontation” for which the government could be blamed.
“I voted the first time for Chavez. But then I was sorry. They want us to be another Cuba. It takes a week to fill up your kitchen pantry. When there is toilet paper, then there is no flour or no sugar,” clerical worker Morela Pena, 57, said.
Juan Carlos, a computer expert who did not want to give his family name, said the government had done good things, like lowering prices.
“But then everything that is marked down disappears,” he said.
Two weeks ahead of the vote, “this government is weak. It has been defeated,” opposition Justice First party politician Julio Borges said.
Maduro’s approval rating is about 47 percent, a recent survey found.
“If you want to go out there and protest because refrigerators are now cheaper, go for it,” Maduro said dismissively.
Many government critics blame OPEC-member Venezuela’s economic woes on the government-imposed fixed exchange rate and price controls, saying they have led to a lack of basic goods, such as toilet paper, rice and meat.
Venezuela has been battered by a 54 percent inflation rate, a shortage of hard currency, and widespread shortages.