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article imageVenezuela's discouraged protesters pull back

By Javier TOVAR (AFP)     Aug 13, 2017 in World

Ame is taking a break. After four months of going into Caracas streets to demonstrate against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, she is frustrated and discouraged by the unending political crisis.

This weekend, she ignored a call by the opposition for yet another rally, one that attracted only 1,000 people -- a fraction of the mass gatherings of the past weeks.

"We're being made fun of," sighed the 24-year-old single mother who identified herself only by her nickname for fear of government reprisals.

A member of a radical wing of young protesters who call themselves the "resistance," she was among those confronting security forces with Molotov cocktails and stones, masks covering their faces to conceal their identity and protect them from tear gas.

Since it erupted April 1, the mass movement demanding Maduro's exit has battled security forces and roving gangs of pro-government militants.

Nearly 130 people have been killed, and hundreds of opposition members have been imprisoned.

The anger is palpable. Hyperinflation and scarcities of food and medicine are biting more deeply in this country of 30 million, once Latin America's wealthiest, privileged with the world's biggest oil reserves.

Yet Maduro, narrowly elected in 2013 as the anointed successor to his late mentor Hugo Chavez, has turned a deaf ear to demonstrations.

This month, in the face of fierce resistance and international condemnation, he put in place a new assembly packed with loyalists that has given extraordinary powers that enable it to supplant the opposition-controlled National Assembly while it rewrites the constitution.

- Despondent -

After four months of street protests  anti-government activists blame opposition leaders for the lac...
After four months of street protests, anti-government activists blame opposition leaders for the lack of progress
RONALDO SCHEMIDT, AFP

The situation has left many opposing Maduro filled with rage -- and impotence. Despondency is replacing activism.

Ame has put away the Venezuelan flag, her makeshift shield and her gloves, the accessories she had taken with her to the protests.

"It's the fault of the opposition leaders," she said.

"We started out with them and they have practically abandoned us."

She is especially critical of the decision the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, to field candidates in overdue regional elections that the new pro-Maduro assembly said Saturday will now be held in October.

"Now they are going to tell us that the way out of this is through elections? That's nonsense," she said with disgust.

Some analysts believe the opposition coalition made a mistake in organizing near-daily protests.

They became "a routine," said Colette Capriles. "Using the street is a tactic that needs to managed."

The protests and the government's pushback against them peaked in the latter half of July, when the opposition called supporters into the streets in a united front against the July 30 election of the new Constituent Assembly, which it boycotted.

Protesters blocked roads with tree trunks and burning trash, while security forces used motorbike squads, armored vehicles and riot units firing tear gas, water and rubber bullets -- sometimes at fatally close range -- to violently clear them.

There were many arrests, and Ame barely escaped being detained.

But the opposition strategy failed to achieve its goal.

The Constituent Assembly was elected by government supporters -- eight million of them, according to officials, but a British-based company that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said later the turnout figure was "tampered with."

- Split over regional polls -

Those opposed to Maduro took it as a defeat, even though the new assembly galvanized international outrage and brought US sanctions.

The opposition coalition's decision to participate in the regional elections for Venezuela's 23 states also was disconcerting for many.

"We called on Venezuelans to protest with one aim: the departure of the dictator" and now the demonstrators "are demanding we stick to our goal," Maria Machado, the leader of a radical faction in the opposition, told AFP.

By presenting candidates in October, "we would be validating the state coup, recognizing a fraudulent, Cuba-style Constituent Assembly, and legitimizing the National Electoral Council that the entire world sees as fraudulent," she said.

Her party has broken with some 30 others in the coalition over the move, refusing to take part in the upcoming elections.

But not everyone sees it that way.

"The only way out that we have is an electoral one," said Henry Ramos Allup, an opposition lawmaker for the Democratic Action Party.

Lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup  who wants the opposition to compete in long-delayed regional elections  ...
Lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup, who wants the opposition to compete in long-delayed regional elections, says going to vote is the only way out of Venezuela's crisis
FEDERICO PARRA, AFP

The opposition coalition is also gambling it can take most of the states in the elections, replicating its success in winning control of the legislature in 2015 -- even though many are wary of polling fraud by the government.

Ramos Allup acknowledged that some opposition supporters are "tired, disappointed" after months of demonstrations with no concrete result.

But he said a win in the regional polls would be a "terrible blow" to Maduro and increase pressure for an early presidential election.

Ame, who saw a friend die in one of the protests, is unconvinced.

"He didn't die just so somebody can be a candidate in regional elections," she said.

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