Venezuelans March in Biggest Anti-Maduro Protest in Months

Patricia Laya and Alex Vasquez

(Bloomberg) -- Supporters of Juan Guaido staged their biggest protest in Caracas in months as Venezuela’s opposition leader seeks to revive his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

A week after Maduro’s ally Evo Morales was toppled in Bolivia, Guaido is seeking to boost thinning crowds that have grown apathetic since a botched uprising in April failed to remove Maduro.

“I’m here because we cannot continue living like this,” said hairdresser Maribel Risquez, 51, one of thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday. “My 25-year-old son died of lung cancer because we couldn’t find the medicines he needed. We have to protest without fear until we change this government.”

Venezuela has been relatively quiet as Guaido lost momentum while violent protests wracked Latin American countries from Ecuador to Chile. He drew crowds of hundreds of thousands early this year, but many followers now doubt that he can unseat Maduro.

Guaido’s approval rating stood at 42% this month, down from more than 60% in February, according to a survey by Caracas pollster Datanalisis.

“We will remain in the streets until we have free elections,” Guaido said in a speech to the rally. “We’re going to achieve Venezuela’s freedom.”

He called on his followers to protest in their neighborhoods on Monday and to join a student march on Thursday.

Police Raid

Several miles across town, Maduro called in by phone to a march by his supporters describe events in Bolivia as “a fascist coup.”

“In Venezuela there will be no coup, because the people will defend democracy,” he said.

On Friday night, masked police broke into the office of Popular Will, Guaido’s party, and detained dozens of members for an hour while they stole from them, party leader Roland Carreno said.

“We call on the authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly in today’s demonstrations and to refrain from harassing demonstrators, journalists and organizers,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Twitter.

The U.S. and more than 60 other nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state, but the country’s armed forces and top court remain loyal to Maduro.

Morales quit as Bolivia’s president on Nov. 10 following allegations of electoral fraud that led to violent protests. Senator Jeanine Anez, who took over after he fled the country, recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state.

Guaido, who said he spoke with Anez, marched with part of his followers to the Bolivian embassy in Caracas. “I celebrate that Bolivia got ahead of us and they have achieved the path to democracy,” he said.

Guaido and his team appeared outside a Caracas airbase on April 30 to announce an uprising, which fizzled within hours when military leaders ignored the call and security forces took control of the streets. Since then, more than a dozen opposition lawmakers have had their legislative immunity stripped, several have left the country and others are hiding out in local embassies or safe houses.

While a recent economic liberalization means severe shortages of goods have eased, the large majority of Venezuelans still can’t afford them. Power, water and gasoline outages are an everyday occurrence across the country and inflation is running at an 11,000% annualized rate, according to Bloomberg’s Cafe con Leche index.

While declining oil sales and U.S. sanctions have limited Maduro’s ability to operate, he recently began negotiations with opposition splinter groups, a strategy critics say is meant to give his administration sufficient legitimacy to avoid further measures and continue governing.

(Updates with Guaido quotes in sixth paragraph, Maduro in eighth)

--With assistance from Fabiola Zerpa.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patricia Laya in Caracas at playa2@bloomberg.net;Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Cancel at dcancel@bloomberg.net, Tony Czuczka, Steve Geimann

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