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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Venezuelans step up pressure on Maduro with 12-hour strike

By Joshua Goodman Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela – Some stores and schools were closed and rush-hour traffic was noticeably lighter Friday as many residents in Venezuela’s capital stayed home to express their outrage at President Nicolas Maduro.

The 12-hour work stoppage came as the opposition stepped up its campaign to force the embattled socialist from office after electoral authorities canceled a recall referendum seeking his removal.

Senior officials have threatened to expropriate businesses that close. But major employers insisted the work stoppage was a grassroots protest and not a lockout aimed at sabotaging the already crippled economy.

The stoppage followed mass protests this week across the country and recalled opposition tactics used in 2002 ahead of a coup against then President Hugo Chavez.

But while Chavez is still revered, his hand-picked successor is widely unpopular. Polls show three out of four Venezuelans want Maduro out of office this year, blaming him for the worst economic crisis in decades, marked by triple-digit inflation and long food lines.

The opposition has called for a march on the presidential palace in the heart of the city on Thursday if the government doesn’t reverse its decision to block the recall effort. It’s also holding a symbolic “political trial” in congress, accusing Maduro of trampling on the constitution and installing a dictatorship.

The government has responded with a mix of threats and appeals to its base among Venezuela’s workers.

Powerful socialist leader Diosdado Cabello warned that businesses participating in the strike would be expropriated, while agents from the Sebin political police raided the mansion of Lorenzo Mendoza, head of the nation’s largest food manufacturer, Polar.

“I’ve spoken with the president. Any business that closes is a business taken over by workers and the military,” Cabello said.

On Thursday, Maduro announced he was raising the minimum wage by 40 percent, his fourth such hike this year.

Economists however say that inflation, which the International Monetary Fund forecasts will soar to four digits next year, is running even faster, and the currency’s slide on the widely used black market has depressed the value of the minimum salary in the oil-rich nation to just around $90 a month, one of the lowest in Latin America.