5 Reasons to Mark September 1st on Your Calendar

Venezuela is on its knees. President Nicolas Maduro has presided over the country’s worst economic and humanitarian crisis in memory. During the last three years, Maduro has initiated over 120 economic and social “solutions.” The result? An inflation rate in excess of 700%, over 80% food shortages and more than 27,000 homicides each year.

Far from providing a solution, Maduro is the problem. Yet, he is doing everything possible to cling on to power. He has thrown political opponents in jail and removed any meaningful authority from the democratically elected National Assembly.

Meanwhile, his regime is sabotaging the popular effort to hold a constitutionally mandated recall referendum, a vote on Maduro’s position. A recent poll indicated that 88% of likely voters would choose to oust Maduro in a recall referendum. If held by January 10, 2017, such a vote could remove Maduro from office. But the Maduro-backed National Electoral Council (CNE) recently announced that this will almost certainly not happen. And so, a protest march on the capital Caracas has been called for September 1st. Things seem to be coming to a head and this is why.

#1. It could be Venezuela’s largest ever demonstration.

At least, that’s what opposition deputy Armando Armas has predicted. He suggested recently that it “will be the largest gathering in the country’s history.” The number of street protests during the last several months has increased, but they have invariably been small-scale affairs. Venezuelans are often too busy to protest, instead standing in line outside stores in the desperate hope of purchasing food and other basics. But there is a feeling that September 1st could be different. The people are frustrated, exhausted and they have little to lose.

#2. Maduro is threatening a confrontation.

Maduro does not like being challenged. So far his repressive tactics have helped keep the streets relatively quiet. This time though, he appears to be getting nervous. Sensing that September 1st could be a pivotal display of anger and dissatisfaction, he is nakedly threatening his opponents. He told a televised event, “Did you see what happened in Turkey?… Erdoğan will seem like a nursing baby compared to what the Bolivarian revolution will do if the right wing steps over the line with a coup.”

#3. It could prove a test of the military’s loyalties.

It remains unclear where the military stands in the struggle between Maduro and the popular opposition. The army has recently been handed control of food production and distribution, making most government ministries answerable to Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino. Nonetheless, it is noticeable that the military has not publicly pledged loyalty to Maduro. Opposition leader Armando Armas said that if September 1st becomes heated, then “the armed forces are going to have to choose… Are they really on the side of the people and the constitution?”

#4. It could spur the international community into action.

Regional and global powers have given their rhetorical support to a timely recall referendum. Soon after the CNE announced that a vote this year is unlikely, 14 countries from the Organization of American States (including the US) issued a statement calling for the recall referendum to “be pursued clearly, concretely and without delay.” Secretary of State John Kerry has also admirably cautioned Maduro “not to play a game of delay” over the referendum. But tough talk has yet to turn into action. A mass public show of strength on September 1st or a violent response from Maduro could change that.

#5. A chance to gain momentum for the recall referendum.

The recall referendum and the chance to usher in a new leadership, represents a last glimmer of hope for long-suffering Venezuelans. September 1st is an opportunity to highlight the importance of this vote to the world. There is already a petition to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people’s call to vote for change.

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