Anti-government protesters want Maduro to step down, accusing him eroding democracy. Maduro, meanwhile, has ordered the Venezuelan armed forces onto the streets to maintain order.
Why are they protesting?
In short, the opposition says Maduro has created a dictatorship. The government has repeatedly blocked any attempts to oust Maduro from power by a referendum vote. It has also delayed local and state elections.
The demonstrations have been bloody. At least nine people have died and countless others, including journalists, have been injured.
How has Maduro reacted?
Maduro, 54, has been defiant, taking a confrontational tone with members of the opposition and protesters, whom he calls “vandals and terrorists.”
“We’re after and will capture the very last of the attackers,” Maduro said Saturday on national TV. “You all know that I don’t fool around. When I go after criminals, I get them, and I will capture all of these criminals who are getting their orders from the right-wingers.”
In a show of force Monday, Maduro paraded the streets of Caracas surrounded by men and women in uniform. The military has also vowed its full support to Maduro.
A country in crisis
Venezuela is in crisis, and while there is no simple solution to the country’s woes, the opposition argues it can fix the failing economy.
Massive government overspending, a crashing currency, mismanagement of the infrastructure and corruption are all factors that have sparked high inflation in Venezuela. Inflation is expected to rise 1,660% this year and 2,880% in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Another key problem is the relatively low price of oil, which stands at half of what it was in 2014. Venezuela has more oil reserves than any other nation, and oil shipments make up more than 90% of its total exports.
The low price is making it nearly impossible for the country to pay its debts and import food, medicine and other essentials. Hyperinflation has wiped out salaries and the value of the currency, the bolivar, sending prices for all kinds of goods skyrocketing.
The outlook isn’t great either. Unemployment is set to surpass 25% this year, according to the IMF, and the economy is expected to remain in recession this year and the next after shrinking a massive 18% last year.
The Organization of American States recently tried to declare Venezuela in violation of its democratic charter but was denied the necessary votes by Caribbean and Central American nations that have depended for years on cheap Venezuelan oil. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a Uruguayan, routinely calls Venezuela a dictatorship.
In March, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez called Almagro a liar and a criminal mercenary at the OAS.
The region seems split in its support for Maduro. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay signed a joint statement Monday asking for the Venezuelan government “to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration,” and avoid violence against protesters. They have also urged the government to call for elections.
Even the Vatican has gotten involved in the Venezuela crisis. Pope Francis sent an envoy to Caracas to mediate talks between the opposition and the government in 2016. While those talks failed, Francis said he is willing to meet with the opposing parties to help resolve the conflict.