Opposition leader Juan Guaido held talks with Venezuela’s public sector unions on Tuesday about staging strikes to help bring down the government, as President Nicolas Maduro said a “crazed minority” bent on destabilizing the country would be defeated.
The strikes would ratchet up pressure on a weakened Maduro by giving several million state employees, a traditional bastion of government support, a chance to demonstrate their frustration with an administration that has overseen Venezuela’s deepest ever economic crisis.
The opposition is also seeking to capitalize on momentum spurred by Guaido’s triumphant return to Venezuela on Monday to press for an end to Maduro’s rule. Guaido flouted a travel ban to tour Latin American countries to muster support for his plan for a transition government ahead of free and fair elections.
“They thought the pressure had already maxed out,” said Guaido, who is recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state. “They better know that the pressure has barely begun,” he told a news conference.
Maduro, speaking for the first time since Guaido’s return, said he would not allow “anything or anyone to disrupt the peace.” He called for “anti-imperialist” demonstrations across the country on Saturday, coinciding with marches called by Guaido.
“The crazed minority continues in their bitterness. We are going to defeat them, be absolutely sure,” he said during a ceremony to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
While Guaido had publicly speculated that authorities would detain him when he returned, he passed through Caracas’ international airport without a problem. He then sped to a march where he mocked the government for letting him in so easily, telling the crowd: “Somebody didn’t follow an order.”
The socialist government had kept unusually silent since Guaido landed, with no top officials commenting until Maduro spoke at the ceremony, held at the military barracks where Chavez launched a failed 1992 coup. He became president seven years later.
Maduro accuses Guaido of leading a coup, orchestrated by the U.S. government, and has said he will “face justice.” The former trade union leader denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and has blocked the opposition’s attempts to bring in aid to alleviate shortages of food and medicine.
Washington’s top envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said on Tuesday it was hard to see a role for Maduro in future democratic elections. He said the Trump administration was considering secondary sanctions against non-U.S. citizens and entities tied to the Maduro government.
“If he wanted to build a democratic Venezuela, he had the opportunity to do so, but he did not,” Abrams told reporters.