Ahead of today’s protests in Venezuela, WOLA issued the following statement

Washington, D.C.—In a few hours, both the Venezuelan opposition and the ruling party are slated to hold demonstrations in Caracas and around the country. Troublingly, President Nicolas Maduro has not only called on government supporters to congregate in some of the same places the opposition previously announced as mobilization points, he has called on the armed forces to carry out “Plan Zamora”, a military operation aimed at maintaining order in response to a supposed coup d’etat. WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America), a research and advocacy organization that is following the situation closely, urges the Venezuelan government to: respect the rights of its citizens to participate in peaceful assembly, ensure their safety, and prevent acts of violence. WOLA also calls on demonstrators to commit to non-violent protest in the course of the day’s marches.

“This is a time of deep economic and political crisis, and it’s no surprise that Venezuelans are choosing to exercise their constitutional right to protest. The vast majority of Venezuelans want to see a democratic path out of economic hardship and political hostility, and are pushing for the establishment of an electoral calendar,” said WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde.

Peaceful protest is a legitimate form of democratic expression, protected by the Venezuelan constitution and should not be treated as an attempted coup. Furthermore it should be policed by professional, unarmed, civilian officers who should work to keep opposing forces from clashing. It should not be policed by the military, by armed police, and never by armed civilians out of uniform.

WOLA applauds the April 17 joint statement adopted by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, and supports further regional efforts to promote peaceful and democratic resolutions of Venezuela’s crisis.

“Let’s hope Venezuela’s government listens to the emerging hemispheric consensus in favor of the establishment of a clear calendar for the country’s pending regional and upcoming presidential elections,” said John Walsh, WOLA Senior Associate for the Andes.

Ahead of the demonstration, WOLA calls on both the Venezuelan government and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition to scrupulously exercise responsible, democratic leadership today, with a view to preventing violence.