Rival rallies held on Venezuela’s independence day

Venezuela’s bitterly divided political factions have held competing commemorations of the country’s independence, one led by President Nicolas Maduro while the other by the self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido.

Supporters of President Maduro take part in a pro-government rally to commemorate Venezuela’s independence Manaure Quintero/Reuters

Speaking to a gathering of top military officials on Friday, Maduro reiterated his support for a negotiation process mediated by Norway between his socialist government and Guaido, who is the leader of the opposition-held National Assembly and claims Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a fraud.

“There is room for all of us within Venezuela,” Maduro said in a speech in Caracas before calling for military exercises on July 24 to defend the South American country’s “seas, rivers and borders”.

“We look to the heavens, asking for peace,” Maduro said. “All the while, our military exercises play out. We plead to God with our missiles pointed.”

Military parade to celebrate the 208th anniversary of Venezuela's independence in Caracas

Venezuelan soldiers take part in a military parade to celebrate the 208th anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence Reuters

Venezuela was plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Guaido invoked the Constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, calling Maduro a usurper.

He has been recognised as the rightful head of state by dozens of countries, including the United States and most South American neighbours.

But Maduro retains the recognition of Cuba, Russia and China, and remains in control of state functions and the armed forces.

“The key in all of this situation is with the military, and today’s event shows that the military support remains solid and strong,” Luis Vicente Leon, an economist and analyst said.

Rally against Maduro's government, in Caracas

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido gestures with supporters at a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Meanwhile, Guaido held a separate independence day event, calling on supporters to march towards the headquarters of the military counterintelligence directorate, or DGCIM, where Navy Captain Rafael Acosta died last month. Opposition leaders and family members said he was tortured in custody.

A new round of Norway-mediated talks expected for this week was also called off after Acosta’s death.

Earlier this week, the United Nations human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, published a report detailing alleged extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and other rights violations by Venezuelan security forces in recent years.

On Friday, Bachelet said her teams had been working on the report, which covers a period from January 2018 nearly to the present, for a long time. She insisted upon the validity of the reporting, based on hundreds of interviews and meetings with government officials, Maduro’s opponents, as well as victims, their relatives, rights defenders and many others.

She also expressed hope that the report could help pave the way towards improvements in the rights situation in Venezuela, and noted that they now have a physical office in Venezuela – access not granted for many years.

“There is no longer any valid euphemism to characterise this regime other than dictatorship,” Guaido told reporters earlier on Friday. “The systematic violation of human rights, the repression, the torture… it is clearly identified in the UN report.”

“While the regime is cornered and left alone, we must remain firm and united until victory,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, some citizens showed disappointment with Guaido’s direction this time.

“Guaido needed to keep the people animated and out in the streets, but the street support has been in frank fall,” Jose Meza, a Venezuelan analyst and journalist said.

“I believe diplomatic negotiations are needed, and other kinds of strategy should be adopted.”

The Venezuelan government called the report “selective” and said the UN sources lacked objectivity.

“The content of this report is incomprehensible, dominated by a selective and biased vision,” Deputy Foreign Minister William Castillo said.

“It’s a text lacking in scientific rigour, with serious errors in methodology and which seems like a carbon copy of previous reports.”

Bachelet also announced that Venezuela freed 22 people the opposition considers political prisoners following international pressure, bringing the total number of released prisoners in recent weeks to 84.

Also on Friday, the government of Chile barred the entry to “more than 100” Venezuelans linked to the “dictatorship” of Maduro.

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