March 5, 2019 / 7:41 PM / 8 months ago

Venezuela's Guaido in talks with unions to call public sector strike

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Tuesday he was in talks with unions about calling strikes for state workers in a bid to paralyse the public sector, tightening pressure on a weakened President Nicolas Maduro by targeting his key support base.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, leaves after the meeting with public employees in Caracas, Venezuela March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The strikes would seek to capitalise on the opposition’s momentum spurred by Guaido’s triumphant return to Venezuela on Monday, after he flouted a travel ban to tour Latin American countries to muster support for his campaign to oust Maduro.

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.”

Guaido has called on state officials, who have been historically pressured by the ruling Socialist Party to publicly back Maduro, to disavow the government, and has promised future amnesties for those that do.

“The moment has arrived and our call, our request, and our complete support for public employees, is to bring about this strike,” Guaido told a news conference after meeting with state workers. He did not say when the strikes would be held.

Guaido, recognised by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, said the strikes would be staggered and aim to paralyse the public sector.

“It’s a proposal from the workers, that they aren’t going to keep collaborating with the regime,” Guaido said.

Maduro’s government has yet to comment on Guaido’s return, which is unusual, considering top officials habitually make references to him on state television and in Twitter posts. Maduro accuses Guaido of leading a U.S.-directed coup against him and has said he will “face justice.”

Guaido said the government had not contacted him since his return.

Guaido had secretly left Venezuela for Colombia, in violation of a Supreme Court order, to coordinate efforts there on Feb. 23 to send humanitarian aid into Venezuela to alleviate widespread shortages of food and medicine.

But troops blocked convoys of aid trucks sent from Colombia and Brazil, leading to clashes that killed at least six people along the Brazilian border, rights groups say.

Guaido then visited Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay to discuss with leaders his plan for a transition government ahead of holding a free and fair election.

Guaido says Maduro’s presidency is illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely considered a sham. Maduro retains control of state institutions and the loyalty of senior figures in the armed forces.

Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera and Shaylim Valderrama; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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