POLITICS

Venezuelans burn Obama effigies as anti-U.S. campaign peaks ahead of Americas Summit

The Holy Week took a non-religious detour in Venezuela, with government supporters using the national holiday to entice people to sign a document repealing U.S. sanctions against seven high-ranking officials linked to corruption and violation of human rights.

On Easter Sunday, a few dummies of President Obama went up in flames in different cities and towns across the country – and some TV stations broadcast it live.

The burning was incorporated in a local tradition called "La Quema de Judas" (The Burning of Judas), a Roman Catholic ritual in which an effigy of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who according to the Gospel betrayed and sold Jesus Christ, is torched.

In some places, President Obama was joined by other government foes, such as former governor and two-times presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, whose effigy burned in Petare and Los Teques, two low income sectors in the northern state of Miranda.

Burning dummies of contemporary figures perceived as traitors is a century-old practice by Holy Week observers in Venezuela. This time, President Obama was the figure of choice of Chavistas, who decry his March 9 executive order that sanctions government officials and calls the situation in Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

In other towns, people with the opposition burned effigies of President Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello's, the president of the National Congress, blaming them for what they say is the country’s worst political and economic crisis in recent memory.

As a response to Obama's order, Maduro promised to deliver to him a petition signed by 10 million Venezuelans calling for the U.S. sanctions to be revoked. He said he would personally hand him the signatures during the Summit of the Americas taking place this weekend in Panama City.

As of Wednesday, government officials say, more than nine million signatures had been gathered.

During the Holy Week signatures were collected in beaches, where signers in return received paper fans with the message "Venezuela no es una amenaza, somos esperanza" (Venezuela is not a threat, we are hope).

On Monday, secretary of Defense General Vladimir Padrino López delivered five boxes full of signatures from military personnel. He admitted that all the employees at the ministry had been working collecting signatures.

The new mayor of Caracas and head of the campaign “Obama, repeal the executive order now,” Jorge Rodríguez, said they will keep collecting signatures until Thursday. He also said the signatures are being verified by the National Electoral Council, which is expected to issue an official certificate validating the signatures.

Rodriguez took the post after Mayor Antonio Ledezma was arrested and jailed on February 19 for allegedly supporting staging a U.S.-funded attempted coup against President Maduro.

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been rapidly deteriorating as Maduro keeps blaming U.S. plotting for the host of economic and social woes plaguing the socialist-governed country.

Washington has called the accusation ludicrous.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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