Caracas, Venezuela – Two out of three Venezuelans want to revoke President Nicolas Maduro, but the question seems to be whether or not they are willing to fight for it.
The day after the National Electoral Board announced that there is “no time” for the recall vote to take place this year – securing Chavismo’s grip of power until 2019 – people in Caracas went about their day as if nothing had happened.
“I didn’t hear the news because I was watching the Olympics and how Michael Phelps won two more medals,” said Rafael Deyan, a 36-year-old office clerk taking a break in Altamira Square on Wednesday.
Altamira Square, located in the east of Caracas, was the epicenter in early 2014 of fierce riots protesting against Maduro’s regime.
Yet now, when the opposition needs to apply more pressure than ever to make the referendum happens this year, people across the country are not showing the same energy.
“I want a referendum, but I won’t protest for security reasons,” said Deyan.
Others, more informed, are willing to mobilize in the future but admit Venezuelans are less motivated.
“[Electoral board president Tibisay Lucena’s] comments prove that the government is hindering the recall process. I will protest whenever the opposition calls for a protest, but I know that some of my friends are scared,” Roberto Reyes, 60, told Fox News Latino.
So on top to the many barriers the government has raised to delay the referendum, the opposition now faces another challenge: motivating people to go out to the streets and protest.
Until recently the referendum initiative had plenty of support — people moved in unprecedented numbers during the collection of signatures phase. But when it comes to protesting against the government’s maneuvers to block the effort, turnout at rallies have been ostensibly low.
“Some people are focused in making food lines, while others are scared after the many arrests and deaths in 2014,” said Cipriano Heredia, a lawmaker for the opposition.
After Lucena announced that the next step in the referendum process – gather yet more signatures countrywide – would have to wait until October, those opposed to the socialist government claim President Maduro and his acolytes are just trying to discourage Venezuelans, making them believe that a vote this year is all but impossible.
According to the Constitution, if the referendum were to be held in 2017, Maduro could be forced out of office but he would be allowed to name a successor. If he were ousted this year, however, he is mandated to call for a general election.
The U.S. Department of State addressed the issue in a statement Thursday afternoon, calling on the Venezuelan authorities to guarantee the exercise of the constitutional rights of the Venezuelan people.
"The remaining steps for the realization of the Presidential Recall Referendum [need to] be pursued clearly, concretely and without delay, and thus contribute to the quick and effective resolution of the current political, economic and social difficulties in the country," it read.
Luis Salamanca, a political analyst who was a member of the Electoral Board between 2006 and 2009, said change is not likely anytime soon.
“I think that there will not be a referendum this year, unless the social unrest and protests grow much more,” he told FNL.
He said that in his view Lucena and the government are breaking the law, but they may ultimately achieve their goal if people don’t protest loud enough.
The opposition has called for a big rally on Sept. 1st in Caracas to demand a speed-up of the process so the recall can take place this year.
“We want people from all over the country to mobilize to the capital city on that day. The government will feel the pressure,” Heredia said.
But Salamanca thinks that the situation can’t wait that long.
“They should have a quicker and stronger response to Lucena’s announcement because it practically kills the referendum,” the expert told FNL.
Congressman Heredia admitted that some parties inside the opposition are pushing to make the rally sooner, but other groups prefer to have more time to organize.
“The opposition has to be careful now. If people get discouraged by the situation there is a risk of low turnout in the second round of signature petition,” said Salamanca.
The referendum process has to count with the support of 20 percent of the country’s electorate, close to 4 million people, in order to be activated.
Salamanca and other analysts are confident that even if the recall takes place on 2017, Chavismo will be hurt.
But some are not that optimistic.
“Our party wants political change this year. If the government closes down the electoral path, we will have to explore other legal options,” Heredia told FNL.