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Venezuelan president accuses Movistar of backing opposition

Nicolas Maduro says Telefónica affiliate sent “millions of messages to users every two hours”

Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolás Maduro has accused the local affiliate of leading Spanish communications company Telefónica of supporting Wednesday’s protest march organized by opposition parties in the capital of Caracas.

Opposition MP José Olivares (in yellow) of the Justice First party during protests on Thursday in Caracas.
Opposition MP José Olivares (in yellow) of the Justice First party during protests on Thursday in Caracas. Reuters

“If you consulted anything to do with April 19 or Venezuela, ‘march, march’ appeared,” said Maduro in a television broadcast in which he announced he had ordered an investigation into the role played by Movistar de Venezuela during the protests on Wednesday in which three people died.

“Movistar de Venezuela joined the coup supporters and that is not its job. Movistar should know this,” he said, adding that the government had activated its plans to prevent “destabilization, alarm, or coups.”

Amid heightened tensions as the opposition called people out on to the streets for a second day on Thursday, Maduro told Venezuelans: “There will be no more April 11, ever,” a reference to the brief coup in 2002 that briefly overthrew his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

Crowds on Thursday were smaller than those that flooded the streets of Caracas on Wednesday

Maduro accused his opponents of spending “no less than $100 million” on spreading its message via social networks: “Your kids were playing a videogame and ‘march, April 19, lets go against Maduro,’” appeared,” he said.

“Every two hours, Movistar sent millions of messages to users via telephone and internet, more than $100 million. Never, before has these been done in Venezuela, not even for an election campaign,” he insisted. In 2014, Maduro accused Movistar of joining an alleged “coup attempt,” saying the company had retweeted images of anti-government protests.

Maduro’s announcement came hours after the board of General Motors said it was shutting down its operations in Venezuela immediately. On Wednesday, the company reported that the authorities had seized its plant in the city of Valencia over a legal dispute dating back to 2000, when GM cancelled its contract with a Chevrolet dealership.

On Thursday, protesters renewed nationwide anti-government rallies to pressure Maduro to step down, a day after three people were killed in similar demonstrations dubbed by the opposition as the “mother of all marches”. Anti-government demonstrators accuse Maduro of eroding democracy and plunging the economy into chaos.

President Nicolás Maduro.
President Nicolás Maduro. AFP

Crowds on Thursday were smaller than those that flooded the streets of Caracas on Wednesday, when supporters and opponents of the government holding rival rallies clashed amid increasing tensions over the oil-rich country’s political crisis.

A new round of protests kicked off earlier this month after the Supreme Court’s decision at the end of March to wrest the opposition-controlled legislature of its power, a move that was later reversed amid widespread international condemnation and even dissent within the ruling party.

For the last year, Venezuela has been in the throes of an unprecedented crisis that is hitting it from all sides: it has the highest inflation rate in the world, violence is rampant, people have trouble finding and buying everyday items, and social fabric is breaking down.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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