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Will carnaval swing protest momentum in favor of Venezuela’s President Maduro?

Amid weeks of protest, Venezuelan President Maduro extended a weekend holiday to last six days in hopes of slowing antigovernment protests.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
A demonstrator wearing painted stripes that represent Venezuela's national flag attends a rally with humans rights activist in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday.

You might imagine students to be the first Venezuelans at the beach this weekend as Carnaval celebrations kick off leading up to Mardi Gras on March 4.

Instead, many are organizing, blocking roads, and in some instances erecting barricades to create havoc and prevent their antigovernment movement from fizzling into a long weekend at the beach, says our correspondent in the capital. Yet that’s exactly what the government of President Nicolás Maduro seeks, having extended the national holiday to start Thursday (Feb. 27) and last until March 5, which will be the one-year anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chavez and a likely rally point for pro-government forces.

“Maduro is extending the Carnaval holiday because he wants people to get out of Caracas and to reduce the tension,” says our correspondent, noting that Venezuelans would normally fill the coast for the long weekend. “I think you’ll see a big effort by [the] government to preserve memory of Chavez and reclaim major roadways.”

This is not the first time that opposition protesters have attempted to block roads and halt traffic in protest of the government, and the practice of burning trash and piling debris along main avenues has come to be called a “guarimba” – a makeshift barricade, usually unmanned. In addition to the guarimbas, a number of municipalities have also canceled Carnaval festivities in a show of respect for those killed in the protests.

“Students are blocking the streets to prevent people from getting out. The opposition is trying to hold onto rank and file hard-liners,” says our correspondent, who has closely followed the demonstrations and spoken with the students.

But he adds that the number of protesters in the streets appears to be dwindling: “There’s a sense in Caracas that protests are on the downturn.”

Official estimates puts the number killed at 13. President Maduro this week said that 50 people had died in connection with... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.

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