So Duarte, owner of the Li Car Ch market since 28 years, put up signs a few weeks ago: “Talking politics is prohibited in this locale.”
Although the objective is to keep his shop safe, he was getting at a larger point: Can’t we just try to get along? But since Sunday’s bitterly disputed presidential election, which the government says Maduro won by a whisker, Venezuelans on both sides seem to be moving even further apart.
The oil-rich country, an important supplier of crude to the United States but also Washington’s chief antagonist in the region, has in essence become two countries — starkly, angrily and, sometimes, violently at odds. And since opposition leader Henrique Capriles’s refusal to concede to Maduro, Venezuela has appeared almost equally divided in a way it has not been since the Hugo Chavez era began in 1999.
“There’s a division of hate,” Duarte said. “Hate among those who have and don’t have. Hate between those in government and those who are not in government. There is hate everywhere.”
With Venezuela mired in a political crisis and street protests that officials say have left eight people dead since Monday, the two sides in this country’s drama are bracing for more confrontation, convinced that their position is the right one.
“Here there is no majority, there are two halves of a country,” said Capriles, 40, a lawyer and the governor of economically influential Miranda state. “And when we look at the numbers, we’re talking about two practically equal sides — numerically, two sides of the same size.”
For his part, Maduro blames Capriles for the violence. “This slice of the opposition that acts like they didn’t have anything to do with it is the one behind the violence,” he said.
The polarization has been apparent for years, as it was a central strategy of Chavez, who ruled for 14 tempestuous years until his death last month. But many say the split is so great now that an escalation in violence could pose insurmountable obstacles to bridging the divide.
In the tense hours since electoral authorities declared Maduro the winner, saying he had edged out Capriles by less than two percentage points, opposition protesters have clashed with the National Guard. Residents who oppose the government bang pots and pans in the streets through the night.
Capriles has called Maduro “illegitimate” and charged that he is taking orders from the Castro brothers in Cuba, Venezuela’s closest ally. Maduro, a 50-year-old apparatchik who reneged on a pledge that he would permit a vote recount, said he will not recognize his adversary as the governor of Miranda state.