The U.S. government has ordered family members of its embassy staff in Venezuela to leave as a political crisis deepened ahead of a controversial referendum on Sunday.
Violence continued to rage on the street, with another seven persons killed during the latest opposition-led strike against President Nicolas Maduro’s planned election for a powerful new Constituent Assembly on Sunday.
Adding to Venezuela’s growing international isolation, Colombian airline Avianca suddenly stopped operations in the country on Thursday due to “operational and security limitations”.
Maduro’s critics were planning to pile more pressure on the unpopular leftist leader by holding roadblocks across the nation dubbed “The Takeover of Venezuela” on Friday.
“We’re going to keep fighting, we’re not leaving the streets,” said opposition lawmaker Jorge Millan.
The government banned protests from Friday to Tuesday, raising the likelihood of more violence in volatile Venezuela. Many people have been stocking up food and staying home.
As well as ordering relatives to leave, the U.S. State Department on Thursday also authorized the voluntary departure of any U.S. government employee at its compound-like hilltop embassy in Caracas.
President Donald Trump has warned his administration could impose economic sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro goes ahead with the vote to create the legislative superbody.
The Constituent Assembly would have power to rewrite the constitution and shut down the existing opposition-led legislature, which the opposition maintains would cement dictatorship in Venezuela.
Over 100 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing Venezuela since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding conventional elections to end nearly two decades of socialist rule.
Many streets remained barricaded and deserted on Thursday during the second day of a nationwide work stoppage.
Plenty of rural areas and working-class urban neighbourhoods were bustling, however, and the strike appeared less massively supported than a one-day shutdown last week.
With Venezuela already brimming with shuttered stores and factories, amid a blistering four-year recession, the effectiveness of any strike can be hard to gauge. Many Venezuelans live hand-to-mouth and say they must keep working.
In Barinas, home state of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, only about a third of businesses were closed according to a Reuters witness, as opposed to the opposition’s formal estimate of 90 percent participation nationally.