Venezuela's next generation of opposition plays a long game

Published 11-28-2018

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Roberto Patino, a rising star in Venezuela's unravelling opposition movement, pushes through a crowd of children clutching spoons and waiting to eat.

The 30-year-old organizes a crew that hands out hundreds of meals each day in slums throughout the capital. It's the only solid nourishment for many of the children in Caracas' La Vega neighborhood.

"We've found fertile ground in these slums," Patino said of the lunches financed by Venezuelan donors, "for the message of change and creating a new Venezuela."

As President Nicolas Maduro cracks down on opponents amid an unprecedented economic crisis, desperation has driven some critics to support violent shortcuts to removing him from power. But many opposition figures see their best hopes in capitalizing on discontent with Maduro in rough neighborhoods long considered his strongholds.

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In this Aug. 26, 2018 photo, Roberto Patino greets children at a children's center in the La Vega neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Patino, a rising star in Venezuela's unravelling opposition movement, and other grassroots organizers in their 20s and 30s have been feeding children, encouraging women to become community activists and organizing protests to demand public services like reliable drinking water and electricity. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) - The Associated Press


In this Aug. 26, 2018 photo, a girl holds her spoon as she waits to receive a meal at a children's center in the La Vega neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Opposition activist Roberto Patino says that he's deferred his political ambitions to focus on feeding 1,800 children five days a week in 21 slums of Caracas. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) - The Associated Press


In this Aug. 26, 2018 photo, Marialbert Barrios speaks to a group of women at an empowerment workshop, in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela. Twenty-eight-year-old Barrios is the National Assembly's youngest member. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) - The Associated Press


FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2015 file photo, Democratic Unity opposition coalition congressman Miguel Pizarro, center, greets supporters during a rally to thank those that voted for him, at the Petare neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela. Pizzarro is focused on bread-and-butter issues rather than confrontations in the streets. "The challenge for political leaders is to win back the right to listen to the country," he said. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File) - The Associated Press


FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2017 file photo, opposition lawmaker Manuela Bolivar, left, enters the Venezuelan General Prosecutor's office to introduce a petition asking for an investigation into the recent constituent assembly elections in Caracas, Venezuela. "It's time that this generation took a step forward against totalitarianism and took the reins in the fight," Bolivar tweeted in 2018. (AP Photo/Wil Riera, File) - The Associated Press


FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, opposition leader Henrique Capriles points during an interview at his office in Caracas, Venezuela. Capriles is routinely denounced, with little direct evidence, as a sellout who has cut secret deals to coexist with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He has recently hinted that he is open to a new attempt at dialogue, saying the tough talk from abroad will only lead to more bloodshed and consolidate Maduro's grip on power. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File) - The Associated Press


FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2017 file photo, holding a national Venezuelan flag, ousted Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma waves from inside El Dorado international airport, as he prepares for departure, in Bogota, Colombia. Now in exile Ledezma is taking his fight against Venezuela's socialist government abroad after he escaped house arrest in Caracas, and fled to Colombia. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan, File) - The Associated Press