New Venezuelan Assembly Opens Amid Opposition Protests

Despite strong domestic and international opposition, President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling party installed a new constituent assembly in Venezuela on Friday, August 4th, following the controversial and much anticipated election earlier in the week. The new legislative body has granted itself supreme power over existing institutions in Venezuela, as well as the ability to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Maduro’s supporters say the change will help bring peace to the violence-stricken country, while critics fear that the assembly will be used to block opposition and impose a dictatorship.

The constitutional assembly’s first act was to approve of the nomination of Delcy Rodriguez, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and close ally of Maduro, as its president. The 545 delegates of the assembly, led by socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and first lady Cilia Flores, marched to the legislative palace in celebration of this first achievement alongside hundreds of Maduro supporters. Many of the marchers carried portraits of Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan dictator and mentor of President Maduro.

Meanwhile, in the capital city of Caracas, police officers used tear gas on opposition protestors attempting to reach parliament. According to BBC news, several demonstrators were injured in clashes with police. This came just days after the opposition-led 48-hour strike throughout Venezuela, which ended in the deaths of at least five protestors. Such violence between opposition protestors and the police is not new in Venezuela. In the last four months alone, at least 108 people have been killed in protests against Maduro.

Broader opposition efforts had grown in Venezuela and abroad in the days leading up to and following the vote last week. While activists and opposition leaders were imposing a strike in an attempt to bring the country to a standstill, the United States announced sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials. The Vatican also voiced opposition to the installation of the new assembly in the days leading up to and after the election. In a statement released on Friday, August 4th, the Vatican called on “all political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the existing constitutions.”

Political dissidents also protested the constituent assembly on the grounds that the government had tampered with the election results. Venezuela’s former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said she would initiate an investigation into potential voter fraud in last week’s election. The government reported that over eight million people (or 41.5% of the electorate) had voted for a new constituent assembly. Yet Antonio Mugica, who is the CEO of the company that provided the voting system, alleges that the actual turnout was inflated by at least a million.

“It is with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout numbers on Sunday 30th July for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with,” said Mugica in a London Media Conference.

In response, in its first session, the constituent assembly voted to fire Ortega, as well as freeze her assets and prohibit her from leaving the country. According to the supreme court, Ortega will face trial for “serious misconduct.”

When Ortega tried to enter her office in Caracas on Saturday morning, she was met by National Guards dressed in riot gear who took control of the building’s entrance. She left on a motorbike amid a wildly chaotic scene.

“[This is] just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of ruling,” Ortega later said in a statement regarding her dismissal, “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”