Officials were killed on Sunday during violent protests in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas. These protests were formed in reaction to the vote called by President Nicolás Maduro to introduce a new governing power. Despite receiving criticism both internationally and domestically, Maduro hopes to reshape the way in which the Venezuelan government operates. If the vote passes, Maduro will replace the current legislative body, known as the National Assembly, with a new “National Constituent Assembly.” This 545-member assembly would grant Maduro’s socialist party the power to rewrite Venezuela’s 1999 constitution and to act with virtually unlimited power. Thus, the vote has the potential to establish a single-party, authoritarian regime in this South American nation.
The call for this vote has been met with social upheaval in Venezuela. Many have gathered on the streets to protest the direction that Maduro is leading the nation, and more than 100 people have reportedly died as a result of these protests. On July 10th, Jose Luis Rivas was murdered while campaigning in Maracay. Jose Felix Pienda, the candidate for Ciudad Bolivar, was also murdered during a political outburst. On Sunday, protesters and police clashed even further, leading to law enforcement’s use of tear gas on crowds in Caracas. In reaction, opposition leader Henrique Capriles encouraged resistance on Monday, which was demonstrated in various ways such as through the formation of barricades on highways.
The opposition party refused to put candidates up in the election, as they felt the vote was a biased attempt by Maduro to institute a dictatorship. It feels that Maduro’s socialist party will unjustly dominate as a result of the election. By refusing to participate in the election, these people aim to show their discontent with the current state of affairs in Venezuela. However, despite its motives to protest governmental corruption, the opposition has not been successful at impeding Maduro’s regime. In fact, as a result of its boycott, the wide majority of candidates for the 545 assembly seats are supporters of Maduro’s efforts.
According to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, more than eight million people voted in favour of instituting Maduro’s constitutional assembly. On Sunday night, Tibisay Lucena, Council President, reported that the voter turnout for the vote was roughly 41.53%. This number shocked both independent experts and the government’s political opponents, who anticipated half the turnout. According to representatives of the opposition party, the government forced state workers to vote in favour of Maduro’s interests. Due to a fear of low turnout, government officials threatened to fire workers who refused to vote. They are also threatened to take away basic social benefits, including their access to food and housing services.
The United States has been vocal about its position on the politics of Venezuela. Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, declared this a “sham election.” The U.S. State Department was vocal on Sunday about its disapproval of the actions of the Venezuelan government. Officials stated that Maduro’s efforts to consolidate power for his own party would directly “undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination.” The Trump administration worked to impose sanctions 13 prominent officials in Venezuela, with the promise to impose even stiffer sanctions in the coming days. These sanctions are receiving some international support, including from the Mexican government.
During this time of social and political unrest, pressure must be placed on the Venezuelan government to acknowledge its responsibility to act in the best interests of its citizens.
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