Friday, August 4th marked the first session of Venezuela’s Constitutional Assembly since the controversial election on July 30th. The assembly was given authority to rewrite former President Hugo Chavez’s 1999 Constitution. President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela says that the assembly will pacify the fractured country and the political chaos, which has left 120 people dead and hundreds in jail. However, critics believe that this is only another stepping stone to Venezuela’s descent into a dictatorship.
The opposition is not without action, but it remains to be seen what effective action the opposition can take in a state that has a Maduro-controlled government and Supreme Court. On Thursday Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, who formerly supported Chavez but recently broke with Maduro, filed a complaint seeking a court order to block the installation of the new assembly. On Saturday Diaz was fired. Opposition lawmakers have reiterated that they aim to remain in power no matter what action is taken by the government.
Foreign governments have largely sided with the opposition. The United States called on Maduro to leave office or “return the government processes back to the constitution,” on Thursday. And the EU on Wednesday also refused to recognize the election results. Several South American nations including Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia have denounced the election as illegitimate. Foreign ministers of these nations and others have met in Brazil today to discuss the situation. There is speculation that these talks will include a discussion of removing Venezuela from the Mercosur Trade Bloc for Violation of democratic norms.
Maduro’s government had tried to consolidate power in the recent election however that election is now widely considered fraudulent. Smartmatic, a London based company which has been aiding Venezuela with their elections since 2004, has declared a discrepancy of at least 1 million votes between the official tally and the one the company recorded. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council reported more than 8 million of the nation’s roughly thirty-one million people cast ballots Sunday. Reuters reports that according to internal electoral council data only 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 pm in the election with most polls closing at 7:00 pm.
However, the election could just be considered a formality in Venezuela’s descent to dictatorship. All candidates on the ballot, which included Maduro’s son and wife backed the President’s socialist agenda. Combined with a voter participation threshold of zero and the opposition party refusing to participate in “unjust” elections, there was no other feasible outcome. Since 1999 when the late president Hugo Chavez came to power and his declared successor Maduro in 2013, Venezuela has seen an increasingly authoritarian government while democratic institutions have been undermined and political polarization has grown.
The victims of this turmoil have been the people of Venezuela. While Maduro’s government celebrates their latest victory on state-owned TV channels, an annual inflation rate of 700% and chronic shortages of food and medicine have forced Venezuela’s citizens into a humanitarian crisis. Even though Maduro increased the monthly minimum wage by 20% to roughly 33 US dollars a month, it is not enough to live on. Roughly 32% of Venezuela’s workforce earns minimum wage. According to the Center of Documentation and Analysis for Workers, an independent advocacy group, that is only enough to buy a quarter of the food needed to feed a family of five for a month. With that said, the weariness of protest and the growing humanitarian crisis could be seen on Friday when only a few hundred people protested on the street compared to the thousands only a few months before.
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