After deadly vote, Venezuela increasingly isolated internationally
Caracas, August 1: Following a bloody vote that handed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's Socialist party almost total power to rule, however, he was increasingly isolated internationally -- but whose legitimacy is broadly rejected.
The United States, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and other nations said they did not recognise the results of the election of a new "Constituent Assembly" superseding Venezuela's legislative body, the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
The European Union expressed "preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela" and said it, too, doubted it could accept the results. However, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia have stood by Maduro, who shrugged off mass protests and US sanctions on some officials to see through the election.
The National Electoral Council claimed more than 40 percent of Venezuela's 20 million voters had cast ballots yesterday. "It is the biggest vote the revolution has ever scored in its 18-year history," Maduro said, dressed in the red associated with the socialist revolution started by his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.
However the leader of the opposition congress, Julio Borges, said Venezuela "is becoming more divided and isolated in the world." According to the opposition, voter turnout was closer to 12 percent, a figure more aligned with the lack of lines that were seen at many polling stations. According to polling firm Datanalisis, more than 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the new assembly.
Further protests were organized for Monday, stoking fears that the death toll in four months of protests against Maduro could rise beyond the more than 120 already recorded. Demonstrators were ignoring a ban on protests put in place by Maduro that threatened up to 10 years in prison for violators. Ten people died in violence surrounding Sunday's election, which saw security forces firing tear gas and, in some cases, live ammunition to put down protests. Among them were two teens and a Venezuelan soldier.
In eastern Caracas, seven police were wounded when an improvised explosive targeted their motorcycle convoy. With the opposition boycotting Sunday's election, and state employees pressured to vote, the Constituent Assembly is made up solely of members of Maduro's ruling Socialist Party.
The new body, tasked with writing a new constitution, has far-reaching powers, including the right to dissolve the National Assembly and change laws. It is due to be installed on Wednesday. Its members include Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores. "We do not recognise this fraudulent process," said an opposition leader, Henrique Capriles.
The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, says the new assembly is a rubber-stamp mechanism for Maduro to rule as a "dictator." The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called the election a "sham," and the US State Department warned of further "strong and swift" sanctions on Maduro's government. The European Union condemned the "excessive and disproportionate use of force" by Venezuelan police and troops.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: "A Constituent Assembly, elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, cannot be part of the solution." Russia, however, threw its weight behind Maduro and the election, backing the government turnout figure.
Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that it hopes countries "who apparently want to increase economic pressure on Caracas will display restraint and abandon their destructive plans." Bolivia echoed that, urging the world "to respect the democratic process that took place in Venezuela." Analysts, though, agreed that Maduro's move had swept away democracy in Venezuela.
"Maduro's blatant power grab removes any ambiguity about whether Venezuela is a democracy," said Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue research center. Eduardo Rios Ludena, a Venezuela specialist at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, said Maduro had "sacrificed democracy" by exaggerating the number of voters who took part. "In the short term, the Constituent Assembly gives a bit of breathing space to the government" but grave economic consequences would follow, aggravated by further sanctions, he said.
Those would worsen the crisis faced by Venezuela's 30 million citizens, who are suffering through shortages of basic goods -- but would also destabilize the government, which is frenziedly printing money and is reliant on oil exports.
Rios Ludena predicted Maduro would eventually be forced into negotiations with the opposition. He further said that however it is unclear what they can negotiate on since the opposition wants to remove Maduro from power -- through a fair election process -- and Maduro will do whatever it takes to stay in power.