Venezuela has suffered several months of unrest as a result of the hardships the country has faced since the death of Hugo Chavez. Most recently, the resistance against the current president, Nicolas Maduro, has been protesting against a controversial new Constituent Assembly that allows them the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
The assembly consists of 545 members, including Maduro’s wife and son, and it held its first session on Friday, August 4, 2017. Heavy protesting carried out over the past four months has left more than 125 people dead. Maduro’s security forces rode through on motorbikes and hit back with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The opposition feels so strongly against the new Constitutional Assembly because they feel that the rules are rigged to benefit the government, and because almost all of the assembly’s members are supporters of Maduro’s administration. “The only way they’ll get us out of here is by killing us,” declared Freddy Guevara, the National Assembly’s first vice president. “They will never have the seat that the people of Venezuela gave us.”
Although the election has been won, many are saying the voter turnout had been tampered with, and many foreign governments are refusing to acknowledge the new assembly. Both the Vatican and the United States have spoken in opposition to the assembly.
“There has been a gradual erosion of democratic practice, and this is a significant line that has been crossed,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. “To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new Constituent Assembly is on very weak ground.”
The U.S. State Department called the assembly “illegitimate,” and said that the election was rigged for the “Maduro dictatorship.” Nikki Haley, the United States’ Ambassador to the UN also said that the move is “another step toward dictatorship.”
Others who’ve spoken out against the constituent vote so far include the European Union, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina. None of them feel comfortable supporting the new assembly.
The controversy is so heavy because the newly appointed Constituent Assembly now has the power to dissolve the opposition-run congress and rewrite electoral rules. The new legislative body will have the ability to override all other government offices and will be able to reshape Venezuela’s institutions and rules. Maduro claims that this new assembly will help restore the country from its current state and restore the democracy.
Venezuela has had problems with malnutrition thanks to food and medicine shortages, and hyperinflation is causing their currency, the bolivar, to fall drastically in value. According to The Washington Post, one Venezuelan woman said, “I came a week ago and saw rice for 5,700 bolivars. I didn’t buy it because it seemed too expensive. But now it’s 18,000! This is unaffordable … blame the government and its socialist policies. They’ve ruined the country.”
The Venezuelan bolivar lost 45 percent of its value in one week, while the value of the dollar on the black market almost doubled.
In the process of getting this assembly going, Maduro has urged its members to do away with the law that allows immunity from prosecution for existing legislators who are government opponents. He has also called for 30-year jail sentences for “anti-government agitators.”
“What did the opposition do on July 30?” Maduro said, referring to the date of the Constituent Assembly vote. “They went crazy on Twitter. Only with the tweets they published, it’s enough to send them to prison for 30 years. That’s your job, not mine any more. To do justice in the coming days, [that] will be the job of the Constituent Assembly. And to eliminate the parliamentary immunity that generates impunity.”
Many opponents are already seeking refuge in Chile.
Constituent Assembly members are mostly new to politics. They consist of Maduro supporters, students, slum dwellers, and state workers. There are some government officials in the new legislative group, but not many.
The opposition party has pledged to remain in power regardless of the new assembly, refusing to recognize its power. The county’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, who was a supporter of Hugo Chavez, and who has been known to have recently broken from Maduro, has ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations of election tampering.
The two governments – that is, the assembly and the opposition – battling like this, with neither giving in, cannot be a good sign for Venezuela as a whole. It seems likely that both governments will refuse to acknowledge the power of the other and try to run the country their own way.
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