Venezuela to proceed with controversial vote despite international opposition

World Today

In this Monday, July 24, 2017 photo, a demonstrator dressed as Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar is silhouetted against a national flag during a tribute to those killed in the recent wave of anti-government protests, in Caracas, Venezuela. The most recent violence drove the death toll from nearly four months of unrest above 100 Thursday, July 27. Most of the dead in anti-government protests that began in early April have been young men killed by gunfire. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Venezuelans are preparing to go to the polls to elect a controversial constituent assembly that would rewrite the constitution.

President Nicolas Maduro says the new national body will bring peace to the divided country. Opposition leaders say it’s simply a ploy to consolidate Maduro’s power and pave the way to dictatorship.

CGTN’s Juan Carlos Lamas has more from Caracas.

In a country virtually paralyzed with near daily anti-government street demonstrations, military officials say they have deployed over 100,000 troops nationwide to secure preparations for Sunday’s vote. At a final campaign rally, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro told his supporters he’ll do whatever it takes to remain in power.  

“If Venezuela were to be consumed by chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution were to be destroyed, then we would engage in combat, we will never surrender,” said Maduro. “What can’t be done with votes we will do with weapons. We will free our people using weapons.”

The government held simulated elections two weeks ago, to show citizens how to mark their ballots. More than 6,000 candidates are running for 545 positions in a constituent assembly.

“I hope the constituent assembly will bring us the peace and unity that we need, so that we can solve the problems we face as a nation,” said university professor Mariela Martins.

 The new assembly would rewrite the current constitution drawn up under the regime of popular former President Hugo Chavez.  President Maduro says this should not be seen as a betrayal, but as a “perfection” of the socialist revolution.

Venezuela is suffering from a crisis–political, economic and social. Its people are suffering the effects of  triple-digit inflation, critical shortages of food and medicine, and one of the world’s highest crime rates. The opposition held a vote of its own two weeks ago, where more than seven million people voted not to hold the election on Sunday. They say the election is rigged to favor pro-Maduro candidates.

“This is an attempt at our human rights through the constituent process, where participation has been reduced to minimal input from the people,” said Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz. “This violates the human rights which have been enshrined in the constitution.”

The government has threatened to arrest anyone who takes part in election day protests with prison terms up to 10 years.  Opposition leaders say the demonstrations will continue, until new presidential elections are scheduled, and there’s hope for real change in Venezuela.

For more on the Assembly vote in Venezuela, CGTN’s Susan Roberts spoke with Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies Gabriel Hetland from the State University of New York at Albany.