Today Venezuela holds a vote to create a “constituent assembly” that is sought by the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, as a means to downgrade the opposition controlled parliament and to rewrite the country’s 1999 Constitution. The constituent assembly would largely be given the power to govern the country and could reinforce Maduro’s faltering government by sidelining opposition forces. Ever growing economic shortages and the rapid decrease of support for Maduro has led to large scale protests against his rule. Previous efforts to annul or neutralize the parliament by Maduro have failed to achieve results and the latest plan is far more likely to put Venezuela on a new trajectory that could end in a one party dictatorship depending on how the constituent assembly wields its power. Opinion polls suggest that more than 70% of the electorate oppose the vote to create a constituent assembly. On the ballot one cannot express opposition to the new entity’s creation, but only select a choice as to who should number within its ranks and all of the candidates allies of Maduro. Turnout was lower than in past elections and many of today’s voters express hope that they would receive monetary rewards for casting a ballot.
Opposition forces will not be present among its ranks despite the deep unpopularity of Maduro as they have boycotted this vote. The president has also suggested that he will launch targeted legal campaigns against opposition members of parliament and that a “prison cell” awaits them once the new assembly is operational. Several countries in South and Central America, including Mexico, Colombia, and Panama, have declared the vote illegal and have imposed sanctions on Maduro’s government as has the United States. The Castro government in Cuba is one of Venezuela’s primary allies in the Western Hemisphere.
Venezuela was once among the wealthiest of countries in South America, but the economy has dramatically deteriorated in recent years, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis and rising political discontent. The country suffers from extraordinarily high inflation and shortages of a wide variety of goods. Many basic necessities are purchased by Venezuelans in Colombia when possible. At least 113 people have died in the four months of anti-Maduro protests with almost 2000 wounded.