Conflict Escalates in Venezuela over Constitutional Assembly

By Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)

Portesters protect themselves from tear gas shot by the Police. 10/07/2017 in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Manaure Quintero/dpa

HAVANA TIMES — The Venezuelan government and opposition are heading towards worsening the conflict that the call for a Constitutional Assembly has unleashed, in the run up to an opposition referendum which has been summoned for this Sunday and seeks to reject a rewriting of the Constitution.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced Wednesday that it will double down on security measures in the run up to the election for choosing the 545 members of the Constitutional Assembly put forward by president Nicolas Maduro, which will take place on July 30th, said the president of this electoral body, Tibsay Lucena.

Meanwhile, the opposition has said that it will set up over 2,000 “sovereign spots” so that citizens can say whether they recognize or reject Maduro’s Constitution in a plebiscite that will be held this Sunday, July 16.

Lucena claimed that the Electoral Power is stepping up measures so as to ensure the vote takes place, after the opposition warned that it plans to prevent the vote as it considers it to be constitutional fraud.

“We will especially protect voting centers with targeted measures. We have also decided to extend the security perimeter to 500 meters,” Lucena said at a press conference. She has also said that voting centers will be declared “safety zones” so as to redouble security with military personnel.

By the same token, she also stressed the fact that military forces will take control of voting centers a week before the election, instead of three days beforehand which is what normally happens.

Lucena described the fact that there are sectors in the opposition who want to block the electoral process as “deeply anti-democratic”, but she also warned that standing in the way of an election “is also a crime” which is punishable by law.

According to Maduro, the Constitutional Assembly will have the task to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution and public powers so as to adapt them to current times. As a plenipotentiary power, it could dissolve the National Assembly (Congress), which is under the control of an opposition majority.

On the other hand, the opposition denounces that Maduro is seeking to concentrate all of the country’s powers in the governing party and to start persecuting opposition groups, politically and judicially.

The opposition has labeled the process “unconstitutional” as they believe that a referendum should first be held so that the general population can decide whether they agree with this mechanism being put into action. It has summoned a plebiscite this Sunday for this very reason.

Congressman and spokesman for the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition alliance, Stalin Gonzalez, defended the constitutionality of the plebiscite, in spite of it not being backed by the Electoral Council and the fact that the government has announced that it will seek its invalidation in court.

“We believe that (this plebiscite) is binding, under Article 5 in the Constitution, which stipulates that sovereignty lies in the people, in Article 70, (which) says that popular referendums and citizens’ assemblies are binding with what happens in the country’s public life,” he said.

“All of the organizational details have been set, material has already been sent to different states, it’s in the process of being delivered to the municipalities and parishes,” Gonzalez went on to say in more detail. There will be over 2023 voting centers and 400 abroad, he added.

In this plebiscite, voters will be asked whether “they reject and do not recognize” the Maduro’s Constitutional Assembly, if “they are demanding the Armed Forces to obey and defend the Constitution” and whether “they approve” of the changes to public authorities and the creation of a national unity government.

The plebiscite will take place amidst a continuous round of protests against the Government, which marked its 100 day anniversary on Thursday, and thus far resulting in 94 deaths.

It was also revealed today that OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, had a phone conversation with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was released from prison on Saturday by the Government and sent home to carry out the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

Almagro said that they both agreed on the fact that they would continue to work so as “to return democracy to Venezuela.”

This is the first time the general secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), who has become one of Maduro’s greatest critics, and the leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular have established contact.