Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has made it clear: Nothing short of the invasion threatened by President Donald Trump will stop him from holding a vote on a new constituent assembly that will officially replace the country’s legislature and likely allow the embattled president to rewrite the country’s Constitution, cementing his grip on power.
According to Bloomberg, Maduro has said the vote will be held next week in defiance of threats of US sanctions, and calls by his opponents for a two-day general strike. If approved, the new assembly will replace the country’s previous opposition-controlled assembly, which was annulled by the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court in March.
Once approved, it’s widely believed that Maduro will stock the assembly with political allies who will enable the re-drafting of the country’s constitution, allowing Maduro to consolidate power and officially marginalize anyone who opposes his regime.
President Nicolas Maduro
In the face of mounting violence, opposition lawmakers are urging citizens to demonstrate at polling places in a last-ditch attempt to foil the vote. The death toll from street demonstrations demanding Maduro’s exit that have become a daily occurrence in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities since they started in April recently topped 100.
“Deputy Simon Calzadilla, speaking for Unidad Democratica, urged Venezuelans to go to their electoral centers Monday at 10 a.m. to place protest banners and signs that say ‘in my voting place there won’t be a constituent assembly.’
Calzadilla, in an email, also asked citizens to rally to Caracas next Friday to “demand massively” that Maduro’s government halt the assembly vote.
If the regime doesn’t cancel this fraud by Friday, the party will inform of the actions it will behold on July 29 and 30, Calzadilla said in the statement. “Center by center, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood to defeat Maduro’s proposal.”
The US has threatened “strong and swift economic actions” against the regime, which could force Venezuela into a default if the US stops buying hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day from the country. The creation of the assembly will enrage millions of Venezuelans who are fighting against the entrenchment of the Maduro regime. Unsurprisingly, Maduro is struggling with abysmally low approval ratings. In a symbolic vote, 7.5 million Venezuelans who participated in an unsanctioned ballot overwhelmingly voted against the assembly.
In the run up to the vote, violence against Venezuela’s political opposition is intensifying. On July 5, Venezuela’s independence day, a mob of pro-government thugs brutalized a group of opposition lawmakers who were protesting Maduro’s plans to hold a vote on the new assembly. The irony of this exercise in repression was probably lost on the Maduro regime, which denied involvement and condemned the attack.
Opposition member Simon Calzadilla
Frustrated by the rising death toll, some protesters are banding together to form militias, abandoning the strategy of peaceful protest espoused by the opposition and diving headlong into violent urban guerilla warfare. One Bloomberg reporter followed a would-be militia group during one of its meetings, where members created Molotov cocktails and practiced assembling their weapons.
The protesters were explicit in expressing their distaste for the president.
“The security forces they’re up against, the riot-helmeted troops shooting tear-gas canisters and water cannon and bullets? “They all deserve to die,” one of the bomb makers said flatly, dripping petrol into a jar.
The call to arms coming from some in the resistance may be the initial stirrings of the kind of urban guerrilla movement the country hasn’t seen in half a century. It’s too early to tell if they’ll follow through on their threats, but the bold talk is a troubling sign for mainstream opposition leaders who have issued instructions – pleas, recently – for peaceful rallies and marches. Those calls increasingly fall on deaf ears. Masked activists hurl their homemade bombs, rocks, jars filled with feces, anything they can get their hands on. They’ve stormed office buildings, shattered store windows and blocked roads.”
“We are tired of being killed,” one demonstrator who refused to show his face or give his name told Bloomberg. “We are willing to go out with guns, to face them as equals,” he said. “The protest must evolve.” The demonstrator claimed to be a teenager from a middle-class neighborhood – fitting the profile of many of the young men who’ve died in the demonstrations.
Collapsing oil prices and years of economic mismanagement led to Venezuela’s economic collapse beginning when the price of crude plunged in 2014. It seems that the vote, which the opposition has already written off as hopelessly rigged, will one way or another lead to the next evolution of Venezeula’s rolling political and fiscal crisis – be it a revolution or bankruptcy. The country is struggling with, dwindling foreign reserves, bond yields as high as 36%, and looming payments on billions of dollars of oil-company bonds that were bought by Russia. Meanwhile, its citizens are struggling with hyperinflationary hell that has rendered dollars 1000x more expensive than they were in 2010.
As we reported yesterday, Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, believes the country’s next crisis point will arrive by Christmas. But with much of Venezuela resembling the lawless Detroit from the movie RoboCop – public mobs routinely lynch suspected thieves, and gangs of bikers waylay merchants carrying commodities to market – it’s difficult to imagine how the situation could get any more dire for the country’s desperate citizens. The only options left for them, it seems, are to forcefully demand regime change, or pray that the price of oil moves back toward $100 a barrell.