Against strong objection by Washington and the Venezuelan opposition, the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro conducted a vote July 30 to elect a Constituent Assembly. Washington responded by imposing sanctions on Maduro — freezing assets, if any, he may have in the U.S. Washington had sanctioned 13 other officials in the run-up to the vote.
“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” claimed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a White House press briefing. The governments of Canada, Britain, Spain, the European Union, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina joined the U.S. in telling the people of Venezuela what they should do.
The pro-imperialist opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable in Venezuela boycotted the election, saying that rewriting the constitution is aimed at nullifying the legislature where the opposition won a majority in 2015. Since April the Roundtable has stepped up violent demonstrations and has openly called on the armed forces to stage a coup.
The Roundtable has tried to take advantage of the deep capitalist economic and social crisis in Venezuela to win support for ousting the government. Inflation is running at more than 700 percent a year and there are long lines to attempt to buy scarce basic necessities at government-set prices. Basic life-saving medicines are increasingly hard to find. And violent crimes are common.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Roundtable organized two nationwide strikes to back their call for a boycott. While in middle-class neighborhoods the strikes had success, opposition supporters admitted they didn’t get much traction in working-class areas.
Despite widespread discontent over the economic crisis and the government’s inability to deal with it, working people don’t trust the opposition. They have not forgotten the participation by many of the Roundtable leaders in the 2002 coup that overthrew Hugo Chávez before it was pushed back by a massive outpouring of workers. Maduro became president after Chávez’s death in 2013.
Maduro announced at midnight July 30 that over 8 million people voted for candidates to the 545-member Constituent Assembly. But the head of the company hired to manufacture and oversee the voting system, said Aug. 2 that the government’s figures were at least 1 million too high. The assembly is expected to meet within a few days.
Absent from Maduro’s speech was any mention of the serious challenges facing working people in the face of the deepening capitalist economic crisis — the drop in the price of oil that is the main source of income for the country, the thousands of peasants without land, how to overcome the shortages of medicine.
What Maduro, like Chávez before him, called the Bolivarian Revolution or 21st Century Socialism, was a conscious decision to reject the road of the Cuban Revolution. Instead of organizing workers and farmers to take control of factories, farms and the government, Chávez and Maduro tried to use the state to administer the capitalist economy, using oil profits to fund social programs and subsidize basic necessities. This has come apart under the impact of the deepening worldwide capitalist crisis and growing corruption.
Maduro’s effort to displace the opposition-dominated National Assembly with the newly elected Constituent Assembly, coupled with opposition threats of continuing violent protests, have the potential to escalate polarization and conflict that could open the door to a bloodbath.
The Roundtable says it will keep up its protests. Brushing off any idea of negotiations and dialogue, opposition leader Freddy Guevara said Aug. 2, “Now is a time for action not words.” At least 10 people were killed during violent clashes during the vote.
Maduro said that part of the Constituent Assembly’s moves to sideline the National Assembly will be to remove parliamentary immunity from opposition legislators. Less then two days later Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, two prominent opposition leaders were sent back to prison.
Maduro also said the new body would investigate Luisa Ortega, the Chávez-appointed attorney general who opposed the election and other recent steps Maduro has taken.
So far Washington has been reluctant to use what they call the “nuclear option” of sanctions on oil trade with Venezuela. Venezuela sells 750,000 barrels a day to the U.S. and sanctions would hit both working people in Venezuela and the pocketbook of U.S. capitalists.
Washington wants to see the replacement of the Maduro government, but fears a total collapse of all government institutions and oil production.
Oil workers in several regions of Venezuela demonstrated against the sanctions Aug. 2. “We are here to show our rejection of U.S. intervention,” one demonstrator said on television.
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