Venezue­lans block roads to protest Maduro con­sti­tu­tion call

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Cara­cas res­i­dents blocked streets with bro­ken con­crete and twisted metal and flam­ing piles of trash Tues­day to protest the so­cial­ist pres­i­dent’s bid to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion amid a deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro signed a de­cree Mon­day to be­gin the process of rewrit­ing the coun­try’s char­ter. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers called the planned con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly a ploy to put off re­gional elec­tions sched­uled for this year and a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that was to be held in 2018.

Polling sug­gests the so­cial­ists would lose both those elec­tions badly at a time of wide­spread anger over triple-digit in­fla­tion and short­ages of food and other goods.

Speak­ing hours af­ter yet an­other big anti-govern­ment march ended in rock throw­ing and tear gas, Maduro said a new con­sti­tu­tion was needed to re­store peace.

“This will be a cit­i­zens’ assem­bly made up of work­ers,” the pres­i­dent said Mon­day. “The day has come brothers. Don’t fail me now.”

“I am no Mus­solini,” he added. The pres­i­dent was vague about how mem­bers of the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly would be cho­sen. He hinted some would se­lected by vot­ers, but many ob­servers ex­pect the se­lec­tion process to favour the so­cial­ists.

If the con­sti­tu­tional process goes for­ward, op­po­si­tion lead­ers will need to fo­cus on get­ting at least some sym­pa­thetic fig­ures in­cluded in the assem­bly. That could dis­tract them from or­ga­niz­ing the near-daily street protests that have kept up for four weeks, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Luis Vi­cente Leon said.

“It’s a way of call­ing elec­tions that uses up en­ergy but does not carry risk, be­cause it’s not a univer­sal, di­rect and se­cret vote,” Leon said. “And it has the ef­fect of push­ing out the pos­si­bil­ity of elec­tions this year and prob­a­bly next year as well.”

Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion was last rewrit­ten in 1999, early in the 14-year pres­i­dency of the late Hugo Chavez, who launched a so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion in the oil­ex­port­ing na­tion. Chavez called his new con­sti­tu­tion the best in the world, and promised it would last cen­turies. He car­ried around a blue pocket-sized ver­sion of the doc­u­ment, and would of­ten whip it out and say, “This is our Bible. Af­ter the Bible, this.” At the height of his pop­u­lar­ity, peo­ple would mob him to ask that he sign their copies.

The op­po­si­tion im­me­di­ately seized on Maduro’s pro­posal for a new char­ter as ev­i­dence that his men­tor’s revo­lu­tion lies in sham­bles.

The pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional Assem­bly, Julio Borges, called a con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly a “giant fraud” by Maduro and his al­lies de­signed to keep them in power. Borges said it would deny Venezue­lans the right to ex­press their views at the bal­lot box, and he urged the mil­i­tary to pre­vent the “coup” by Maduro.

AP PHOTO

A woman rests on a tire at a road­block set up by res­i­dents out­side her home in El Hatillo’s mu­nic­i­pal­ity near Cara­cas, Venezuela, Tues­day.

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