Venezuela defiant in face of sanctions
Highly criticized constitutional assembly vote bolsters Maduro’s hold on power
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Venezuela’s socialist government on Monday claimed a popular mandate to dramatically recast the country’s political system even as condemnations of the process poured in from governments around the world and the opposition at home.
The United States added President Nicolas Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions — escalating a tactic that has so far failed to alter the Venezuelan government’s behaviour. The Trump administration backed away from earlier threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry — a move that could undermine Maduro’s government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
Electoral authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers — a figure widely disputed by independent analysts.
Opinion polls showed 85 per cent of Venezuelans disapproved of the constitutional assembly and similar numbers disapprove of Maduro’s overall performance. Independent analysts and opposition leaders estimated the real turnout at less than half the government’s claim in a vote watched by government-allied observers, but no internationally recognized poll monitors.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of the central state of Miranda, urged Venezuelans to protest Monday against an assembly that critics fear will effectively create a singleparty state.
In a strike at Venezuela’s already flailing economy, U.S. officials said the Trump administration is preparing to levy new sanctions on Venezuela, following through on threats to impose penalties if the country went through with the weekend election.
The officials said the new sanctions will likely target Venezuela’s oil sector, including possibly its state owned petroleum company. One official said an announcement was imminent. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Maduro has said the new assembly will begin to govern within a week. He said he would use the assembly’s powers to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections in December unless they sit with his party to negotiate an end to hostilities.
“If it wasn’t a tragedy ... if it didn’t mean more crisis, the electoral council’s number would almost make you laugh,” opposition leader Freddy Guevara said on Twitter. Maduro has threatened that one of the constitutional assembly’s first acts would be jailing Guevara for inciting violence.
National Guard officers stand inside Venezuela’s National Assembly grounds in Caracas. Authorities said more than 8 million people voted Sunday.