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.

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