OPPOSITION GEARS UP FOR RALLY
They claim President Maduro’s plan to rewrite constitution a ploy to delay polls
VENEZUELA’S angry opposition was set to hold a huge protest rally yesterday against unpopular President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal to rewrite the constitution, dismissing it as a ploy to avoid holding elections and cling to power.
In an oil-rich country saddled with shortages of food, medicine and such basics as soap and toilet paper, a steady wave of protests against the socialist Maduro and his government has been on for more than a month.
And, the death toll from violence at the rallies rose to 29 on Tuesday, with word from the government that a young man it said had been looting was shot by a shopkeeper in the northern city of Valencia.
Barricades of rubbish and bins blocked streets in Venezuela on Tuesday in protests that seem likely to intensify after Maduro announced his idea of electing a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.
That body would not include political parties with seats in congress but rather representatives of social sectors, such as workers, farmers and other communities.
His plan, announced on Monday, has inflamed the opposition, which is calling for even bigger demonstrations to demand elections. Yesterday’s rally was being described as a “mega protest”.
“The idea is not to consult with the people, but rather for the ruling party itself to choose so as to have a tailor-made constitution. We have to up the pressure in the streets,” said Freddy Guevara, deputy speaker of the opposition controlled National Assembly.
The Venezuelan opposition said the gambit further weakened the chances of holding a vote to remove Maduro, whom they blamed for the economic crisis that had sparked the food shortages and rioting.
A presidential election is supposed to be held next year. The opposition has been pushing for months to oust Maduro from power through a recall vote. But, that effort stalled.
Polls showed that more than 70 per cent of people interviewed did not support Maduro, a former bus driver hand-picked by the late Hugo Chavez to succeed him.
The idea of rewriting the constitution, said Diego Moya-Campos of the London-based risk consultancy IHS Markit, “is a desperate measure by a government that knows it cannot call elections because it is going to lose and resorts to polarisation”.
Maduro said the process to bring in a new constitution was necessary to fend off what he described as an attempted foreignbacked “coup” against him.
He has vowed to defend the socialist “revolution” launched by Chavez, who oversaw the writing of the current constitution. Chavez died in 2013. Analysts said the socialist president was playing looking to delay the presidential election.
“Maduro is gaining time at the expense of everybody, including by stomping on the roadmap left by Chavez himself,” said one socialist-leaning analyst, Nicmer Evans.
“This constituent assembly Maduro wants is a clear betrayal of Chavez and the people.”
Fresh violence erupted on Tuesday as armed men clashed with riot police, who fired tear gas here, where hundreds of people blocked streets.
State ombudsman Tarek William Saab said on Twitter that masked men threw Molotov cocktails at a building housing a branch of his department in Valencia.
The United States reiterated its concerns for democracy in Venezuela after Maduro’s announcement.
“We view it as a step backwards,” said top State Department official Michael Fitzpatrick.
The past month of protests has shut down many schools and businesses.
The city’s once-vibrant nightlife has died due to fears of violence and looting.
A woman holding a Venezuelan flag on her chest as she joins a roadblock in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday.