Woman slain, 4 hurt as vi­o­lence erupts at crit­i­cal Venezuela vote

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NEWS - By Michael Weissenstein and Fabiola Sanchez As­so­ci­at­edPress

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Venezu­lans lined up across the coun­try and in ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­ni­ties around the world Sunday to vote in a sym­bolic re­jec­tion of President Ni­co­las Maduro’s plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, a pro­posal that’s rais­ing ten­sions in a na­tion bat­tered by short­ages and anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

A 61-year-old woman was killed and four peo­ple wounded in shoot­ing that erupted af­ter gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers on mo­tor­cy­cles swarmed an op­po­si­tion polling site in a church in the tra­di­tion­ally pro-gov­ern­ment Ca­tia neigh­bor­hood of west­ern Caracas.

The op­po­si­tion mayor of the Caracas bor­ough of Su­cre, Car­los Ocariz, said pro-gov­ern­ment para­mil­i­tary groups at­tacked vot­ers out­side the Our Lady of Car­men Church around 3 p.m.

Video posted to so­cial me­dia showed mas­sive crowds out­side the church, then hun­dreds of peo­ple run­ning in panic out­side the church as mo­tor­cy­clerid­ing men zoomed past and shots rang out.

Maduro made no men­tion of the in­ci­dent in com­ments on state tele­vi­sion shortly af­ter the of­fi­cial close of op­po­si­tion polls at 4 p.m., but he called for an end to vi­o­lence that he blamed on the op­po­si­tion.

“I’m call­ing on the op­po­si­tion to re­turn to peace, to re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion, to sit and talk,” Maduro said. “Let’s start a new round of talks, of di­a­logue for peace.”

In what ap­peared to be smaller num­bers in many parts of the cap­i­tal, gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers went to polling sta­tions in a re­hearsal for a July 30 vote to elect mem­bers of the assem­bly that will re­tool Venezuela’s 1999 con­sti­tu­tion.

The op­po­si­tion says that vote has been struc­tured to pack the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly with gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers and al­low Maduro to elim­i­nate the few re­main­ing checks on his power.

The suc­cess of the op­po­si­tion’s sym­bolic ref­er­en­dum will be mea­sured by how many mil­lions par­tic­i­pate. Demo­cratic Unity, a coali­tion of some 20 op­po­si­tion par­ties, printed 14 mil­lion bal­lots for vot­ers in­side and out­side the coun­try of 31 mil­lion peo­ple. Few ex­pected turnout that high, but an­a­lysts say par­tic­i­pa­tion by more than 8 mil­lion peo­ple would put pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion ap­peared to be high, with large crowds of peo­ple lin­ing up at ta­bles in churches and parks across the cap­i­tal.

Juan Madriz, a 45-yearold in­sur­ance com­pany em­ployee, said he didn’t ob­ject to rewrit­ing the con­sti­tu­tion per se but re­jected Maduro’s de­ci­sion to do so with­out putting that de­ci­sion to a vote, as his pre­de­ces­sor Hugo Chavez did.

“If they’re forc­ing us, it isn’t democ­racy,” Madriz said.

Maduro and the mil­i­tary dom­i­nate most state in­sti­tu­tions, but the op­po­si­tion con­trols the congress and holds three of 23 gov­er­nor­ships. The coun­try’s chief pros­e­cu­tor has re­cently bro­ken with the rul­ing party.

The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly. In­stead, it called back­ers to 2,000 sites across the coun­try to fill out bal­lots fea­tur­ing three yesor-no ques­tions: Do they re­ject the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they sup­port the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment com­prised both of Maduro back­ers and op­po­nents?

Polls show that barely 20 per­cent of Venezue­lans fa­vor rewrit­ing the late Chavez’s 1999 con­sti­tu­tion — about the same level of sup­port as for Maduro.

FED­ERICO PARRA/GETTY-AFP

Peo­ple gather in Caracas on Sunday to cast votes on rewrit­ing the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion.

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