1 death is reported in Venezuela during vote
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans lined up across the country and in expatriate communities around the world Sunday to vote in a symbolic rejection of President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a proposal that has raised tensions in a nation battered by shortages and antigovernment protests.
At least one person was killed and three wounded in shootings 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.
Carlos Ocariz, the opposition mayor of the Caracas borough of Sucre, said pro-government paramilitary groups had attacked voters outside the Our Lady of Carmen Church about 3 p.m.
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 the violence, which he blamed on the opposition.
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, creating a Cuba-style system dominated by his socialist party.
The opposition is boycotting the constitutional assembly. Instead, it called backers to 2,000 sites across the country Sunday to fill out ballots featuring three yes-or-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?
The government called the opposition vote a manipulation aimed at destabilizing the country, and has been urging its supporters to participate in the constitutional assembly.
Polls show that barely 20 percent of Venezuelans favor rewriting the late Hugo Chávez’s 1999 constitution — about the same level of support as for Maduro.
Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers.
Clashes between protesters and the police have left at least 93 people dead, 1,500 wounded and more than 500 behind bars.