Venezuela more defiant in face of U.S. sanctions on ‘dictator’ Maduro.
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.
In Washington, the Trump administration denounced President Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator” and added 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 behavior. The Trump administration backed away from earlier threats to sanction Venezuela’s oil industry — a move that could undermine Mr. Maduro’s government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster called Sunday’s vote a “shame election” and a “very serious blow to democracy in our hemisphere.”
“He’s not just a bad leader, he is now a dictator,” Mr. McMaster said. “The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of this oppression.”
Electoral authorities contended more than 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing Mr. Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers — a figure widely disputed by independent analysts.
The official result would mean the ruling party won more support than it had in any national election since 2013, despite a cratering economy, spiraling inflation, shortages of medicine and malnutrition. Opinion polls showed 85 percent of Venezuelans disapproved of the constitutional assembly and similar numbers disapprove of Mr. Maduro’s overall performance.
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 single-party state.
Mr. 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 that have generated four months of protests that have killed at least 120 and wounded nearly 2,000.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office reported 10 deaths in new rounds of clashes Sunday between protesters and police. Seven police officers were wounded when a fiery explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.
Mr. Maduro says a new constitution is the only way to end such conflicts.
“The people have delivered the constitutional assembly,” the president, a protégé of the late anti-U.S. populist leader Hugo Chavez, said on national television. “... It’s when imperialism challenges us that we prove ourselves worthy of the blood of the liberators that runs through the veins of men, women, children and young people.”
The European Union and nations including Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Spain and Britain joined the U.S. in condemning Sunday’s vote. Mr. Maduro said he had received congratulations from the governments of Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua, among others.
Opposition leaders had called for a boycott of the vote, declaring it rigged for the ruling party. Ahead of the vote, the opposition organized a series of work stoppages as well as a July 16 protest referendum that it said drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly.
The president of the opposition-led National Assembly, Julio Borges, told Venezuelan news channel Globovision Monday that Mr. Maduro’s foes would continue protesting until they won free elections and a change of government.
Mr. Maduro called the vote for a constitutional assembly in May after a month of protests against his government, which has overseen Venezuela’s descent into a devastating crisis during its four years in power. Due to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement, Venezuela’s inflation and homicide rates are among the world’s highest, and widespread shortages of food and medicine have citizens dying of preventable illnesses and rooting through trash to feed themselves.
The 545-seat constituent assembly will have the task of rewriting the country’s constitution and will have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the oppositioncontrolled congress.
While not targeting the energy sector, the Trump administration action was unusual in applying sanctions to the elected president of a country, freezing Mr. Maduro’s assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting U.S. persons from doing business with him. In February, just a month after taking office, Mr. Trump approved sanctions against Tareck El Aissami, Mr. Maduro’s vice president, a major international drug “kingpin.”
Pedestrians walk past a barricade made by demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday. Authorities said more than 8 million people voted to create a constitutional assembly endowing President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling party with virtually unlimited powers.