Venezuela more de­fi­ant in face of U.S. sanc­tions on ‘dic­ta­tor’ Maduro.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN AND FABI­OLA SANCHEZ ● S.A. Miller and Guy Taylor contributed to this re­port from Wash­ing­ton.

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.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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