Latin America News

Venezuelans overwhelmingly reject Nicolás Maduro’s plans for a constituent assembly

Millions of Venezuelans signaled their disapproval of President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to hold a constituent assembly by casting ballots on Sunday in a vote unlike any other in this nation’s history.

Venezuelans lined up to vote in Caracas. (New York Times)

More than 98 percent of voters sided with the opposition in answering three yes-or-no questions drafted with the aim of weakening Mr. Maduro’s legitimacy days before his constituent assembly is expected to convene. Opponents see the assembly as a power grab by an increasingly unpopular leader and fear he may use it to do away with democratic elections.

Sunday’s exercise, known as a popular consultation, was organized by a slate of opposition parties that dominate Venezuela’s National Assembly.

Organizers had hoped that a large turnout and a lopsided result would widen rifts within the governing party and deepen the government’s international isolation, undermining Mr. Maduro’s plan to appoint an assembly of handpicked supporters to draft a new Constitution.

Shortly before midnight, a group of Venezuelan university administrators tasked with overseeing the vote count said that more than 7,186,000 ballots had been cast. Organizers hailed the outcome and the turnout.

 “This country demonstrated once again that it conquers its aspirations through the vote,” Cecilia García Arocha, the head of the Central University of Venezuela, said as she announced the results.

“This fight was born on the street and today it continues and will continue to be waged on the streets until we restore democracy and liberty,” Leopoldo López, an opposition leader released from prison and placed under house arrest last weekend, said on Twitter. “Today millions decide and establish a mandate. No one should doubt that it is binding and that we must defend it and ensure it is heeded.”

Voters were asked whether they rejected the effort to hold a constituent assembly that has not been approved by voters; whether they wanted the country’s armed forces to uphold the current Constitution and the decisions of the opposition-run National Assembly; and whether they wanted free elections to pick a new “national unity government.”

The Venezuelan Constitution passed under Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, in 1999 includes a provision authorizing popular consultations as a means of safeguarding “people’s exercise of their sovereignty.” Venezuela’s election commission did not play a role in Sunday’s vote, which was run by volunteers. The opposition, citing the Constitution, says the vote is binding, but the government dismisses it as illegitimate.

While Mr. Maduro is widely expected to ignore the outcome, organizers hope that it invigorates a protest movement that has gained momentum over the past couple of months. Tensions have soared across Venezuela amid widespread food and medicine shortages and spiraling inflation that the government routinely plays down.

For ordinary Venezuelans, Sunday’s vote was the first opportunity to cast ballots since the 2015 legislative election that ended the United Socialist Party’s dominance of the National Assembly. The government has postponed every election that was scheduled to take place since then.

While the vote unfolded smoothly in most cities, there were scattered reports of violence and intimidation, including the killing of a 61-year-old woman on the outskirts of Caracas, the capital, during an attack by gunmen near a voting site. The attorney general’s office identified the woman, a nurse, as Xiomara Escot.

Voters waited in line for hours to slip ballots printed on simple paper into old cardboard boxes that bore logos of items such as toilet paper and doughnuts.

Daniela Ramos, 64, a homemaker in Caracas, said she was voting with a heavy heart. One of her daughters, a mother of two, was killed during a robbery. The killing prompted her other daughter to move to the United States. “I vote so my daughter can come back,” she said. “I vote for my slain daughter.”

Rainiero Paz, 39, said he was stunned by the turnout. “This exceeded our expectations; I haven’t even seen this during presidential elections,” said Mr. Paz, who recently lost his job at a warehouse after Mr. Maduro ordered wage increases.

While opponents of the government lined up to vote, Maduro loyalists held a “drill” for the constituent assembly, calling on supporters to participate in a mock voting exercise that was covered widely on state-run news outlets. The turnout for that was notably thin.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who recently broke ranks with Mr. Maduro and has criticized his plan to convene a constituent assembly as undemocratic, stopped by an opposition-run voting station. As she greeted voters, one told her, “Welcome to freedom.”

Ms. Ortega’s husband, a lawmaker from Mr. Maduro’s United Socialist Party, cast a ballot responding only to the first question.

Abroad, opposition leaders set up dozens of polling stations in cities with large communities of Venezuelan expatriates. In Rio de Janeiro, voters lined up at a park next to a large banner that said “S.O.S. Venezuela.”

“Our best weapon is this: our vote,” said María Carolina Ceballos, 31, who had a Venezuelan flag wrapped around her shoulders. “We reject violence and we will continue to defend Venezuela always through democratic means.”
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Credit: New York Times, www.nytimes.com

  • Jim Booth

    One reason Maduro is so desperate to hold onto power and deny people the right to vote is concern for his own safety. Where does he go to avoid prison (or a lynching) once he’s voted out of office? North Korea and Cuba are probably his only options.

    • Jason Faulkner

      Considering how many black people the “peaceful opposition” has lynched in the past two months (because apparently black equals Chavista now), you’re probably right. Now imagine those people with the reigns of government at their disposal. The Caracazo is going to look like a picnic by comparison.

      • StillWatching

        Notice the links to support all of faulkner’s assertions?

        Me either.

  • StillWatching

    I told you so, folks…

  • Jason Faulkner

    Feel better?

  • Jason Faulkner

    This is the part where the keyboard warriors tell us that it’s Maduro’s fault that the “peaceful opposition” has spent the last 4 months murdering scores of innocent civilians, burning down food warehouses and trucks, destroying schools and universities and assassinating their political opponents in cold blood in their own homes . . . all while decrying food shortages, lack of infrastructure and homicides.

    Maduro is mediocre at best. There’s no denying that. However, I’m fascinated to see how quickly the useful idiots will come to the defense of fascists as if they were the only viable alternative. A bunch of anglophone expats, people with no dog in this fight, people with nothing to lose or gain, have convinced themselves that this is personal. It’s almost like when Time Magazine declared Adolf Hitler the “Man of the Year”. A whole lot of gringos applauded his efforts as well. After all, he was “saving Germany”.

    Do you people ever get tired of being on the wrong side of history? Will you even be around long enough to realize you were wrong the whole time? Even Charles Lindbergh lived long enough to realize he was nothing but a useful idiot for fascism and admitted as much. I doubt any of the cheerleaders here have as much integrity. Heck, most of you are hiding behind pseudonyms already.

    Maduro will fall. He doesn’t have the mental fortitude to resist this onslaught. Whatever. Venezuela has been a basket case since the 70s. Chavez offered the only decades of growth and stability they’ve ever known. I wonder if any of you self-proclaimed political scientists will have the integrity to comment on the mass deaths and crushing poverty that will result when the fascists you’re all cheering for ultimately take power.

    I suspect you’ll just slink away like the intellectual cowards you all have proven to be by hiding behind fake names and hidden comments. Ultimately someone has to be on the wrong side of history. Otherwise, how would we ever know which side was right?

    Feel free to start offering your opinions on how Pinochet saved Chile.

  • Michael Berger

    Our best weapon is this: our vote” And that folks is what happens when a population is disarmed and turned into slaves. One of Chavez’s children, Maria Gabriela herself has over 4.2 Billion dollars that was stolen from the people of Venezuela, many of whom can’t even afford food while she goes on coke binges in Miami’s finest night clubs and hotels.

    • Jason Faulkner

      Venezuela disarmed? It’s one of the most armed populations in the world. Do you know anything about Venezuela that didn’t come from an English-language internet site?

      And that 4.2 billion dollar meme is really tired. It’s been investigated a million times over by everyone from the Miami Herald to the Washington Post. It was made up out of whole cloth by a gringo blogger 5 years ago and repeated (and inflated) endlessly by people like you who don’t bother verifying data so long as it validates their worldview. When pressed for his source, the blogger readily admitted that he didn’t have one.

      Don’t be a useful idiot for fascists. Just because you want something to be true doesn’t mean it is nor does it mean you should repeat it. It’s hard to take anyone’s opinion seriously when they base it on an objectively false foundation.

  • Jim Larkin

    If you really want to know what’s going on in Venezuela, talk to the thousands of refugees crowding into Quito, Cuenca & Guayaquil. First hand reports are much more reliable than the rabble you pick up cruising the internet with a preconceived agenda.

    • Jason Faulkner

      I live next door to several Venezuelans. I hang out with them regularly. They get the best rum. After an hour of conversing, I have the tendency to take on their accent. Then Ecuadorians make fun of me. I just got off the phone with a longtime Venezuelan friend living in Chile. He was my assistant in Pedernales after the earthquake. You don’t have any privileged information, so stop deflecting. Nothing in your words changes the fact that your narrative is bogus nor does it dispute the fact that every instance I stated in my post, which you ignore to keep your fantasy going, is true and verifiable. You’re rooting for fascists. You’re cheering for terrorists, all because you need the world to square with your extremist ideology.

      You cannot substantiate your claims of tyranny with any actual facts, so you play the “first hand accounts” gambit. You’ve given first hand accounts of massive protests met with brutal oppression in Ecuador. I guess we’ll just take that at face value then. The fact that you cannot find a single news article or YouTube video to support your assertions means nothing because, as you have clearly indicated, your first hand account trumps reality. Stop with the poseur nonsense already. Integrity is not difficult. It only requires that you accept that your philosophy doesn’t always square with reality and admit when you’ve been duped. You appear to be duped quite often. Does that make you naive or just useful?

      But since you’re in a replying mood, did you find those massive protests that were met with brutal repression yet? Better yet, maybe you can try to distract us again by showing how the Venezuelan populace has been disarmed. I’m sure the sources of your “first hand reports” would get a great laugh out of that one.