By Blake Burdge
Claiming victory over his opposition and perceived U.S.-backed imperialist efforts, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro celebrated the prevalence, last Sunday, of what he calls democratic efforts to bring peace to a country that has been struck with economic and political crises.
The Constituent Assembly election is not the beginning of Maduro’s unraveling of democracy in Venezuela; rather, it represents the beginning of the end. Since his thin victory in 2013, Maduro has chiseled away his country’s democratic institutions, postponing elections and delegitimizing the opposition’s constitutional effort to hold a presidential recall referendum. He has stacked the supreme court in his favor and recently has tried to strip the legislative power of the National Assembly, the only of the government’s three branches not controlled by his Chavista allies.
Despite the celebration of Maduro and his allies following last Sunday’s Constituent Assembly vote, the results have been met with heavy criticism. The international community, echoing the opposition’s concerns, raises skepticism with the government’s reported results following Sunday’s vote. While official figures reported by the government equate to roughly 8 million votes, Maduro says that votes exceed 10 million. However, numerous entities have disputed these claims, the most prominent being Smartmatic, the voting technology firm that has provided services and equipment for Venezuela since 2004. The company released a statement shortly following the election, asserting that the results were undoubtedly “tampered” with. The firm maintains that it has supported every past vote in Venezuela regardless of the outcome. The Vatican has even spoken against Maduro’s actions, calling on him to suspend the Constituent Assembly on the basis that he must respect the rights of the Venezuelan people prescribed by its constitution, and that all parties involved, specifically the government, must avoid “disproportionate use of force.”
While many parties within and outside of Venezuela have called for free and fair elections, Maduro and his allies continue to threaten to clamp down on dissenting and opposing individuals. Protests were banned in the days before and during the Constituent Assembly election, which the opposition had refused to vote in, essentially silencing all legal forms of dissent. Hours after the Constituent Assembly elections, opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were taken forcefully by authorities from their homes and thrown in jail. On Friday, Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s once-loyal chavista Attorney General, was removed from office by force and replaced by a government loyalist, and is now being investigated for “irregularities” by an entirely pro-Maduro government.
All of this points to Maduro’s mockery of democracy. The Constituent Assembly allowed for a vote into choosing representatives to rewrite the constitution, but who is to say that the Venezuelan people want a new constitution? In an unofficial vote, more than 7 million voters opposed the Constituent Assembly’s, which is striking when compared to the mere 3.7 million voters that had cast their ballots by the official closing time of the Constituent Assembly’s election. After postponing elections that his party was slated to lose and nullifying recall referendum efforts on baseless charges, Maduro is forcing his people to accept a new constitution that is will give him greater power.
Maduro has set a table that hosts an incredibly dangerous cast of guests, leaving a majority who suffer at his expense with scraps. While his people starve, he prefers to pit them against each other than to work to heal the country as a whole, solely for political gain. An already-violent political climate has become more intensely divided with Maduro’s newest attempt to silence those who long for humane treatment from their leaders.
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