In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, violence erupting between common citizens and authoritarian police forces took hold Saturday on the night before a controversial election, which has deepened the political crisis facing the South American nation for months.
The clashes between the police and civilians sparked late Friday afternoon and went into Saturday, as protesters of all ages created strongholds of tree branches, garbage and barbed wire to resist officers. While this unfolded in the wealthy eastern territory of the capital, other areas of the city remained calm.
President Nicolás Maduro, who runs a highly corrupt socialist government, is facing Sunday’s vote to elect members of a special assembly that would rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution created under President Hugo Chávez. However, according to the Associated Press and other reporting local media, Maduro’s government has rigged the election to fall in their favor.
In turn, opposition leaders have called for massive marches on the day of the vote, claiming the socialist government is so afraid of low turnout that it’s threatening to fire state workers who don’t vote. They are also apparently implementing a policy to take away social benefits like subsidized food from recipients who refuse to vote.
A fear many observers have is that the resulting National Constituent Assembly could become so powerful that it will turn into single-party authoritarian system. In essence, civil war is a possibility since Maduro lacks responsiveness to peaceful protests, according to Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuelan associate at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“The government controls the armed forces and has all the guns, but at the same time the opposition is taking all the steps needed to take over the government,” Ramsey said, whose organization promotes human rights, democracy and economic justice.
Ramsey added that Maduro’s regime is unlikely to last, considering many of his policies and decisions are affecting everyone throughout the country, including his most loyal supporters and associates. “It’s fair to suspect that widespread food and medicine shortages are taking a toll of the loyalty of the military,” he said. “Everyone is affected by this.”
Executive director of Inter American Trends, Antonio De la Cruz, claims more violence will sprout and an increase in casualties in upcoming weeks is imminent, though he holds higher doubts about a civil war unfolding unlike Ramsey. In a statement, De la Cruz states:
“A civil war occurs in a country where the opposition confronts its government with weapons, and the opposition (in Venezuela) has none. The military would have to divide and turn against the government. There will be deaths, a lot of deaths if the government decides to continue oppressing its people. What could happen is more violence and more deaths caused by the government.”
Polling indicates that more than 70% of the country is opposed to the election. However, as many as half of all Venezuelans support neither the government nor the opposition league.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration slapped Venezuela with new sanctions targeting 13 current or former top officials in the socialist government and threatened extensive penalties if he goes through with efforts to rewrite the constitution in his image. The timing is considerably needed, since about 113 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 have been wounded since the start of the four month protest culminating towards the election.
Thus, Vice President Mike Pence hammered down on the threat Friday, promising “strong and swift economic sanctions” against the Maduro government following Sunday’s vote.
Video coverage of the deadly protests can be viewed below:
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