It looks like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the guy who told President Trump to “keep his pig hands off of his country,” is moving forward with his latest scheme to hang on to power in his crumbling country. He’s planning a referendum to allow the people to elect delegates to write a new constitution. This isn’t making anyone terribly happy because what they actually want are new elections, preferably with Maduro leaving the scene in a peaceful transition of power. But any move toward elections is a good thing, right? Probably not in this case. The still rather vague plan being rolled out by Maduro will indeed let voters pick the people who would write the new constitution, but only certain people. And you can bet they are the ones in line with the wishes of the current socialist regime and the opposition may not even participate. (Associated Press)
The opposition has all but ruled out participating what it considers a ploy by officials to avoid elections the government would surely lose. The U.S. and several foreign governments have also condemned the proposal for a new charter as anti-democratic…
Under the rules Maduro designed for the constituent assembly polling, two-thirds of the delegates will be selected at a municipal level, meaning sparsely-populated rural areas where the opposition has struggled to make inroads will have a larger say than cities where the protests are raging. The remaining delegates will be chosen in a still-unclear voting exercise by sector-specific groups such as workers’ unions and community councils — constituencies the government has traditionally dominated.
You can see how Maduro is attempting to stack the deck. Two thirds of the delegates would be chosen in a way which gives far more weight to the rural areas where he maintains the most control rather than the urban population centers where people are protesting the most. Another full third of delegates would be chosen by “workers unions and community councils” which is coded language for the local party officials and their lackeys who report on their fellow citizens to the government.
With that in mind, the opposition is left with an unappetizing choice. If they sit out the elections it will likely be almost entirely Maduro’s hand picked people who write the constitution, no doubt giving even more authoritarian power to the president and weakening or even dissolving the legislature. But if they take part in this charade, it’s a tacit agreement that Maduro is still legitimately in power and working on “reforms” which takes away some of the impetus of the protests currently going on. Not a pretty picture either way you slice it.
Unfortunately, time may be running out for a peaceful, productive solution. If Maduro manages to pull off this scheme he will likely cement himself in place as a true dictator and the real, wholesale oppression of any opposing voices can begin. Other leaders from the region have seen the writing on the wall as well. Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga has a column available at the Huffington Post where he warns that Venezuala is at a turning point and is in danger of becoming the North Korea of the Caribbean.
Democracy is also in shambles. Opposition leaders have been jailed, exiled or disbarred. Their passports have been annulled. And they are not allowed to board local flights. The regime has muzzled the free press, and it owns most media outlets.
Venezuela is at the crossroads: the beginning of the end of this narco-dictatorship or the beginning of a North Korea in the Caribbean.
How did we get here? In part from the regime’s own struggles to maintain a grip on power even after it lost ground ― and the opposition’s immense effort to continue to hold it to account.
Thus far Maduro has been able to ignore the protests of the international community and continue on with his plans. Things like sanctions and reductions in direct aid haven’t swayed him and nobody wants to entirely cut off humanitarian aid because the people in that country are already starving. But if Maduro does manage to set himself up as the next Kim Jong-un we’re going to have yet another headache on our hands, only much closer to home.
Still, this isn’t a problem which the United States can or even should solve for the people of Venezuela. If they want Maduro gone and a return to free elections, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Whether they find a way to do it peacefully or are forced to resort to violence remains to be seen.