Whatever last vestige of democracy was left in Venezuela was wiped away Thursday when the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro suspended an effort to put a recall referendum to a vote. From the Associated Press:
With the latest actions, the government has effectively halted the effort to stage a recall effort that polls suggest Maduro would have lost by a wide margin. The ruling is particularly dramatic because it comes just days before critics of the socialist administration were to start gathering the one-fifth of voters’ signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.
“This is a big deal and reveals that the government was fearful of what could happen in the three-day signature collection period. They have effectively postponed the recall referendum indefinitely. This measure makes it difficult to think of Venezuela as a democracy,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America…
The suspension of the recall came as a shock to many Venezuelans, who were gearing up for the chance to sign petitions next week seeking the embattled leader’s removal. To trigger a stay-or-go referendum, the opposition needed to collect and validate some 4 million signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in 24 states over three days next week.
The recall referendum itself is legal but the socialist government has been delaying the effort for months. The officials excuse for calling it off now is that fraud was involved in an earlier step of the process involving the gathering of signatures. That earlier step required the gathering of 200,000 signatures. The opposition turned in 1.8 million just to be sure.
Henrique Capriles, one of the leaders of the opposition, said on Twitter, “the Government pushes today to a very dangerous stage and increase of the crisis.” He also posted an image of an ominous legal document which orders that he and 7 other opposition leaders not leave the country. No reason was given for the order.
Venezuela has been suffering under triple-digit inflation which has made finding food, medicine and other basic goods a daily struggle for most Venezuelans. The country also has the second highest murder rate in the world. President Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chavez who died of cancer in 2013.