Venezuela votes today in what may be the beginning of the end

As you read this, the last of Venezuela’s citizens to vote on the Constituent Assembly are making their way to the polls. (They close at 6 pm eastern time.) This could be viewed as a critical moment in the country’s history if it weren’t so obvious how badly it’s going to turn out. The country’s tyrannical president, Nicolas Maduro, was out before dawn to cast his own vote.

Accompanied by close advisers and state media, Maduro voted at 6:05 a.m. local time, far earlier and less publicly than in previous elections. The run-up to Sunday’s vote has been marked by months of clashes between protesters and the government, including the fatal shooting of a 61-year-old nurse by men accused of being pro-government paramilitaries during a protest this month at a church a few hundred feet from the school where Maduro voted.

“We’ve stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence,” Maduro said. “Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms toward our country.”

CNN has a fairly good summary of what’s at stake and how little chance there is for a Democratic outcome.

After weeks of street clashes and tension, Venezuelans started casting ballots Sunday in a poll that could mark a stark turning point for the country.

The vote would allow President Nicolás Maduro to replace the current legislative body, the National Assembly, with an entirely new institution known as the Constituent Assembly.

Experts say the outcome is a foregone conclusion: Maduro will be able to consolidate political power. The opposition to Maduro fears the vote will erode democracy and give the Venezuelan leader sweeping powers.

To give you an idea of precisely how fair and democratic this vote is going to be, Maduro already announced that all protests in the streets during the voting are illegal and anyone caught participating in any such protest will get ten years in prison. (Which, in Venezuela these days, is pretty much the same as a death sentence.)

Also, the members of this new “constituent assembly” which will replace the democratically elected legislature, are being picked from a slate of candidates who were all selected by the Maduro regime. (The opposition party did not support and does not recognize this election.) Some of the expected winners and new “legislators” include Maduro’s wife, as well as former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and former Vice President Diosdado Cabello.

For those of you who have been following these stories at home, you probably recognize Cabello as one of the more sinister figures under the Chavez regime as well as being someone who has been identified by the United States as a capo in one of the largest drug trafficking cartels in Venezuela. Rodriguez is another Chavista left over from the previous regime who has most recently used her post to become the international television face of Maduro, defending everything he does, no matter how egregious. You can think of her as sort of the Baghdad Bob of Caracas.

When the dust settle from this farce there will be essentially nothing left of the constitutional structure Venezuela once had (such as it was), having essentially been replaced by a single party, socialist – or at that point more correctly communist – authoritarian state. The remaining question is whether or not the protesters will continue their efforts in the face of violent, well armed government militias and eventually cast Maduro out. If not, this may indeed be looked back at as the day when Venezuela became the new Cuba.