Published: Sun, July 30, 2017
World Media | By Shelia Harmon

Venezuela Bans Protests Nationwide As Constitutional Referendum Approaches

Venezuela Bans Protests Nationwide As Constitutional Referendum Approaches

The government announced security measures that include banning protests through Tuesday.

Even though the Venezuelan government seized control of a General Motors (GM) plant in the country in April, forcing the automaker to pull the plug on its operations there, fellow automaker Toyota Motors (TM) also said it has no plans to exit the country.

This week's death toll topped last week's one-day strike, when five people were killed.

Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organization of American States, a regional political bloc, urged Maduro to suspend Sunday's election. Across the city, residents said they wanted President Nicolas Maduro out of power but didn't want to risk their lives or livelihoods taking on his socialist government and its backers.

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro called the vote as protests against his government gained momentum in May.

But Maduro repeated "there was no going back" during a public ceremony where he said the process will be "a great space for dialogue" that will serve to build a "new productive economy".

The US has responded to Maduro's intransigence by imposing economic sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials, freezing their US assets and forbidding US entities from doing business with them. He didn't say whether the US would sanction Venezuelan oil imports, a measure with the potential to undermine Maduro but cause an even deeper humanitarian crisis here. Although the ruling was partially rescinded, street protests have continued over food scarcities, rising crime and Maduro's autocratic actions, including what some describe as an illegal effort to rewrite the constitution.

Pressure on state employees is higher than ever, according to interviews with two dozen workers at institutions ranging from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to the Caracas subway, as well as text messages, internal statements, and videos seen by Reuters. Opponents see the Constituent Assembly as a step toward dictatorship by the party of President Nicolas Maduro.

The new assembly would comprise 545 citizens chosen from across the country, and from societal sectors over which Maduro's government holds influence meaning opposition voices would be diluted or excluded.

Maduro, who has said that rewriting the constitution is needed to restore order, told a rally earlier this week in Caracas that he has proposed talks with the opposition.

The United Nations human rights office said it was "deeply concerned" about the "very tense and very hard situation" in Venezuela. The new constituent assembly، comprising 545 members، will rival the National Assembly، now controlled by the opposition.

The flagship airline in neighboring Colombia said it was suspending all flights to Venezuela, citing security concerns.

"Nobody wants to be the guy that raises gas prices, that's not good for elected people", says Russ Dallen, managing partner of Caracas Capital, a US investing firm that doesn't own Venezuelan debt.

With surveys showing that nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly, the government wants to avoid embarrassingly low turnout in a ballot being boycotted by the opposition.

"They burned some of his hair", Romero said.

But it will also have the power to change laws and to dissolve the legislature, the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition. Inflation is expected to jump 720 percent and unemployment to reach 28 percent this year, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund.

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