As Venezuelans Strike, US Announces Sanctions Against Maduro

Friday, 28 Jul, 2017

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is set to defy pleas from world leaders and his own people on Sunday by holding an election which is expected to plunge the crisis-ridden country into new depths of uncertainty.

Despite the fierce criticism surrounding Sunday's vote, Maduro claims the Constituent Assembly is democratic and that there was no need to hold a constitutional referendum, as Chavez did in 1999.

A 30-year-old man was killed on Wednesday at a protest in Ejida, in the western state of Merida.

The United States Wednesday announced sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan government officials to pressure their president Nicolas Maduro into halting his plan to rewrite the constitution. At least 98 people have died in the four months of demonstrations, according to the AP.

Even some of Maduro's opponents have cautioned that he could rally his supporters under a nationalist banner if the United States goes too far on sanctions just as Venezuelans suffer a brutal economic crisis with food and medicine shortages.

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro rejected USA economic sanctions imposed on Wednesday against 13 current and former officials in the country, defining them as "illegal". But the two Maduro allies were not included in the latest round of punitive measures.

The ongoing political turmoil in the country has not affected Venezuela's strategic cooperation with Russian Federation, first and foremost in the gas and oil industry, Maduro told RT, adding that such cooperation is actually strengthening.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

"On July 30, the constituent (assembly) will go ahead with the vote of the people", he said in a televised broadcast.

He called the sanctions "illegal, insolent, and unprecedented".

Several other airlines have previously announced flight suspensions as currency controls imposed by Maduro's government have kept them from recovering costs or making a profit.

Those moves came as a coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organized a second national strike in a week.

The United States chose to target individuals for alleged human rights abuses, undermining democracy and corruption, while sparing the country for now from broader financial or "sectoral" sanctions against its vital oil industry - though such actions, the officials told Reuters, are still under consideration. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol on Thursday said the government was banning protests from Friday to Tuesday, although the prohibition is unlikely to be heeded.

At least 106 people have died in total during anti-government unrest convulsing the South American OPEC nation since the opposition launched protests in April demanding elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule.

Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organization of American States, a regional political bloc, have also urged Maduro to suspend the election.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 per cent this year, after a contraction of 18 per cent last year, the International Monetary Fund said.

Three of the "shadow" judges have been arrested in the past few days by Venezuelan intelligence officials.

Neighbors gathered from dawn in cities around Venezuela to block roads with rubbish, stones and tape, while many cafes and businesses remained closed in protest against the ruling Socialist Party's planned Constituent Assembly vote.