Showdown looms in crisis-hit Venezuela

Sunday, 30 Jul, 2017

Small numbers of protesters on Friday defied a ban on demonstrations in Venezuela, ahead of a controversial weekend election called by President Nicolas Maduro that has already provoked deadly violence and global criticism. "Arrest millions of people who protest?" opposition leader Henrique Capriles told reporters Friday.

Violent clashes with the government have killed 113 since April, according to the Venezuelan Attorney General's Office, as the country faces economic and political crises with falling crude oil prices that funds most of the government's socialist agenda.

The Trump administration announced sanctions on 13 current and former members of Maduro's administration, freezing their USA assets and barring Americans from doing business with them.

Government officials and candidates for the Constituent Assembly wrapped up campaigning on Thursday with a rally in Caracas with Maduro. The 46-year-old former Caracas-area mayor, who was sentenced to 14 years in 2015 after being convicted of inciting violence during a previous spate of protests, also appealed to the military not to deploy for Sunday's election. It says it has dispatched more than 370,000 troops across the country to secure Sunday's vote. 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.

The Sunday vote pushed for by President Nicolas Maduro has escalated the deadly showdown between the government and opposition supporters who have dismissed the poll as illegitimate. "The Constituent Assembly opens a path to peace", said Maduro.

In addition to this electoral process, regional elections in Venezuela are also scheduled for December 10, of this year, to elect the governors and legislative councils of the country's 23 states.

Opposition leaders had urged Venezuelans to demonstrate anyway in a protest they billed as the "Taking of Caracas", hoping for a dramatic culmination of three days of protests that started with a 48-hour nationwide general strike.

Late Thursday, the prosecutor's office released a list of 109 dead from violence related to demonstrations and street blockades across the country since the protests began.

Protesters blocked more than a dozen intersections Friday in Caracas.

In announcing the USA sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said America was "standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy".

NAN reports that the Constituent Assembly would have power to rewrite the constitution and shut down the existing opposition-led legislature, which the opposition maintains would cement dictatorship in Venezuela.

Colombia will continue to push and insist for a "peaceful solution, hopefully a fast and democratic one, so that the nation that we love - and I want to once again express my solidarity with the people of Venezuela - will soon come out from the darkness", Santos said.

Maduro is aligned with the political movement of Hugo Chavez, the leftist President from 1999 until his death in 2013. "We can't change cars or fix up our little house, let alone take a vacation", said the director of a public school, once comfortably in the middle class.

In the eastern neighborhood of Bello Monte, the site of fierce battles with police in recent days, a 54-year-old shop owner named Ricardo watched masked adolescents block a road with dumpsters as a soot-smeared, emaciated man picked through their contents for bits of food.