Top Story: Venezuela Holds Sham Elections

Violence continues to plague Venezuela as the government runs special elections, ostensibly to reconfigure the national constitution through a constituent assembly. President Nicolás Maduro is seen by the opposition to only be performing these elections as a way to consolidate power in the face of mounting protests.

The government is claiming high turnout, but outside observers and the opposition (which called for a voter boycott) claim that turnout numbers are grossly exaggerated. Amidst this criticism, President Maduro declared victory Sunday evening. Among the newly elected assembly members is the President’s wife and a number of his closest allies. What the Maduro government plans to do is difficult to ascertain. While many are expecting a complete rewrite of the constitution put in place by Hugo Chavez in 1999, some are claiming the new Constituent Assembly will only be introducing limited reforms to the current constitution.  The opposition claims that the new constitution-writing body will be packed with Maduro loyalists (with the President of the National Assembly calling it a “coup”) and that it is an illegal end-run around the remaining vestiges of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which was dissolved last March by the loyalist-controlled Supreme Court.

Calls for sanctions on the Venezuelan government have been renewed by the United States, and the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, went as far as calling the actions of President Maduro those of an authoritarian dictator. The U.S. has targeted Maduro personally with sanctions and might impose more on additional members of his regime.

For almost three years, opposition groups within the citizenry of Venezuela have been protesting louder and louder for many months, often erupting into violence. President Maduro’s government has responded with live ammunition, arrests of opposition leaders, torture, and now this election, where he claims victory even as critics within and outside the country decry the election as illegitimate. Neighboring countries and trade partners further away have been participating in providing aid, but Maduro’s government routinely blocks such attempts to help. Mr. Maduro decries foreign aid as “undermining Venezuela”, according to Venezuela Today, and claims the healthcare system in his country is better than “anywhere in the world”.  

Additional US sanctions on the Venezuelan government, ranging from targeted individual penalties placed on Venezuelan officials (including Monday’s announced freezing of Maduro’s American assets) to larger-scale restrictions between the countries, might exacerbate existing food shortages, as Venezuela relies on foreign trade to make up for a food shortage that cannot be covered by domestic production. However, President Maduro put the military in charge of distributing food and medical supplies last December, and the generals have gotten rich off of selling seized food aid and imports on the black market. A crisis like this may put pressure on the government to move toward legitimacy, but the pain will be felt by the people before any improvements are realized.