In case you weren’t following the worsening decline of Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro, Sunday marked an important milestone of that country being put to the yoke of old-school tyranny.
President Nicolás Maduro thanked “the brave people of Venezuela” for voting in a controversial election for a new Constituent Assembly that will have the power to rewrite his country’s constitution.
The election will allow Maduro to replace Venezuela’s current legislative body — the National Assembly — with the new assembly, made up of 545 members, all nominated by his administration.
“We have a Constituent Assembly. I said, come hell or high water– and hell and high water came — and the Constituent Assembly arrived from the hand of the people, from its conscience,” Maduro said, claiming victory.
The opposition boycotted the election as a fraud and has called for massive protests to begin again Monday.
Maduro argued that the Constituent Assembly will help bring peace to a polarized country, with all branches of the government falling under the political movement founded by his late mentor and predecessor, Hugo Chavez. But critics say it will erode democracy.
International criticism of the vote poured in, including from the United States, with the State Department on Sunday issuing a statement saying the elections were “designed to replace the legitimately elected National Assembly and undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination.”
Replacing an elected legislature with an appointed legislature is an unmistakable hallmark of the death of democracy, and the Venezuelan people were overwhelmingly opposed to it.
Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted. An exit poll by New York investment bank Torino Capital and a Venezuela public opinion company — based on surveys from 110 voting centers — put the number of voters at 3.6 million, or about 18.5 percent.
The country’s election authorities, meanwhile, put the number of voters at 8.1 million, equaling a 41.5 percent turnout.
The different turnout numbers add more tension between the government and the opposition.
Many polling stations were largely empty and more than 70 percent of the country was opposed to the vote in the first place, according to opinion surveys. Critics called it a naked power grab by President Nicolas Maduro.
The U.S. government has blasted Maduro’s Constituent Assembly gambit as illegitimate. Here was UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s response…
Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail.
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) July 30, 2017
The United States vowed “strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism” on Sunday in response to what it called a flawed election in Venezuela of a constitutional super-body under leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
“The United States stands by the people of Venezuela, and their constitutional representatives, in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
“We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela, including those who participate in the National Constituent Assembly as a result of today’s flawed election,” it said.
Maduro has essentially consolidated his personal control over the country through what looks like a rigged election, and he’s essentially de-platformed the opposition – which is well more than half of Venezuela’s population.
In the meantime, a country with some of the world’s richest farmland is starving, and Maduro is rewarding soldiers who murder dissidents with care packages of toothpaste and toilet paper, both of which are in scarce supply even for the governing elite.
And Venezuela has now surpassed Syria and China as the number one country of origin for asylum-seekers to the United States – that we should welcome these people with open arms goes without saying.
But this continuing decline into tyranny can’t continue and the Maduro regime must be brought down. Cuba is a small island with only 8 million people and North Korea is all the way across the Pacific Ocean, though the Norks now have ICBM’s which can hit the American heartland. Venezuela as a full-on Communist dictatorship whose crude oil exports to the U.S. total some 750,000 barrels per day would be a foreign policy nightmare which could destabilize all of Latin America.
American oil refiners, particularly those along the Gulf Coast which process that 750,000 barrels per day, have howled loudly in an effort to ward off a ban on imported Venezuelan oil; those refineries would sit idle without it, as they’re set up to process the heavy crude Venezuela produces and wouldn’t be able to replace it right away – though major refiners Marathon and Valero have said that they’ll be moving toward lighter, sweeter crude they can get from other sources in the next quarter. U.S. officials have taken a ban off the table for now.
But that doesn’t mean sanctions aimed at destroying the Venezuelan oil industry and in so doing disrupting 95 percent of that country’s hard currency income aren’t in the offing. A Fox Business report yesterday…
The most likely option, say the people familiar with U.S. discussions, is a ban on exports to Venezuela of refined petroleum products and lighter crude grades that Venezuela mixes with the heavy crude it then sells to the U.S. That could force Venezuela to import light crude at higher prices from distant places like Algeria or Nigeria, and deepen its steady oil output decline, says Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuela expert at Rice University.
Another option is to ban state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela from using the U.S. banking system and U.S. currency, the people say. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R., Fla.), a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the Trump administration on Sunday to levy sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company and prevent Mr. Maduro’s government from being able to tap the U.S. financial system as an economic lifeline.
Such sanctions would stop U.S. firms from buying Venezuelan oil and make it difficult for any oil trader or firm to do so, pushing Venezuela into default, said Russ Dallen, a managing partner at investment bank Caracas Capital.
The U.S. could also ban U.S. companies from investing in Venezuela’s energy sector, these people said. That would drive out oil-field service firms such as Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd., which provide key technology and expertise in oil drilling and production in a country which boasts larger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.
The problem with sanctions, of course, is the people who’ll be hurt most are the people of Venezuela. And they’re already in deplorable shape, with severe shortages of even the most basic goods and with things like infant mortality spiraling to pre-industrial revolution levels. Bankrupting PVDSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, could well take down the Maduro government, but how much damage to the people of that country would come first?
We’re going to have to assist the Venezuelan people with humanitarian relief. We should have begun doing that already, and if we’re going to make a play against their oil industry humanitarian relief is especially mandatory. But how to supply aid to that country without propping up the regime which would likely put itself between the bringers and the recipients?
We’ll find out soon enough, as Venezuela is no longer a foreign policy crisis America can ignore.