“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
The government’s response to economic crisis is reshaping the nation.
Not far from the US, a desperate leader is steering a once-prosperous democracy toward dictatorship.
Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is scrambling to cling to power as his country is battered by an unprecedented economic crisis. And in the process, he’s becoming an autocrat.
Maduro is tossing political opponentsin prison. He is cracking down on growing street protests with lethal force, with government security forces killing at least 46 demonstrators in recent months. He has repeatedly postponed regional government elections in order to stave off threats to his party’s power. And in July he held a rigged election for a special legislative body that supplanted the country’s parliament— the one branch of government that was controlled by his political opposition. The new superbody has carte blanche to rewrite the country’s constitution and expand his executive powers.
Maduro and his supporters now have total control of the government, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
It’s difficult to overstate how dire Venezuela’s economic plight is. The country entered a deep recession in 2014 spurred by the drop in global oil prices, and cumbersome regulations on its currency are helping produce record-breaking inflation. The International Monetary Fund estimates that prices in Venezuela are set to increase more than 700 percent this year. Seventy-five percent of the country’s population has lost an average of 19 pounds of bodyweight between 2015 and 2016 due to food shortages throughout the country.
The Trump administration is planning to unveil another round of sanctions on Friday designed to punish the government of Venezuela, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The measures would be the latest in a U.S. campaign to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The people who described the move did so on condition of anonymity and declined to provide details on the sanctions that would be imposed.
One move that has been under consideration by the U.S. would block trades of Venezuelan-held dollar-denominated notes sold by the government and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state-run oil company, according to a third person familiar with the discussions, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been escalating sanctions on Venezuelan officials and others connected to Maduro as the socialist government moves to increase its authority amid a crippling recession and months of violent protests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has labeled Maduro a dictator for arresting opposition leaders and seeking to revise the constitution.
The measures to be announced on Friday would come days after Vice President Mike Pence met with Venezuelan exiles in Florida.
Theresa May urged to suspend controlled export licences to Venezuelan government while violent clashes continue
Britain has sold military equipment worth millions of pounds to Venezuela in the last decade, it has emerged, prompting calls for Theresa May to suspend controlled export licences while the country in is the grip of violent clashes between police and protesters.
Government figures show military equipment was approved for sale from UK-based companies to Venezuela’s armed forces as recently as September last year, despite the Foreign Office listing the country as “of concern” regarding human rights.
Overall, £2.5m of military goods have been sold to the country since 2008, including components for military radar, weapon sights and military aircraft engines. In the last year of figures, to March 2016, licences for goods worth more than £80,000 were approved, including equipment for crowd control to be used by law enforcement agencies.
The revelations will prompt questions about why the government continues to allow arms sales to countries the Foreign Office lists as having a poor human rights record, from Venezuela to Saudi Arabia.
Members of Argentina’s Venezuelan community protest against the election for a constituent assembly on Sunday, in Buenos Aires, as Venezuela holds the controversial vote. | Alejandro Pagni/AFP/Getty Images
Months of opposition to President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to strengthen his party’s power has resulted in more fatal clashes on the day of the election.
Citing Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office, the Associated Press reports 10 people were killed in Sunday’s unrest.
“Seven police officers were wounded when an explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas,” the AP says.
At least two of the dead were teenagers, reports NPR’s Philip Reeves.
The vote is to create the National Constituent Assembly, composed of new delegates who will rewrite Venezuela’s Constitution. As NPR has reported, that rewrite would have the power to dissolve the National Assembly, an opposition-heavy body of lawmakers.
Multiple media reports and social media said polling places were near empty in the Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
Opposition parties, who boycotted the vote, see the move as a step towards dictatorship, NPR’s Reeves says. So does much of Venezuela’s public, who’ve long expressed no appetite for the new assembly.
Two weeks before Sunday’s official vote, opposition activists held a symbolic referendum: 98 percent of voters rejected Maduro’s call to rewrite the 18-year-old constitution.
MARCO BELLO / REUTERS Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro at a military parade in Caracas, July 2017.
Since May 2016, the Union of South American Republics (UNASUR), an intergovernmental organization comprising 12 South American states has attempted to mediate between the government and the opposition, in the hope of averting a meltdown. In October, after the Venezuelan government-controlled electoral commission (CNE) waved off a constitutional referendum and indefinitely suspended local elections—blocking an electoral resolution until the 2018 presidential elections—the Vatican stepped in.
Those mediation efforts have predictably failed, thanks to an inability on the part of the mediators and other outside parties to impose real costs on the government. Since March, the Maduro government has violently repressed street demonstrations, resulting in over 70 deaths, and it continues to imprison at least 120 of its political opponents. The government has resisted calls to hold elections before 2018, refused to recognize the right to a constitutional recall referendum, and, most recently, called for an illegal constituent assembly to revise the constitution. However, it has faced no consequences from the mediators.
Meanwhile, the economic and social situation in what was once one of the region’s richest countries is collapsing. Some 11.4 percent of Venezuela’s children are malnourished and 10.5 percent of its workforce is unemployed. The economy is on track to shrink for the third straight year, with GDP set to drop 20.7 percent below its 2014 level, and inflation expected to reach 1,700 percent.
During a protest in Caracas this week, an opposition activist stands near graffiti against a constituent assembly proposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the constitution. A political and economic crisis has spawned often violent demonstrations by protesters demanding Maduro’s resignation. | Federico Parra /AFP/Getty Images
When explosions were heard Tuesday night in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it was unclear exactly what was happening and who was responsible for the attack. Details are still being sorted out.
Reports quote unidentified officials saying a rogue faction of Venezuela’s police department dropped grenades from a helicopter on the country’s Supreme Court. Other reports say men in a stolen police helicopter fired on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry.
“A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.
“Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”
President Nicolás Maduro, who happened to be speaking live on state television at the time of the incident, said a “terrorist attack” aimed at ousting him from power had been thwarted.
Opponents of Maduro accuse him of orchestrating the attack to justify a crackdown on Venezuelans who are trying to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.
TRAITOR. Madwoman. Striptease artist. Fascist. Leaders of Venezuela’s populist regime have recently hurled these insults and more at Luisa Ortega Díaz, the country’s attorney-general. It matters not that she extols the regime’s founding father, Hugo Chávez, as “the most humanist man to have existed on the planet”. Her former comrades now see her as a dangerous turncoat. “This woman could cause a civil war,” says Pedro Carreño, the vice-president of the PSUV, the socialist ruling party.
Ms Ortega, a former professor of criminal law, is becoming more dangerous to Venezuela’s repressive government. On June 8th, she filed a motion at the supreme court denouncing as illegal a scheme by Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, to convene an all-powerful constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The puppet court rejected the suit on June 12th, calling her application “inept”. On the same day she filed another motion arguing that 13 of the 32 supreme-court judges, who were hastily selected by the outgoing pro-regime parliament in 2015, were chosen through a flawed process and should therefore stand down. The court disagreed.
She then filed a case against eight other supreme-court justices, who in March had sought to usurp parliament’s powers. That manoeuvre, which the judges quickly reversed, triggered near-daily protests against the regime that have continued ever since. Ms Ortega called it a constitutional rupture. The judges rejected that claim, too.