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Venezuelan Vote: Violence At Home, Rejection Abroad

Ariana Cubillos
Anti-government demonstrators wait for Bolivarian National Guards at a barricade in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday.

A weekend vote in Venezuela to choose a "constituent assembly" that will rewrite the country's constitution - but which critics say will create a Cuba-style dictatorship - led to widespread violence and international rejection of the outcome.

On Monday, President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolás Maduro, branding him a "dictator." Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the so-called constituyente election "a sham."

The vote was widely boycotted by government opponents and saw violent clashes erupt around the country, including an explosion that injured seven police officers and deadly confrontations between police and protesters.

WLRN spoke with two people who have been closely observing the situation there.

Laura Weffer is co-founder and now a Miami correspondent for Efecto Cocuyo, an independent media outlet based in Venezuela. She said Maduro lied about the election and the number of people who showed up to vote. (The government claimed more than 8 million cast ballots; independent estimates put the turnout at closer to 3 million.)

"The president just went out and told us a lie, right to our faces," she said. "But what really struck me was the amount of what he said. He said that eight million people voted for [the assembly]."

From observations on the street and previous electoral tallies, "that's basically impossible," she said.

Read more: Several countries reject Venezuela's effort to rewrite constitution

Weffer said she does not think the election will stop the protests against Maduro's government. Many analysts, in fact, think the government's move will simply stoke more intense demonstrations.

"From wherever Venezuelans are, they will fight. Whatever it takes to get freedom again to Venezuela" - Laura Weffer, Efecto Cocuyo

"I don't think people will stay at their homes with fear," she said. "Venezuelans are fed up with this government. So what we have seen all these days is a lot of creativity. And I think it will arise again."

While some may despair, anger and desperation will keep fueling the resistance, she said. Even people who have left Venezuela for the United States or other Latin American countries outside of Venezuela still feel committed, she said.

"I don't think people will say, 'Oh, I don't care any more about my country,'" Weffer said. "That's not going to happen. From wherever Venezuelans are, they will fight. Whatever it takes to get freedom again to Venezuela."

Mariana Zuñiga is a freelance reporter who has been covering the street clashes in Caracas between Maduro supporters and the opposition. She said most Venezuelans woke up Monday in a state of shock.

"I think the most shocking statement came from Maduro’s people. It was that the deaths that occurred on Sunday didn’t happen and that the whole vote happened peacefully, when it didn’t," she said. "Ten people actually died on Sunday and it was probably the deadliest day since the protests started four months ago."

Zuñiga said that on Sunday different parts of the capital city seemed like "two different countries. In western Caracas, people were voting, but in eastern Caracas people were clashing with the police forces," she said.

She said the notion of a parallel government, set up by opponents to Maduro's regime, is not beyond possibility.

"We have some part of the opposition that thinks that that’s something illegal to do and they want to keep going through the legal path. But there’ s also another part of the opposition — and maybe this idea comes from the citizens of Venezuela — that they want to completely unrecognize the government, they want to create a parallel state.

"In some ways, the opposition has already done something like that because they designated new magistrates to kind of ignore the ones that are in the Supreme Court that have been supporting the government since the national assembly took office in 2015," she said.

She said the opponents hope the world is watching.

"In Venezuela, the government is committing serious human rights abuses. In Venezuela, there are not just three or four political prisoners. There are 400, or more than 400, political prisoners," she said. "The situation is getting bad and it’s getting really really messy. From Sunday on, the situation changed completely in Venezuela. This new chapter is going to be very difficult."