Opposition forces in Venezuela are calling for a new wave of nationwide strikes this week, while President Nicolas Maduro insists on pressing ahead with an electoral process that detractors say would cement his grip on power.
President Nicolás Maduro’s push to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution to strengthen his powers threatens to send the country hurtling even faster toward Cuban-style authoritarianism, critics and Latin American experts warn.
The socialist leader, facing a steadily deteriorating economy and rising political opposition, has called for a public vote Sunday to elect a 545-member National Constituent Assembly that would rewrite the 1999 constitution. That document first started Venezuela down the road toward a socialist state under populist leader Hugo Chávez.
While the exact changes to the constitution are not known, they will almost certainly lead to a communal state controlled by the central government, said Philip Gunson, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“Changing the current constitution … is the building block of the 21st-century socialist system,” Gunson said. “That will change Venezuela into a political system much like what we have today in Cuba.”
Since winning its revolution in 1959, Cuba’s Communist Party has run the Caribbean island without any competition or political freedoms.
The death toll in the months of civil unrest in Venezuela has reached 101, according to the latest Associated Press tally released Thursday.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, the State Department ordered relatives of American diplomats to leave the Venezuelan capital and authorized the voluntary departure of government employees from the embassy in Caracas. An updated travel warning also urged U.S. citizens to stay away from Venezuela because of the unrest and violent crime.