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Venezuela - The Crisis of 2017

The National Socialist Party had ruled Venezuela for 17 years. Economic pressures mounted in recent years, especially since the price of oil Venezuela's chief export began falling in 2014. Venezuelans face chronic, severe shortages of food, medicine and other basics in what once was Latin America's wealthiest country.

Since taking office in 2013, Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution faced non-stop attacks from Venezuelas U.S.-backed right-wing opposition, making advancements difficult. Improving upon destabilization tactics used during Chavezs administration, the opposition seemed to have perfected the art of sabotage.

Despite right-wing sabotage, Maduros government lived up to its promise to continue improving living conditions for Venezuelas poor and oppressed. Under his administration, Venezuela expanded its free health care coverage to more than 60 percent of the population, according to the countrys Ministry of People's Power for Health. The Venezuelan president has also made free health care available to people in historically impoverished departments like Amazonas, Bolivar and Delta Amacuro.

Public housing for all Venezuelans has also been a mantra of Maduros administration. In January 2017, he announced that his government reached its goal of delivering 1,400,000 homes to Venezuelans across the country. The public housing program is either free or low of cost, depending on the family's means. Venezuela currently has the second lowest rate of homelessness in Latin America, with only 6.68 percent of its population being unhoused.

Maduro, who actively supported Venezuelas student movement against neoliberalism during the 1980s, has made important strides in public education since coming to power. The Venezuelan president has significantly grown the countrys Canaima program, a computer literacy and technology education campaign established by Chavez in 2009. Maduros administration has provided more than 4,800,000 computers and over 100 million technology textbooks to students across the country.

Maduro also made tremendous advancements in improving the representation and civil rights of historically oppressed sectors of Venezuelan society, like women, Afro-Indigenous people and the LGBTQ community.

Intense street demonstrations have roiled Venezuela's capital and other cities almost daily since early April 2017, with protesters demanding that Maduro release political prisoners, schedule long-overdue elections and open access to humanitarian aid to offset severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

Opposition leaders called on to their supporters to shake up the country and reject the invoking of a National Constituent Assembly, a measure that President Nicolas Maduro announced on May Day in a bid to appease social tensions in the country. Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, called President Maduro's move a coup d'Etat and called everyone to take to the streets tomorrow in order to shake up the country.

With Venezuela's capital girding for massive demonstrations, President Nicols Maduro accused the United States April 19, 2017 of trying to overthrow his leftist government. In an address from the national palace in Caracas, Maduro complained of "a State Department push" to "provoke an imperialist intervention" in the South American country, with pro- and anti-government demonstrations as a backdrop.

At a press conference called by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, Henrique Capriles a representative of the Justice First party said that one of the fundamental requirements for the opposition to abandon street protests is for the democratically-elected government of Maduro to schedule general elections despite the fact the Maduro's term does not end until 2019 and that it runs contrary to what is established in the country's constitution.

Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami indicated that the opposition is trying to depict Venezuela as a country in chaos to justify foreign intervention. "We know there are groups interested in selling the world a country in chaos, Henrique Capriles has said in an irresponsible manner that the government is guilty of these deaths and therefore will have to prove these serious allegations in court."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the implementation of a "special plan" dubbed Zamora against an alleged coup in the country. "I have decided to launch strategic, special, civil and military plan to ensure the functioning of our country, its security, internal order and social integrity," Maduro said. He added that the current phase of the plan was directed against reported activities of the United States in order to "cope with a coup, escalation of violence and to ensure peace in Venezuela." According to Maduro, the US Department of State had ordered to "attack" the Venezuelan revolution and institutions in order to approve "an imperialistic intervention."

Venezuela's center-right opposition organized "the mother of all marches" to protest Maduro's administration, and the Venezuelan leader rallied his supporters to turn out for a counter-march. He ordered military troops to fan out across the country and announced plans to vastly expand the country's civilian militia to half a million members from its current 100,000.

The turbulence erupted after the Venezuelan Supreme Court's March 30 announcement that it would strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its legislative powers. The court stacked with appointees of Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez reversed its position in the wake of domestic and international outcries about an attempted power grab.


A dry run vote 16 July 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly coincided with a symbolic referendum called by the opposition which asked people to vote whether they want a constituent assembly or not; whether they want the armed forces to support the existing constitution and the decisions of the national assembly; and whether they want immediate general elections. Opposition leaders claimed that more than 7 million Venezuelans participated, 98 percent of whom opposed the assembly, but short of the 11 million they had hoped for in a country of just under 20 million eligible voters.

President Nicolas Maduro described the event as the "biggest and most impactful dry run of all dry runs that have taken place in the last 18 years". Calling it "a hymn to peace," Maduro said the people of Venezuela through their extensive participation in the constituent electoral process have shown that the way to solve the country's problems is through peace and urged the opposition to dialogue instead of violence.

Instead of denouncing rightwing violence that aims at regime change, many on the U.S. left have stayed silent, or opted to give an evenhanded analysis that supports neither the Maduro government nor the oligarchy trying to violently overthrow it. Rather, the left prioritizes its energy on lecturing on Maduros authoritarianism and the failures of Chavismo. Posters of Chavez remain in the homes of Venezuelas poorest barrios because he proved in action that he was a champion for the poor, while fighting and winning many pitched battles against the oligarchy who wildly celebrated his death. There remains a mass movement of revolutionaries in Venezuela dedicated to Chavismo and to defending Maduros government against the violent anti-regime tactics.

The oligarchy has not accepted the balance of power that Chavez-Maduro have tilted in favor of the working class. A new social contract has not been cemented; it is being actively fought for in the streets. Maduro has made some concessions to the oligarchy its true, but they have not been fundamental concessions, while hes left the fundamental victories of the revolution intact.

Venezuelans headed to the polls 30 July 2017 to elect representatives for the National Constituent Assembly, an initiative from President Nicolas Maduro to further develop the country's democracy and to help ease tensions with the opposition. Maduro presented the National Electoral Council, with his proposal for structuring the electoral bases through which constituent representatives will be elected. This will open the way for 540 constituent parliamentarians to be elected by the Venezuelan people in a manner that is "direct, secret, universal, territorial and sectoral."

More than 30 representatives of Indigenous communities in Venezuela had been nominated as candidates for the National Constituent Assembly. Women throughout Venezuela met to debate new proposals for the constitutional process. The Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance, an organization across Venezuelan national territory, came together to collectively design an initial set of proposals to participate in what militant Mara Helena Ramrez Hernndez calls a new stage of the Bolivarian Revolution that seeks to overcome fascism, hate and terrorism financed by the US Government and carried out by the opposition in Venezuela.

High-profile opposition leaders fired back against President Nicolas Maduro, rejecting the process and calling for a "full rebellion" against the government. Head of the right-wing opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, echoed Lopezs called for an escalation of protests, citing the opposition's continued rejection of the Constituent Assembly, called by Maduro to promote dialogue. The call is that we continue in absolute rebellion (against) the Constituent Assembly ... because the country unanimously rejects the communist Constituent Assembly," he stated.

The president of the National Electoral Council Tibisay Lucena has announced that turnout in Venezuela's historic National Constituent Assembly was over 41 percent, indicating that over 8 million people voted in the elections, in a country of just under 20 million eligible voters. The voting process was peaceful with the exception of a few isolated incidents of violence as opposition supporters protested and staged guarimbas in a bid to shut down the election.

The opposition said the unpopular measure would result in a socialist dictatorship and had called on Venezuelans to boycott the vote. Dozens of polling places in Caracas, the capital, were empty. Members of the opposition estimate only two to three million people voted. Polls show more than 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 8 August 2017 on widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela. The teams findings also indicate patterns of other human rights violations, including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests. Security forces, mainly the National Guard, the National Police and local police forces, systematically used disproportionate force to instil fear, crush dissent, and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions.

According to the UN Human Rights teams analysis, security forces are allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths, while pro-Government armed groups, referred to as armed colectivos are reportedly responsible for 27 deaths. It is unclear who the perpetrators in the remaining 51 deaths may be. Some groups of demonstrators have also resorted to violence, with attacks reported against security officers. Eight officers have been killed in the context of the demonstrations.

The Attorney-Generals Office was also investigating at least 1,958 reported cases of injuries, although the actual number of people injured may be considerably higher. Armed colectivos routinely break into protests on motorcycles, wielding firearms and harassing or in some cases shooting at people.

Reliable estimates suggest that between April 1, when the mass demonstrations began, and 31 July, more than 5,051 people have been arbitrarily detained. More than 1,000 reportedly remain in detention. In several of the cases reviewed by the UN Human Rights Office, there were credible reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by security forces of such detainees, amounting in several cases to torture. Tactics used included electric shocks, beatings, including with helmets and sticks while handcuffed, hanging detainees by the wrists for long periods, suffocation with gas, and threats of killings and in some cases threats of sexual violence against the detainees or their families.

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