Venezuela: independent left rejects both sides

The vote for Venezuela's Constituent Assembly opened July 30 amid ongoing and widespread angry street protests, in defiance of a nationwide ban on demonstrations. Violence broke out as protesters attempted to block access to polling stations, resulting in at least 14 deaths. Those killed include two prominent leaders—one from each side. Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Acción Democrática party, was shot dead during a protest in the northeastern town of Cumana. José Félix Pineda Marcano, a chavista leader and Constituent Assembly candidate, was killed in an invasion of his home in Ciudad Bolívar. Two youths, aged 17 and 13, and a solider were killed in street-fighting in Táchira. Violence in the days leading up to the vote drove the death toll over four months of unrest above 100. (BBC News, RCN Radio, KaosEnLaRed, Clarín, July 30; AP, NPR, July 27)

The opposition boycotted the election, rejecting the constitutional reform plan as a move toward dictatorship and charging that the vote for the 527-member Constituent Assembly is designed to guarantee pro-government candidates. President Nicolás Maduro, in turn, calls the reform the only way out of the country's crisis, and brands the opposition the "imperialist right wing" and "terrorists." This leaves the country unalterably polarized. The opposition called the lead-up to the vote "Zero Hour," while Maduro warned in response, "That which we can't do with votes, we will do with arms" (lo que no se pudo con los votos lo haríamos con las armas). (Jurist, July 30; Clarín, July 27; Reuters, July 23; BBC Mundo, July 17)

Venezuela's marginal but growing independent left has staked out a position rejecting the constitutional reform but also rejecting the right-wing leadership of the opposition. The Chavismo Crítico current held a press conference before the vote, pledging to struggle "for the re-establishment of the validity and effectiveness of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela"—the current constitution crafted under the leadership of Hugo Chávez in 1999. The activists also pledged to fight for "the restoration of a functioning constitutional democracy," the "rescue of the best of our revolution," and "overcoming the grave errors and deviations of those who pretend to serve as its political leadership." (Apporea, July 21)

Continued depressed oil prices are in large part responsible for Venezuela's crisis, with inflation soaring and food shortages now chronic in what had once been Latin America's richest country. Ironically, the current crisis in a major producer has now helped spark a minor price spike. On the day of the vote, global prices hit $52.76 per barrel, the highest level since May. The threat of US sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector also helped drive up the price, analysts said. (Reuters, July 30; Al Jazeera, June 28)

  1. Who is responsible for Venezuela deaths?

    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights sent a team to "remotely" investigate the violence in Venezuela, as the government would not allow the team "access." Based on interviews with witnesses, the team sees a pattern of "widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators… including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests."

    The Aug. 8 statement also notes: "As of 31 July, the Attorney General's Office was investigating 124 deaths in the context of the demonstrations. According to the UN Human Rights team's analysis, security forces are allegedly responsible for at least 46 of those deaths, while pro-Government armed groups, referred to as 'armed colectivos' are reportedly responsible for 27 of the deaths. It is unclear who the perpetrators in the remaining deaths may be."