Venezuela’s Constitution Vote Marred by Violence

The legitimacy of Sunday’s election to overhaul Venezuela’s Constitution was under threat as many voters avoided the ballot box, nations across the region rejected the predetermined result and the streets erupted in the deadliest day of unrest in three months.

President Nicolás Maduro had ordered a rewriting of the Constitution. The election on Sunday was simply to pick the members of the constituent assembly that will carry it out; there was no option to reject the process.

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By evening, electoral officials announced the winners of the vote, a list of leftist stalwarts including Diosdado Cabello, a powerful politician who once participated in a failed coup attempt, and Cilia Flores, Mr. Maduro’s wife. The result effectively liquidates the Venezuelan political opposition and leaves the left with complete control over a country that remains deeply divided.

“I said rain, thunder or lightning, the 30th of July was going to come,” the president said in a shaky video made from his vehicle after he cast his ballot. He remained sanguine throughout the day, saying the vote would soon bring peace to a country where about 120 people have died during protests this year against his rule.

But the powers of the new assembly members will be so vast that they could possibly remove Mr. Maduro from office, some analysts noted, ending a presidency that has been deeply unpopular, even among many leftists.

As the day rolled on, many countries — some once aligned with Venezuela’s leftist ideology — rejected the result, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Spain.

Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, called the vote a “sham election” that would lead to a dictatorship. The United States repeated threats of sanctions against Venezuela’s economy.

“If these other countries don’t recognize Venezuela as a democracy, it will be hard for them to look like a legitimate power,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group. Mr. Smilde mentioned a list of consequences that such isolation could entail, from access to bank loans to straining diplomatic ties with its largest neighbors.

One candidate for the constituent assembly, José Félix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer, was killed in his home the night before the vote. Prosecutors said an armed group had broken into Mr. Pineda’s home in Ciudad Bolívar on Saturday night and shot him dead there.

Hours later, a large explosion rocked a middle-class neighborhood in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, injuring at least seven police officers on patrol. Video circulating on social media showed the uniformed officers, all on motorcycles, riding into a fireball that had just erupted in front of them.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Nicholas Casey, Patricia Torres and Vanessa Herrero

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