World: As Maduro takes Venezuela into uncharted waters, the opposition has few options

Few heed call for mass protest in Venezuela's capital

  Few heed call for mass protest in Venezuela's capital Few demonstrators heeded opposition calls for a mass protest Friday in Venezuela's capital against President Nicolas Maduro's controversial push to rewrite the constitution by a constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.Streets in Caracas were largely devoid of protests a day after Interior Minister Nestor Reverol announced that authorities were prohibiting any demonstrations from taking place through Tuesday.Opposition leaders had urged Venezuelans to demonstrate anyway in a protest they billed as the "Taking of Caracas," hoping for a dramatic culmination of three days of protests that started with a 48-hour nationwide general strike.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro celebrates the results of © Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro celebrates the results of "Constituent Assembly", in Caracas, on July 31, 2017.

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro, after an election that critics called a tipping point toward dictatorship. But even with international pressure building and Venezuela’s economy collapsing, beleaguered opposition activists here were facing a stark new challenge.

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How could they confront a socialist machine that now controls all branches of government?

Voting starts in controversial Venezuela election

  Voting starts in controversial Venezuela election President Nicolas Maduro cast his ballot Sunday to kick off a controversial vote in Venezuela electing a new, all-powerful "Constituent Assembly" he promises will end his country's crisis by rewriting the constitution. The vote has been fiercely opposed by months of deadly street protests and criticized internationally. Venezuela's opposition says it is a bid for the beleaguered Maduro to cling to power by getting around the parliament controlled by its lawmakers.

Citing Maduro’s “outrageous seizure of absolute power,” the U.S. government froze any American assets he may have and banned Americans from doing business with him. The move came after Maduro heralded the Sunday vote creating a new super-congress made up entirely of government backers. The newly cast legislators included his wife and son. The body will have sweeping powers to rewrite the constitution and redraw Venezuela’s governing system.

“Maduro is not just a bad leader,” said President Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. “He is now a dictator.”

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Despite the tough talk from the White House, the sanctions fell short of the crippling pressure many observers were expecting. Maduro swiftly dismissed the measures, saying on television that they were imposed because he didn’t obey the “North American empire.” He added: “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.”

Venezuelan election turnout figures manipulated by 1 million votes - election company

  Venezuelan election turnout figures manipulated by 1 million votes - election company Turnout figures in Venezuela's Constitutional Assembly election were manipulated up by least 1 million votes, Smartmatic said on Wednesday.Turnout figures in Venezuela's Constitutional Assembly election were manipulated up by least 1 million votes, Smartmatic, a company that has worked with Venezuela since 2004 on its voting system, said on Wednesday.

Potentially more-sweeping measures — including the targeting of Venezuela’s all-important oil industry — are still on the table. But the opposition here is running out of time to turn the tide, and is now facing new and significant threats.

The election was boycotted by the opposition, and many Venezuelans mocked the government’s contention that more than 40 percent of voters took part. Under Maduro’s mentor, the late leftist leader Hugo Chávez, many Venezuelans thought national election results were generally credible, although candidates complained that he used state resources to gain an edge. But opposition activists called Sunday’s vote a turning point, claiming that only about 12 percent of Venezuelans turned out, in what they called a historic rejection of Maduro and his plans.

Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s attorney general, who broke with the government in March, on Monday declared the vote fraudulent. She suggested that Maduro and his inner circle, including a vice president accused by the U.S. government of narco-trafficking, would now seek to use the new assembly to monopolize money and power.

All-powerful Venezuelan assembly to open amid protests

  All-powerful Venezuelan assembly to open amid protests Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is heading toward a showdown with his political foes, promising to seat a new constituent assembly Friday that will rewrite the country's constitution and hold powers that override all other government branches. Trending Now: The 10 Best Balance Transfer Cards See The Cards Sponsored by NextAdvisor Leaders of the opposition urged Venezuelans to fill the streets of the capital Friday, hoping to provide a strong showing that many people object to the assembly.

“How will we control the public budget now? How will we know how much and in what things money is being invested? How amazing for them!” she said.

“This is not the project Hugo Chávez wanted for the country,” she continued. “Far from it.”

Maduro has said he proposed the assembly to bring peace to the streets after four months of often-violent demonstrations protesting the dire state of the economy and growing authoritarianism. Opponents said he skewed the system for choosing candidates to ensure control of the new body.

On Thursday, those chosen for the new Constituent Assembly are set to replace the democratically elected members of the nation’s legislature, which is dominated by the opposition. Some opposition lawmakers defiantly went to the National Assembly building on Monday, vowing to keep carrying out their duties. It foreshadowed a potentially dramatic standoff.

“Nothing and nobody will prevent us from fulfilling the mandate that the people have given us,” opposition lawmaker Delsa Solórzano said in a video she shot outside the assembly building Monday morning. “That’s why an important number of lawmakers came today, to protect our space and to protect the will of the people.”

Venezuela troops take prosecutor office as enemies targeted

  Venezuela troops take prosecutor office as enemies targeted Security forces surrounded the entrance to Venezuela's chief prosecutor's office Saturday ahead of a session of the newly installed constitutional assembly that is expected to debate removing the onetime loyalist turned arch government critic.Luisa Ortega denounced what she called a military "siege" on Twitter, publishing photos apparently taken from security cameras showing some 30 national guardsmen in riot gear standing outside her headquarters in Caracas. Access to the downtown block where the building is located was completely restricted amid a heavy troop deployment.

U.S. officials would not say whether Maduro has any U.S. assets. But under the sanctions, he is cut off from accessing the U.S. financial system, as well as most transactions in dollars, since nearly all dollar-denominated transactions must clear through an American bank at some point. Moreover, non-U. S. banks have become very concerned about doing business with anyone on an American sanctions list.

“I think today’s sanction was more of a symbol,” said Asdrúbal Oliveros, director of the Caracas-based Ecoanalítica consulting firm. “I don’t think Maduro has properties in the U.S. What’s relevant is that he’s now in a list with the head of North Korea and Syria. You’re a dictator, that’s why you’re there. That is the message.”

In addition to the U.S. reaction, Latin American nations from Argentina to Panama to Brazil have also declared the vote illegitimate, with regional foreign ministers set to meet in Peru next week to review the crisis.

Yet the larger question is whether the domestic opposition can sustain the pressure it has brought to bear on Maduro’s administration. Simply put, with more than 100 dead and thousands detained in the demonstrations, some people are tired, and even more are scared.

Opposition leaders are facing their own test of public confidence after Sunday’s vote.

Venezuela constitutional assembly removes chief prosecutor

  Venezuela constitutional assembly removes chief prosecutor A newly installed constitutional assembly ousted Venezuela's defiant chief prosecutor Saturday, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro's embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving political crisis.Cries of "traitor" and "justice" erupted from the stately, neo-classical salon were 545 pro-government delegates voted unanimously to remove Luisa Ortega from her post as the nation'sCARACAS, Venezuela — A newly installed constitutional assembly ousted Venezuela's defiant chief prosecutor Saturday, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro's embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving

“Today I feel crushed, but not because of the results, because we knew that the government would cheat,” said Victoria Daboin, a 25-year-old who has been protesting since April. “I feel depressed because today everything looks normal, as if nothing had happened. The streets are empty and people went to work as if nothing ever happened. I personally expected more forceful actions from opposition leaders.”

Many credit the opposition with bravely challenging a repressive regime. But at a time when the socialist government is signaling a more radical stage of rule, some Venezuelans express concern that no single opposition leader has emerged as Maduro’s obvious challenger.

A top contender, opposition leader Leopoldo López, remains under house arrest and sidelined from public activities.In recent days, the opposition has seemed disorganized, caught flat-footed by a government announcement banning protests through Tuesday.

“Where’s the leader who has mobilized people in the slums because they believe in him?” said Luis Vicente León, director of the Caracas-based pollster Datanálisis. “People in the slums are scared, but when you have a leader you love, that barrier can be overcome. That leader doesn’t exist. And there’s internal divisions within the coalition on how to confront this situation now.”

Analysts say the established opposition here needs to escape the orbit of its past. During the 1980s and 1990s, it was accused of ignoring the poor. Many also criticized it for failing to unite.

Venezuela government supporters march as hackers back army base attack

  Venezuela government supporters march as hackers back army base attack Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro marched in Caracas on Monday in favor of a new legislative superbody as hackers took down dozens of state websites to show their support for a pre-dawn armed assault on a military base the day before.Those who attacked the army base near the city of Valencia said their "Operation David," in reference to the biblical story of David and Goliath, was aimed at starting an insurgency against unpopular leftist Maduro. But no more assaults appear to have followed and anti-government protests in Valencia were quickly controlled by tear gas.

Now that polls show Venezuelans desperate for change, the parties have more or less united in the face of the government’s growing repression and have made inroads with poorer voters. Still, they amount to factions with varying politics and competing loyalties.

For the opposition, there appears, as of yet, to be no agreement on which tactic is best going forward.

And virtually all options harbor risks.

Some dissident voices here are pressing the opposition to accelerate its move to set up what is essentially a parallel government.

“We won’t do anything that is outside the constitution; we don’t have the constitutional powers to name a new president,” said Solórzano, the opposition lawmaker. “How are we going to combat illegality with more illegality? I understand people’s desperation; all of us are doing worse than ever. But we all have to keep going — it’s everyone’s responsibility, not just leaders.”

On July 16, the opposition held an informal referendum in which, it reported, 7.6 million people rejected the creation of the Constituent Assembly. Following that vote, the opposition announced a move to create its own “government of national unity.”

But the opposition’s most substantial move in that direction — the selection of magistrates to challenge the authority of the current pro-government Supreme Court — has resulted in three judges being arrested and several others going into hiding.

Some argue that a move to install a parallel government could encourage stronger international action that would diplomatically isolate Maduro. But others say that such a move could polarize the nation and trigger a government crackdown that would lead to a larger wave of politically motivated arrests.

There is also a risk that a more violent faction of the opposition will grow, gradually creating a low-grade conflict. Masked young people have already been seeking to take the fight to the government with rocks and molotov cocktails. And on Sunday, the violence escalated, with an explosive device set by a demonstrator blowing up as a motorcade of government troops passed. Another protester was photographed shooting a gun.

Via Twitter, Venezuelan user @bienlechuga echoed the frustrations of many government opponents who are calling for more-radical action.

“War will not bring us the best result, but it could put us in a better position in this game,” the user wrote.

Long reported from Washington. Rachelle Krygier and Mariana Zuñiga in Caracas and Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.

The Latest: Venezuela assembly declares self top gov't body .
<p>Venezuela's new constitutional assembly has passed a decree declaring itself superior to all other branches of government.</p>5:10 p.m.

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