Death Toll in Venezuela’s Street Protests Climbs to 62, Maduro Vows Constitutional Referendum

Demonstrators participate in an anti-government protest in Caracas, Venezuela, 31 May 2017. Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Death toll related to Venezuela’s antigovernment protests has reached 62.
  • One of latest victims has been a judge involved in the sentencing of a key opposition activist.
  • Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro announced he was going to hold a referendum on a new constitution that he proposed in order to quell the civil unrest.
  • Venezuela’s chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, a former Maduro ally, has accused the President trying to eliminate the country’s democracy.
  • Venezuela is to hold elections forits National Constituent Assembly in late July, while regional elections are scheduled for December.

Venezuela’s controversial President Nicolas Maduro has announced a plan to hold a referendum on a new constitution as street protests against his government to continue to rage across the country and to claim more lives, including that of an acting judge who was shot dead at a barricade.

At least 62 people have been killed so far in Venezuela in clashes between anti-Maduro protesters and riot police or in incidents on the sidelines of the protest rallies.

Protesters across Venezuela took to the streets on April 1 to demand the resignation of President Maduro, the successor of late leader Hugo Chavez and his leftist ideology, Chavism (Chavismo), after the country’s courts tried to strengthen the regime even further.

The anti-government protests in Venezuela’s capital Caracas and a number of major cities have erupted as the oil-rich South American country has been sinking into a deeper and deeper economic crisis, resulting from low oil prices, political mismanagement, and top-level corruption.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

The street protests began in response to decisions by Venezuela’s Supreme Court to temporarily assume some of the responsibilities of the opposition-minded National Assembly, and to revoke the immunity of the legislators.

Although both decisions were overturned within days, opposition leaders continue to lead the protests aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro, removing the members of the Supreme Court, restoration of local and regional elections, and release of political prisoners.

Venezuela’s President Maduro calls the protesters “terrorists” and insists the demonstrations are a cover for a coup plot by the US.

The Protesters’ motivation was boosted at the beginning of May when Maduro announced he would call up a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Opposition protestors during a confrontation with policemen in Caracas, Venezuela, 31 May 2017. Photo: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Maduro’s Referendum

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro announced on Thursday that he was going to hold a referendum on a new constitution he proposed in order to quiet down the civil unrest, Reuters reported.

“I shall propose it explicitly: the new constitution will go to a consultative referendum so it is the people who say whether they are in agreement or not with the new, strengthened constitution,” Maduro said on state TV.

Opponents of Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party accuse them of planning to fill up the “Constituent Assembly” with people royal to their rule.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) is to hold the elections for the National Constituent Assembly in late July, while regional elections scheduled for December.

As the mass street protests across the country have been demanding Maduro’s resignation but the next presidential elections in Venezuela are set for late 2018, the vote on the Constituent Assembly and the referendum on the new constitution will most probably emerge as votes on Maduro himself.

Eliminating Venezuela’s Democracy

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, a former Maduro ally who broke with him a few weeks ago, took a stand against the Maduro regime by challenging on human rights grounds his bid to rewrite the country constitution. She filed a suit with the Venezuelan Constitutional Court.

She said creating the Assembly without a plebiscite, as happened in 1999 when Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez rewrote the constitution, threatened to “eliminate” democracy in Venezuela.

“It seems that participative and protagonistic democracy, which cost Venezuelans so much [to get], is being eliminated,” Ortega said.

In another development, the Supreme Court of Venezeula threatened on Thursday to jail opposition leader Henrique Capriles if he allows anti-government protesters to block roads in the state that he governs.

44-year-old Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro, would face between 6 and 15 months in prison if he fails to comply.

Authorities have already barred Capriles from running for new political posts for 15 years, over allegations of “administrative irregularities” that he denies.

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz holds a tear gas cartridge during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, showing it led to a protester’s death, 24 May 2017. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Latest Victims of Violence

Venezuelan judge Nelson Moncada, 37, was shot dead at a street barricade, becoming another fatality in the anti-Maduro street protests.

The latest death came in Lara state, where 46-year-old Maria Rodriguez was shot during a demonstration on Thursday, the state prosecutor’s office said, without giving more details.

The two murders have brought the total death toll from Venezuela’s antigovernment protests to 62.

Judge Nelson Moncada was killed and stripped of his belongings as he tried to get away from a roadblock on Wednesday night in Caracas’ El Paraiso district, the scene of regular clashes, Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office said.

Venezuelan protesters frequently set up roadblocks with trash and burning tires during their rallies. On Wednesday night clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces and pro-government thug gangs

It was unclear why judge Moncada had been targeted, with some reports claiming that the incident was a robbery, while others pointed out he had presided in the controversial case of Bassil Da Costa, a protester shot during another wave of anti-Maduro demonstrations in 2014.

Moncada was also involved in the sentencing of Venezuela’s best-known jailed political leader, Leopoldo Lopez.

“We cannot exclude the possibility this was done by hitmen hired by right-wing terrorists to keep creating and spreading terror,” Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said, referring to Venezuela’s opposition.

The government added Moncada was one of the judges who ratified Lopez’s 14-year jail sentence, and suggested that might have been the motive for his killing.


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