On July 16th, nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans voted in an unofficial plebiscite to reject President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to create a new, 545-member Constituent Assembly that would have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution – a further step in endangering democracy in that country. This new body would also be capable of dissolving state institutions, including the Supreme Court and the National Assembly, in which the nation’s voters elected opposition parties to an overwhelming majority.
Over 98 percent of voters rejected the formation of the proposed Constituent Assembly. They also called on the military to defend the existing constitution, and demanded early elections which would take place prior to the 2019 end of President Maduro's term in office.
Despite the widespread popular rejection of its plans, the Maduro government refused to cancel the July 30 vote to elect the Constituent Assembly. It claims this new assembly will solve Venezuela’s problems, even though it would change none of the underlying social, economic, and political issues driving the increasing hunger and desperation in the country. The atmosphere was tense. At least three people died, and more were injured, when shots were fired into the crowd at two different referendum polling stations.
President Donald Trump chose to side with the Venezuelan people, “the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” and warned that Venezuela would be subject to swift and strong economic actions, should President Maduro go through with creating a constitutient assembly.
“The United States applauds the courage and determination of Venezuelans who exercised their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in defense of their democracy on July 16. [The] vote was a massive repudiation of the proposed National Constituent Assembly, which would undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The vote by millions of Venezuelans was an unequivocal affirmation in support of free and fair elections as well as respect for the existing constitution,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert.
Millions of Venezuelans’ voices must not be ignored. The United States calls on the Government of Venezuela to abandon the proposed National Constituent Assembly. We encourage governments in the hemisphere and around the world to call on President Maduro to suspend this process which only seeks to undermine democracy in Venezuela.