The Latest: EU concerned for future of Venezuelan democracy
Jul. 31, 2017
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on Venezuela's political crisis and the vote for a constitutional assembly (all times local):
The European Union says it is concerned about the future of democracy in Venezuela after the widely-criticized vote to elect a powerful constitutional assembly.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Monday that such an assembly "elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances cannot be part of the solution."
Andreeva said the weekend poll, held amid protests in which 10 people were killed, "has increased division and will further de-legitimize Venezuela's democratically elected institutions."
She said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is working on a "joint response" to developments from the 28-nation bloc but would not be drawn on whether that might involve sanctions.
Venezuela's National Electoral Council says more than 8 million people voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro's ruling socialist party virtually unlimited powers with a constitutional assembly — a turnout more than double the estimates of both the government's political opponents and independent experts.
Council president Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout in Sunday's vote was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people.
The count was met with mockery and anger from members of the opposition, who said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted. One well-respected independent analysis said 3.6 million appeared to have voted.
The electoral council's vote counts in the past have traditionally been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but Sunday's announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country.
The U.S. State Department is officially condemning Venezuela government for holding a vote to elect a powerful National Constituent Assembly, calling it a step toward authoritarian rule.
The new assembly would concentrate near-total power in the hands of socialist President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters. In a statement released Sunday night, the State Department says the new body seems designed to "undermine the Venezuelan people's right to self-determination."
The U.S. had already joined Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Panama in saying it would not recognize the vote results. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted that earlier that the vote was a "sham election" which takes Venezuela "another step toward dictatorship."
The State Department says Washington will "continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela."
Venezuelan opposition leaders are urging their countrymen to protest Monday in the capital against the constituent assembly expected to take power and in homage to those killed in demonstrations against the government.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles says the political foes of socialist President Nicolas Maduro also plan to mount a protest on the day that the new assembly takes office. That is supposed to take place within 72 hours of the final results being announced from Sunday's election.
Organizers with Venezuela's opposition say 15 people were killed across the nation Sunday while the vote was underway. The office of Venezuela's chief prosecutor has confirmed on Twitter that it is investigating at least seven deaths.
Opposition leaders are blaming state authorities for the violence.
In a briefing on state-run television, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the military was not responsible for any deaths.
More than 120 people have died during four months of protests.
A key ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says there was "record" participation in Sunday's election for a constitutional assembly that he says will surprise the opposition, whose leaders contend turnout was exceptionally low.
Ruling socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello says that while the official National Electoral Council results are still being counted, "I can assure you there was record participation."
Across Venezuela's capital, dozens of polling centers were virtually empty Sunday, including at many that saw hours-long lines of thousands voting in previous elections over the last two decades.
Organizers with Venezuela's opposition say they stationed observers at every polling site and the preliminary results show Sunday had a small fraction of the turnout seen in previous elections voted.
They say that any official numbers showing high participation are invalid.
The leader of Venezuela's ruling socialist party is brushing off criticisms from foreign governments that say they won't recognize Sunday's vote for a special assembly that will rule with nearly unlimited powers.
Party leader Diosdado Cabello says Venezuela has decided to be free from foreign meddling. In his words: "What do we care what the world thinks?"
He called Sunday's election "an ethical and moral victory over Venezuela's right."
A rising number of foreign nations are vowing not to recognize the constituent assembly that President Nicolas Maduro and his allies have promised will remove opponents from power.
On Sunday, Peru, Argentina, Canada, Spain, Costa Rica, the U.S. and Mexico all announced they would not recognize the results. Colombia and Peru earlier said they did not consider the assembly legitimate.
A growing number of countries are vowing not to recognize the results of Venezuela's divisive election of a constituent assembly that could dramatically reshape the South American nation's government.
Officials from Argentina, Peru and the United States said Sunday that their governments would not recognize the vote, following similar statements from Colombia and Panama.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has tweeted that the vote a "sham election" that takes Venezuela "another step toward dictatorship."
Peru's government says the vote violates the Venezuelan constitution and deepens already significant divides within society.
Venezuela's chief prosecutor's office is reporting three deaths on the day of a controversial vote for a constituent assembly that opposition leaders fear will trigger the end of democracy in Venezuela.
The office tweeted that 28-year-old Angelo Mendez and 39-year-old Eduardo Olave were killed at a protest Sunday in Merida. Thirty-year-old Ricardo Campos was killed in a separate incident in Sucre.
Few details were provided on the deaths.
Leaders with the opposition Democratic Action party on Twitter identified Campos as the group's youth secretary in Sucre, a state in northern Venezuela east of the nation's capital.
The deaths bring to at least 116 those killed in nearly four months of political upheaval.
Venezuelans appear to be abstaining in massive numbers in a show of silent protest against a vote to select a constitutional assembly giving the government virtually unlimited powers. Across the capital on Sunday, dozens of polling places were empty or had a few dozens or hundreds of people outside, orders of magnitude less than the turnout in recent elections.
An Associated Press reporter toured more than two dozen polling places in neighborhoods across the capital, including many traditional strongholds of the ruling socialist party in southern and western Caracas. Virtually all the polling places had seen hours-long lines of thousands of people in the elections of the last two decades of the socialist administration.
One site, a sports and cultural complex known as the Poliedro, had several thousand people waiting about two hours to vote, many having traveled from opposition-dominated neighborhoods where polling places were closed. Of the dozens of others sites seen by the AP, two in the loyalist-heavy neighborhood of El Valle had lines of approximately 200 to 400 people. All the others had at most a couple of dozen voters, and many had less than a half-dozen or were completely empty.
Dozens of Venezuelans are gathering early at voting centers in Caracas' Petare neighborhood, saying they plan to cast ballots because they hope for improvements in their lives.
Hairdresser Luisa Marquez said she hoped to get a house as she waited with her daughter in a line outside a center to vote Sunday for an all-powerful constitutional assembly that Maduro's opponents fear he'll use to replace Venezuela's democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.
"I hope things get better," said Marquez after acknowledging that Venezuelans are experiencing tough economic times.
The run-up to the vote has been marked by months of clashes between protesters and the government, and the Trump administration has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on high-ranking members of Maduro's administration, with the support of countries including Mexico, Colombia and Panama.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is asking for global acceptance as he casts an unusual pre-dawn vote for an all-powerful constitutional assembly that his opponents fear he'll use to replace the country's democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.
Accompanied by close advisers and state media, Maduro voted at 6:05 a.m. local time, far earlier and less publicly than in previous elections. The run-up to Sunday's vote has been marked by months of clashes between protesters and the government, including the fatal shooting of a 61-year-old nurse by men accused of being pro-government paramilitaries during a protest this month at a church a few hundred feet from the school where Maduro voted.
"We've stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence," Maduro said. "Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms toward our country."