Deadly clashes in Venezuela as Maduro starts constitutional rewrite; U.S. senators seek sanctions, other ways to address Venezuela crisis
Thousands of protesters were met with plumes of tear gas in Venezuela's capital Wednesday, just a short distance from where President Nicolas Maduro delivered a decree kicking off a process to rewrite the polarized nation's constitution.
Surrounded by top-ranking socialist officials, a riled-up Maduro told supporters that the constitutional assembly was needed to instill peace against a violent opposition. "I see the National Assembly (Venezuela’s congress) shaking in its boots before a constitutional convention," he said, referring to the opposition-controlled legislature, after dancing alongside the older brother of the late President Hugo Chavez.
Nearby, national guardsmen launched tear gas at demonstrators who tried to march toward the National Assembly. Armando Canizales, 17, was killed after being struck in the neck at a protest in a city east of Caracas. Video shows the young man in jeans and a black jacket being rushed by two men on a motorcycle to an ambulance as friends cried, "No, Armando!"
"A young man who had all his life ahead of him," said Gerardo Blyde, the mayor of Baruta. "He was just fighting for a better country."
Freddy Guevara, the legislature's first vice president, was whisked away by fellow protesters after apparently being struck in the foot by a tear gas canister. He later emerged with white bandages wrapped around the wound, vowing to stay in the streets until the opposition triumphs.
"An injury from your dictatorship is a medal of honor," he tweeted to Maduro.
At least 35 people have died in the political turmoil that has gripped Venezuela for a month. Hundreds more have been injured, including more than 150 on Wednesday alone.
Driving the latest outrage is the decree by Maduro to begin the process of rewriting Venezuela's constitution, which opposition leaders say is a ploy to keep unpopular Maduro and his allies in power by putting off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election that was to be held in 2018.
As protests grew increasingly violent on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation providing humanitarian assistance to Venezuela while toughening sanctions against corrupt officials. The legislation also would instruct the U.S. intelligence agencies to prepare a partly unclassified report on Venezuelan government officials' involvement in corruption and drug trafficking.
The proposed U.S. legislation, written before Maduro's latest move, is co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who authored earlier sanctions legislation on Venezuela. It also has the support of Sen. John Cornyn, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, former Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine and Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The new legislation seeks to put into law executive action by the Obama administration that targeted officials involved in corruption and found to "undermine democratic governance" with sanctions freezing any U.S. assets and banning them from entry into the U.S.
It also would mandate $10 million a year in humanitarian assistance to Venezuela. Maduro has rejected such aid offers as attempts by the U.S. to pave the way for foreign intervention.