Venezuelan opposition blocks streets to protest Maduro power shakeup; U.S. and other governments express concern about Maduro’s decision
Venezuela's opposition blocked streets in Caracas on Tuesday to denounce a decision by leftist President Nicolas Maduro to create a "constituent assembly," a move critics said was a veiled attempt to cling to power by avoiding elections.
Building on heightening global outcry over Maduro's government, the United States condemned the action and regional powerhouse Brazil slammed it as "a coup."
After a month of near-daily protests by opponents demanding early general elections, the unpopular leader announced on Monday that he planned to set up the super-body popular assembly with the power to rewrite the constitution.
Critics of the president said he was increasingly dictatorial and planned to staff the assembly with supporters and avoid elections he would likely lose, such as regional polls that were supposed to happen last year. Opponents also worry that the new body would further sideline the current opposition-led legislature and pave the way for undemocratic changes to the constitution.
The United States, as well as Argentina, Chile and Brazil on Tuesday expressed worry about Maduro's decision.
"President Nicolas Maduro's proposal for a constituent assembly is a coup d'état. It is another break with democracy, violating the country's constitution," Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The United States said Maduro was trying to yet again "change the rules of the game" to remain in power. "We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly, which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy," Michael Fitzpatrick, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said in a telephone call with reporters.
The controversial decision was likely to provoke more anti-government protests, already the most sustained since 2014. Opposition barricades snarled traffic in and around Caracas on Tuesday morning to reject Maduro’s announcement while security forces used tear gas to disperse some demonstrators.
"We don't believe in Maduro's fake peace, what he's done is add more fuel to the fire," said Jesus Gutierrez, 64, who was with about 100 demonstrators blocking one of the main avenues in the capital. "The people have to react and that's what they've been doing."
The opposition planned more marches on Wednesday.