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Venezuela on Trump's warning, opposition calls for strike

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said and warns of potential ‘swift economic actions'. Opposition calling for a 24-hour strike .

Petroleumworld 07 18 2017

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro faced growing pressure to cancel plans to rewrite the constitution on Monday with an emboldened opposition calling for a 24-hour strike this week and U.S. President Donald Trump warning of “strong and swift economic actions.”

A day after 7.5 million Venezuelans participated in an unofficial referendum to reject the constituent assembly and to call for fresh elections, the U.S. intensified its criticism of the government. Maduro has yet to comment on the results of the referendum, while other government officials have taken to state television and accused the opposition of over-counting votes.

Bloomberg/Wil Riera

Voters wait to cast their ballots at a polling station in Caracas on July 16.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

Opponents have expressed concern that the constitutional overhaul will be used to further undermine the opposition-led Congress and could suspend local and presidential elections indefinitely depending on the outcome of the assembly. The socialist regime, which has held power in Venezuela since 1999 and already rewrote the constitution under former leader Hugo Chavez, is at one of its weakest points in terms of popular support with polls showing Maduro with approval figures close to 20 percent.

After imposing sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami and eight supreme court justices earlier this year, further action could target other top officials or even look to reduce the flow of dollars to the country from oil sales to the United States.

“The Venezuelan people spoke and have given us a mandate,” lawmaker Freddy Guevara said Monday at a Caracas press conference where he provided the final vote count. “It's indispensable that the government withdraw its plan for the new constitution. If not, we will deepen the political conflict until we conquer freedom for Venezuela.”

While the Sunday plebiscite was symbolic, the strong turnout raised the stakes for Maduro after four months of anti-government protests that have left nearly 100 dead.

Venezuelans were asked in the plebiscite whether they would reject the president's plan, and whether they would back fresh elections for a new unity government. About 700,000 people participated from outside of the country.

Guevara also said that the opposition-controlled National Assembly on Friday will attempt to name new Supreme Court justices to replace Maduro loyalists who tried to strip lawmakers of their power and touched off the protests. The move, which is largely symbolic, will drive home the sense of institutional crisis.

Maduro will likely push ahead with his constitutional assembly because the ruling socialist party can't win a free and fair election, according to Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielska. They said in an emailed note Monday that they will be looking for “signposts” in coming days as to what the government does next.

“Assuming that Maduro does hold the vote on July 30, it will represent a new apex in the country's ongoing political crisis,” they wrote. “Over time, the combination of sustained unrest and mounting international pressure will erode support for Maduro among key stakeholders, reinforcing our view that the country is on an inevitable path to a negotiated transition that prompts real regime change.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer preceded Trump's statement by congratulating Venezuelans on the opposition's vote while condemning violence by “government thugs.”

Story by Nathan Crooks and Fabiola Zerpa from Bloomberg.

07 17 2017

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