On Sunday July 17th, the Venezuelan opposition groups held an unofficial referendum across the country to demonstrate that the people want change from Nicolás Maduro’s current regime. In spite of the government’s condemnation of this referendum, approximately 7 million people out of the 17 million qualified to vote cast their ballots. More importantly, 98% of these voters expressed that they wanted a change in Venezuela’s government. The referendum had three parts: to refuse the formation of a Constituent Assembly, to demand that the military supports the 1999 constitution and the opposition-led National Assembly, and to hold free elections.
Venezuela is currently going through one of its darkest episodes. International human rights groups have condemned the current government and its current leader for being responsible for militia attacks against Venezuelans. In the last three months, approximately 100 people have died in public demonstrations across the country. It is imperative to acknowledge that both government supporters and opponents are to blame for these deaths.
There are reports of Maduro’s government supporters who attempted to sabotage the referendum this past Sunday. One woman was killed while she was standing in line waiting to cast her vote. Maduro’s government is largely supported by the poor and working classes in Venezuela, who have been followers of left-wing Hugo Chavez’s reign before his death in 2013. Nevertheless, as it was reported by the LA Times, people of this socioeconomic status are standing to change their opinions as a result of the inflation in prices, the demonstrations, and the violence that has taken several victims in the past months. Prices have spiked up so much that people cannot afford simple living goods, such as food and household necessities.
It is also worthwhile to note that Venezuelans living abroad also cast their ballots in the referendum, which demonstrates that the current state of the South American country is also a global matter. The UN urged the Venezuelan government to allow countrymen and women to participate in Sunday’s referendum in spite of their claim that it was illegal. It is a pressing international matter for the UN, as the number of asylum seekers from Venezuela has significantly increased in the past year from 27 thousand to 52 thousand.
Donald Trump, in his own words(which are kind of already predictable and not quite serious), called Maduro a “very bad leader” and threatened on imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials for their actions. Based on Obama’s experience in sanctioning Venezuelan officials, there will most likely have minimal effect but increasing backlash from Latin American government due to the controversial history of US involvement in the region.
The Mexican government has expressed criticism of Maduro’s government due to the public demonstrations that have taken over the streets in Venezuela for the past three months. In addition, former presidents from Colombia and Costa Rica have shown support for the referendum.
Looking into the future
Nicolás Maduro, on his part, is still planning on holding a referendum on July 30 to form the Constituent Assembly that will be in charge of changing the 1999 Constitution. This assembly would have the power to rewrite the constitution and to override all other institutions, including the opposition-led National Assembly with the purpose of giving more power to the people.
After Sunday’s results, opposition groups guarantee that they have entered “a new stage” in fighting against Maduro’s government. In this new stage, the people have spoken and have indicated that they want to change the government.
The referendum results from this past Sunday indicate that a large portion of the Venezuelan population wants change. However, whether that change is effective or if it is just a disguise for a few people to benefit while the rest of the country suffer is still up for debate. At the same time, there is still a large portion of government supporters.
From an international point of view, we can only see and wait what happens in politically polarized Venezuela and hope that the killing and suffering of its people stop before it is too late.