By Carlos Camacho
Four women waiting to cast their votes in an unofficial plebiscite against President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to rewrite the Constitution were shot by what seemed pro-Maduro gangs, with one dying on the spot and the other three receiving serious injuries.
News site “El Estimulo” said more than 7.2 million Venezuelans had partaken in the contest. People were still expressing themselves as of this writing, after 9 p.m. It must be noted that it would only take 7.5 million votes to recall Maduro, though the Maduro-government controlled CNE electoral council scuttled the recall vote even after the appropriate number of signatures were certified by the CNE.
The Venezuelan diaspora of 2.5 million people who have left the oil-rich nation since Maduro’s predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez took over in 1999, but which has grown at an accelerated pace since Maduro’s 2013 election, also voted.
In Florida, more than 100,000 Venezuelans rejected Maduro’s Constituent Assembly plans, according to organizers.
Venezuelans voted in more than twenty countries, some as far as New Zealand and Indonesia.
Spirits are already high in Venezuela: after 107 days of continuous anti-Maduro demonstrations, some 116 Venezuelans have died in street protests, with the Attorney General’s Office saying bands of “armed civilians” and government police and military forces are being investigated as the culprits.
Sunday’s was the first major electoral contest of any kind since Maduro lost the National Assembly legislature in a landslide vote December 6th 2015: all other electoral contests that would put the ruling Chavista government at risk since have been either cancelled (a recall against Maduro) or delayed, such as city and state government elections that were supposed to have taken place last year.VOTES AND BULLETS
The shooting took place as a mostly vocal confrontation between opponents and supporters of Maduro was unfolding in Catia: Maduro scheduled a Constituent Assembly event on the same day the opposition announced it was holding the plebiscite. Ten shots in two quick bursts rang out, video of the events show. When it was over, a woman the Attorney General’s Office identified as Xiomara Scott (spelled alternatively as “Escot”), a 61 year old retired nurse, was lying dead on the sidewalk, after having been shot in the side. Her three companions, all of which were women ranging in age from 50 to 60, were all also shot: one in the chest and two in the legs.
The attack was apparently meant to tarnish a day in which the opposition managed to get millions to vote against Maduro, even in Catia, an area of Eastern Caracas previously considered a bastion of “chavismo” and which is only blocks away from the Miraflores Presidential Palace.
Venezuelans cast their votes against Maduro’s plans to ditch the present Constitution in a vote that the government says is non-binding but which prompted the President to take to the airwaves after the shooting and offer the opposition a new opportunity for dialogue.
For two weeks, Maduro had tried very hard to ignore the "Popular Consultation." But Sunday afternoon, after the Escot attack, he phoned state television to tell the opposition that he wants to “sit down” and talk peace.
“I say to them, don’t go crazy…I call on them so that they return to peace, to the Constitution, so that they sit down and talk”, Maduro said during the phone-in. Maduro seemed to also acknowledge that he was presiding over a deeply divided country, while apparently renouncing previous calls he had made for violence, saying “we must be aware of the differences that we have in the country we must resolve them in piece, with votes and not with bullets.”
Only days ago Maduro had vowed to recover “with weapons” anything they may lose through “votes”.
Most strangely, Maduro himself did not partake in the event he himself scheduled to promote his Constituent Assembly plans: First Lady (or First Combatant in Venezuela) Cilia Flores, who has also resigned her National Assembly seat to run for a seat in the Constituent Assembly, took part in a simulation for the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly. The government has scheduled the Constituent Assembly elections that they are ramming through without a referendum for July 30th but as today's vote shows is widely rejected by the majority of Venezuelans and has been denounced by the Attorney General’s Office as unconstitutional.
During the shooting and its aftermath, Cardinal Jorge Urosa had to take refuge with some 500 other parishioners, passers-by and anti-Maduro demonstrators inside the nearby El Carmen church. Pro-Maduro civilians virtually kidnapped everybody inside the church afterwards, preventing Urosa and the rest of the group from leaving the church. The hostiles had to be dispersed by National Police, which then evacuated the Cardinal and the rest of hostages to safety in ten buses.