CARACAS – Tensions are particularly high Saturday in crisis-ridden Venezuela on the eve of an opposition-opposed election of delegates to an assembly that will rewrite the nation’s constitution.
The president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, said there had been incidents of politically motivated violence in 53 of the 335 municipalities amid a wave of opposition-led protests that began on April 1 and have left 109 dead, hundreds injured and nearly 5,000 people arrested.
The military, which will deploy more than 200,000 troops to safeguard Sunday’s balloting, has said it will respond to any threat aimed at interfering with the voting process.
State-run VTV has been urging Venezuelans to participate in the election, although Attorney General Luisa Ortega – who has recently become an outspoken critic of President Nicolas Maduro – says 90 percent of Venezuela’s citizens reject the process.
For its part, the opposition MUD alliance called Saturday for the lifting of roadblocks set up in various parts of the country.
Those barricades were erected starting Wednesday, at the beginning of a 48-hour civic strike aimed at denouncing the constituent assembly, which the opposition is boycotting and has criticized as an attempt by the Maduro administration to “consolidate a dictatorship.”
Maduro’s opponents, however, are planning more street protests on Sunday to express their repudiation of the election, which also has been criticized by much of the international community.
On Saturday, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has been a mediator in talks between the government and opposition, put the onus on Maduro’s administration to take new steps to renew negotiations.
The president says the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis, but the president’s opponents say it is merely a cynical ploy to buy time until elections scheduled for October 2018.
The opposition tried last year to oust Maduro via a recall referendum drive and accuses the president of illegally stymieing that drive.