The Venezuelan opposition party held a popular referendum on constitutional reforms advocated by Nicolás Maduro’s government on Sunday. According to local projections, about 7.6 million people turned out for the vote out of a total of close to 20 million voters in the country.
Pro-government armed groups attempted to boycott the opposition plebiscite, organized without the endorsement of the National Electoral Council (CNE) but authorized by the National Assembly (AN), which generated some violent incidents and left four seriously injured and one dead.
The symbolic election is being hailed as being the greatest act of civil disobedience in Venezuela’s history.
The plebiscite consisted of three questions: in addition to giving their opinion on the Constituent Assembly, participants were consulted on the role of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (as the Venezuelan military is known), the maintenance of the 1999 Constitution and the need to restore powers usurped by Maduro to the Assembly.
The vote had an immediate impact inside and outside Venezuela. The president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, considered by some to be close to Maduro in the past, took to Twitter to announce “suspending the Constituent Assembly, listening to the people and establishing an electoral calendar is the only way to achieve peace in Venezuela”.
Venezuelan President Maduro was predictably unhappy with the vote. He vented his anger most noticeably at the presence of two former Latin American leaders – Vicente Fox of Mexico and Andrés Pastrana of Colombia – who came to give support to Maduro’s opposition. Mocking their efforst, Maduro said, “I have information that those who came from abroad are disapointed at seeing chavistas wherever they went.”
Despite the vote being seen as a success, it remains symbolic and without legal consequences. Still, those both inside and outside the country opposing Maduro remain optimistic. “Step by step, vote by vote, the dictatorship will go away,” said Vicente Fox.
About 8 million Venezuelans agree with him at the moment.