Venezuela is a mess, and a vote scheduled for Sunday is poised to make things worse. President Nicolas Maduro aims to create a new lawmaking body called the Constituent Assembly that would essentially replace the current National Assembly (controlled by opponents) and rewrite Venezuela's constitution. Maduro says the vote is the only hope for peace, but critics, including the US, are pressuring him to call it off. They say it would effectively end the Latin American nation's status as a democracy, turning Maduro into a dictator and making next year's presidential election meaningless. Here's a look at what's happening:
- US sanctions: The US slapped sanctions on 13 Venezuelans with ties to Maduro on Wednesday and threatened more against anyone elected to the new assembly, reports the Miami Herald. The White House is holding out hope Maduro will cancel the vote.
- How rude: One of those hit by the sanctions, Iris Verala, tweeted a photo of herself offering a middle-finger salute to America with a message that translates in part to say, "Go to hell, you s----- yankees." For his part, Maduro asked, "Who do these imperialists in the United States think they are? The government of the world?" per the BBC.
- A way out: An analysis at the Economist suggests the international community should negotiate with Maduro: Let him finish his term that expires next year, provided he respect the constitution and free political prisoners. This might require immunity for him and his cronies, which is "distasteful," but, combined with the new sanctions, might just be the only peaceful path out of this mess.
- A primer: CNN provides the broad strokes of the political chaos in an oil-rich nation where poverty is widespread. One example: When the opposition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly in 2015, Maduro became vulnerable to impeachment. Solution: He stacked the Supreme Court with supporters to block it.
- Nearly 100 dead: Thursday is the second day of a 48-hour strike called by the opposition to protest Sunday's vote. One person was killed in protests Wednesday, bringing the total over the last four months to 98, reports the AP.
- Gas prices: Bloomberg points out that Venezuela is the third-largest source for foreign oil to the US, behind Canada and Saudi Arabia, meaning tougher US penalties on the nation's oil industry could ultimately end up raising the price of gasoline.
- Despacito: Maduro used an altered version of the No. 1 song at a political rally, and its creators are none too pleased. The New York Times has details on the odd controversy.
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