Nicolás Maduro went for broke. “Come rain or shine, there will be a National Constituent Assembly,” the Venezuelan President stated. And so it was.
July 30, 2017, marked a historic date, not only for the Bolivarian Revolution, which came to power less than two decades ago, but for a nation that has been struggling for its independence and self-determination for over 200 years.
The vote that day offered us several lessons to understand the complex scenario facing the country, and the possible evolution of events:
1. Venezuela has a Constituent Assembly. Despite the boycott declared by the right wing and the international maneuvers against it, the support of more than eight million Venezuelans at the polls endows the constitutional mechanism activated by the Bolivarian government with legitimacy. The opposition’s bid was to prevent the Constituent Assembly by all means and it failed. They now run the risk of being left out of the Assembly that will shape the future of the country, although few doubt that some kind of dialogue is essential to resume the road to peace.
2. The elections were held amid relative calm. The number of people killed during the day varies according to the source.
Most speak of at least ten dead. However, after more than a hundred victims in the past few months, some of them burned alive by opposition extremists, the election day balance sheet was far from the “bloodbath” predicted by some international analysts.
3. The Armed Forces are committed to constitutional order. The plan to preserve the integrity of polling stations, for which more than 230,000 troops were deployed, as well as the extraordinary measures taken by authorities, were key to ensuring Venezuelans’ democratic exercise of the right to vote. In addition, this is a further sign that, unlike in the past, the current Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela are committed to constitutional order and are the main guarantors of the country’s stability.
4. The right has less strength than had appeared. The opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the main instigator of the violence, promised to hold the “mother of all protests” to prevent the Constituent Assembly. Its limited rallying power in the days leading up to the elections, and the impotence of its leaders faced with the popular mobilization to vote, are proof that it overestimated its forces.
5. The mass media were left without news. Venezuela was, until the vote, one of the topics receiving most coverage in the international media. Hundreds of journalists from the most important chains are present in the South American country. However, when the reality was different from the coverage they had prepared (a pitched battle and the beginning of civil war), they offered a revealing silence. Instead, they devoted themselves to reporting minor issues and so far practically no outlet has provided coverage of the massive turnout of eight million Venezuelans, who had to cross rivers or stay up through the night, in order to exercise their right at the polls.
6. The turnout exceeded expectations. Amid the polarization of the country and the instability provoked by the extreme right, the number of Venezuelans who went out to vote was not envisaged by the opposition or their international backers. Even the Bolivarian authorities recognized that the figure was a pleasant surprise. As a means of comparison, the more than eight million votes cast on July 30 exceeded the 7.7 million obtained by the MUD in the legislative elections that gave it control of the National Assembly in 2015.
7. There is a concerted strategy to disregard the democratic process in Venezuela. The United States, Spain, and several Latin American nations, including Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, Guatemala, and Panama, did not even wait for the results of the elections before refusing to recognize them and the new Constituent Assembly.
8. The United States is actively working to destabilize Venezuela. Before the elections, Washington sanctioned 13 Bolivarian officials with the aim of intimidating the government in the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly vote. After learning of the results, the U.S. government announced another series of measures including sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro. Some U.S. media have speculated regarding possible sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector, which has been in the White House’s sights from the start.
9. A significant number of citizens gave Chavismo another vote of confidence. In the midst of the economic war, the decline in international oil prices, and internal destabilization, the popular support received shows just how much the Venezuelan people appreciate the transformations initiated by Hugo Chávez. It is difficult to think of another government in Venezuelan history that would have resisted a similar onslaught.
10. The Constituent Assembly alone can not solve underlying problems such as the economic crisis, inflation, shortages, and violence. However, the constitutional powers with which the Assembly is invested constitute a platform to call for dialogue between the different actors in the country’s political and social life, to ensure justice for the victims of the crimes committed by violent sectors, and to once again put the country on the path to progress and peace.