President Santos: Colombia Will Not Recognize Outcome of Venezuela’s ‘Illegitimate’ National Constituent Assembly
Colombia is among the many nations denouncing Venezuela’s intention to re-write the country’s constitution, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stating that he would not recognize the results of today’s election.
The controversial vote will create a new body, the 545-member National Constituent Assembly, apart from the legislative branch to draft the new constitution. Opposition parties in Venezuela have planned to boycott the vote, and many international onlookers have said the assembly is a thinly veiled plot by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to further consolidate power in a nation on the brink of total collapse.
Photo: “This constituent assembly has an illegitimate origin, and because of that, we cannot recognize its result,” said Juan Manuel Santos. (Credit: Presidencia de la República)
“This constituent assembly has an illegitimate origin, and because of that, we cannot recognize its result,” said Juan Manuel Santos at a public event on Friday in the coastal Colombian city of Barranquilla.
The Colombian president’s statement came just days after 13 member nations of the Organization of American States called on Maduro to cancel his plans to hold the election for the assembly this weekend. A statement from the regional organization’s permanent council calling the assembly “illegitimate” was signed on Wednesday, July 26, by representatives from Colombia, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro was even harsher in his condemnation of plans for the assembly. “The regime of Nicolas Maduro has decided to illegally convene Venezuelans for a clearly flawed election,” said Almargro on Friday in a video statement. “Without the constitutional power to do so, the Maduro regime established the rules for the election of the members of an illegitimate National Constituent Assembly … The rules for the constituent process violate the basic principles of democracy established in international treaties and in the very constitution of the country.”
Death and Chaos in the Run Up to the Assembly Vote
According to a BBC report, two people with ties to the election — one candidate in the vote and another opposition leader opposed to the assembly taking place — were killed in the hours leading up to the National Constituent Assembly vote.
Several other deaths were also reported over the past 24 hours by El Nacional newspaper in Venezuela, and protests were seen sporadically across Caracas despite the fact that political demonstrations had been officially banned nationwide today.
“This constituent assembly has an illegitimate origin, and because of that, we cannot recognize its result.” – President Juan Manuel Santos
Media reports from inside the country have said that public workers, including those of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, have been pressured into voting in the days leading up to the assembly election.
Protests have been nearly constant in Caracas and other areas since at least April as Venezuelans have taken to the streets in outcry against conditions that have led to food and medicine shortages throughout the country. More than 100 have died during the frequent clashes between law enforcement and those demonstrating against Maduro.
Colombia Offers Refuge to Venezuelans Within Its Borders
On the same day Santos spoke out against the government’s actions in Caracas, Colombia enacted a new policy aimed at helping the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have fled their home in recent years as food has become scarce, insecurity has mounted, and a flailing economy has left the national currency nearly worthless.
Beginning August 3, the estimated 150,000 Venezuelans residing within Colombia on expired visas will be able to apply for a permit that allows them to receive a 90-day extension to stay legally. After that, the Colombian immigration authority said on Friday, they can then apply for a longer-term visa that will allow them to remain in the country for as long as two years.
“This measure has been taken to try and help those Venezuelan citizens who have complied with our migratory obligations but, for different reasons, their visas have expired,” said Christian Kruger, director of the Colombian immigration department, to the media on Friday. “These people will be able to work, study, and carry out any type of legal activity.”
To receive the privileges, which will include some social benefits, Venezuelans must not have a current legal charge against them in Colombia, among other conditions.
Constituent Assembly Invites Sanctions
Last week, the United States brought sanctions against more than a dozen Venezuelans with ties to Maduro. In an effort to further pressure the president into canceling today’s vote, the U.S. Treasury Department added 13 former and current officials to its “Specially Designated Nationals” list. Their assets under U.S. jurisdiction have been frozen, U.S. citizens are prohibited from associating with them, and travel restrictions have been imposed upon them.
“The United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions.”
Further sanctions are reportedly being discussed in Washington. Analysts say that any move that targets oil imports, including up to a complete ban, could have a significant impact on the Venezuelan government’s ability to fund itself.
While most believe it is unlikely that there will be a full ban on imports of Venezuela’s heavy crude — which is difficult to process outside of specialized Citgo refineries in the United States — many have predicted that the administration of President Donald Trump will take more action in the wake of the Constituent Assembly.
“Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship,” wrote Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Twitter on Sunday. “We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail.”
Venezuela Turning into a No Fly Zone
As the security situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, which is only expected to worsen after the National Constituent Assembly election, multiple international airlines have decided to stop flying to the country.
On Wednesday, Avianca, the largest airline in Colombia, initially said it would no longer fly its three daily flights to Caracas after August 13. The following day it enacted the suspension of flights immediately, citing security concerns.
Delta, Air France, and Iberia airlines have also each announced that they would be canceling their routes to Venezuela, joining several other carriers who have ceased operating in the country over the past year. Copa Airlines of Panama remains one of the few companies still flying to Venezuela.
Replaying the Chavez Era
In 1999, under the leadership of the late Hugo Chávez, Venezuela also held a National Constituent Assembly to re-write the constitution. The key difference then was that the assembly was endorsed by a popular referendum, whereas this time it has been ordered by presidential decree and is being boycotted by Maduro’s opposition.
Nevertheless, the 1999 assembly made drastic changes to the nation’s government. In addition to lengthening the years in a presidential term, the Chávez-party-controlled assembly merged the previously bicameral legislative branch into a single house.
This was also how the country changed its name, officially becoming the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela under the new constitution in honor of Símon Bolívar, the Caracas-born freedom fighter who led the liberation of large swaths of South America against the Spanish.