Venezuela Brings Forward Regional Elections as Pence Vows More Intervention

Washington threatened further actions against Venezuela Tuesday as the country’s National Constituent Assembly brought forward gubernatorial elections to October. 

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US Vice President Mike Pence speaking in Colombia. (AP)
US Vice President Mike Pence speaking in Colombia. (AP)
By Lucas Koerner
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Philadelphia, August 15, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) announced over the weekend that gubernatorial elections scheduled for December 10 will be moved up to October.

In a decree published Saturday, the body described the move as “necessary to consolidate peace and tranquility… without allowing any space or time so that anti-democratic elements can repeat their violent and criminal agenda of destabilization”.

Elected on July 30 amid widespread opposition violence and intense foreign pressure, the ANC has the authority not only to write a new constitution that will ultimately be subject to popular referendum, but also to supervise the country’s five branches of government. 

Regional elections were originally due last December, and Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has faced criticism for its decision to postpone the poll until this year. 

The elections have likewise been a source of renewed schism within the ranks of the right-wing opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). 

Last week, Maria Corina Machado, leader of the hard-right Vente Venezuela party, vowed to pull out of the coalition unless other parties’ agree to boycott the elections.

On Monday, the MUD registered 196 candidates with the CNE for gubernatorial races nationwide, reported Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez. 

The opposition had previously refused to participate in any electoral process organized by the CNE, accusing it of perpetrating a “fraud” in the July 30 ANC elections as well as in prior electoral contests. The MUD has, however, yet to present evidence to substantiate its allegations. 

The move to bring forward regional elections was followed by renewed threats from Washington on Monday and Tuesday.

“President Trump’s made it very clear we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship,” declared US Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to the Colombian city of Cartagena on Monday as the first stop of his South American tour. 

“A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemispheres and the people of the United States,” he continued. 

Venezuela, for its part, has hit back at Pence's statements, condemning US interference in Venezuelan internal affairs as hypocritical.

“The US and its satellite in Bogota are trying to give classes in democracy to Venezuela while it provides cover for neo-Nazis in its own territory,” tweeted Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas, referring to a recent march by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one dead on Saturday.

Speaking from Buenos Aires on Tuesday, Pence made similar statements about Venezuela "sliding into dictatorship" and threatened to step up "diplomatic and economic pressure". 

"Diplomatic and economic pressure on the Maduro regime must be increased," he said during a joint press conference with Argentine President Mauricio Macri. 

On Friday, US President Donald Trump threatened Venezuela with a “possible military option” in response to a question at a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.  

During Pence's tour, both Macri and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos publically expressed their opposition to US military intervention, joining the growing chorus of regional governments rejecting the threat, including close US allies such as Peru and Mexico. 

"In MERCOSUR, we don't see force as an alternative for resolving the problem in Venezuela," affirmed Macri, speaking on behalf of the South American common market, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela prior to its recent suspension. 

Pence’s comments came just days after CIA Director Mike Pompeo also spoke publically about Venezuela, describing Caracas as a “risk” to the US and alleging that Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is present in the South American country. 

“The Cubans are there, the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there,” he said on “Fox News Sunday”. 

“This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously,” he added. The CIA chief did not elaborate nor cite evidence to buttress his assertions.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a highly controversial move.