Newly elected constituent assembly could reshape Venezuela

Venezuela jails leading critics of President Nicolas Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela – Ana Hernandez traveled to Miami to get a break from the mess in Venezuela. Despite the food and medication shortages, the political instability and the high crime rate in Venezuela, she said she is going back. 

The 17-year-old student is set to begin college in September. She said her mother is a government employee and doesn't have plans to leave the country any time soon. 

"If we all leave the country to him, he is going to do whatever he wants," Hernandez said. "I feel like we need people to stay there to help grow the country."

Hernandez was among the many Venezuelans in South Florida who say they are worried about the new process of re-writing the constitution. They are following the violence in the streets on social media, and they are getting updates on the political prisoners and the lack of economic stability from family back home.  

Venezuela's vice president Tareck El Aissami said Tuesday that the 545 loyalists elected to a new legislative body are going to revamp the oil-rich nation's government. The final list of the delegates hasn't been published. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said the socialist loyalists will target the assembly that democrats control and the office of the chief prosecutor. Democrats in Venezuela argued the two institutions are the only ones standing in the way of a Cuban-style totalitarian regime. 

While Cuban officials reiterated they are standing by Maduro,  U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, appeared on independent Venezuelan television to send Maduro a very different message. 

"The current path won't end well for you," Rubio said in Spanish. 

Rubio delivered his message after two secret raids to take Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, and Leopoldo Lopez, the former mayor of Cachao, from their homes and back to prison. The two had been on house arrest, but Venezuelan authorities claim both violated the terms.  

Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori traveled with their two children Leopoldo Santiago and Manuela Rafael to the U.S. July 25. On Tuesday, Lopez announced in a video they claim was recorded July 17 in preparation for a possible return to prison, that Tintori was pregnant with their third child. 

Ledezma's attorney Omar Estacio told VivoPlay that the government's claim that he was planning to escape the country was false. Lopez's attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez said the deicsion to take him back to the Ramo Verde military prison about 3 a.m. was "completely arbitrary."

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump is concerned about the likelihood that violence and repression will worsen in Venezuela. 

"We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn't have a future, and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution," Tillerson said. 

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Venezuelan government's "unjustly" detentions followed an "outrageous seizure of power through a sham election" Sunday. Huckabee was responding to Maduro's Monday statement in response to U.S. sanctions.  

"They don't intimidate me. The threats and the sanctions of the empire don't intimidate me for a moment," Maduro said. " I don't listen to orders from the empire, not now or ever."

Maduro celebrated a reported 8 million turned out to vote for the delegates Sunday.

Maduro faces doubts about those results. Luis Emilio Rondon, a member of the National Electoral Council, is among those who questioned the accuracy of the official vote count. He and others reported there were few election audits and anti-fraud measures were not in place. 

Maduro also faces opposition from Venezuelan socialists. Some don't want the new legislative body to re-write the constitution that was last established under former President Hugo Chavez. Lawmaker Eustoquio Contreras told colleagues that he and other socialists were forming the new Parliamentary Socialist Bloc. 

The Organization of American States and The United Nations also reacted to the political instability in Venezuela. 

OAS chief Luis Almagro reported 16 Venezuelans were killed during protests Sunday. He also classified the creation of the new legislative body as fraudulent, illegitimate and a sign that the "Venezuelan regime" will continue to escalate its repression. 

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said they were worried about "the country moving away from a path to finding a peaceful solution." Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, U.N. human rights chief, called for independent investigations into 10 deaths Sunday. 

He asked Venezuelan authorities "not to make an already extremely volatile situation even worse throught the use of excessive force."


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