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03 May, 2017

Venezuela opposition blocks roads against constituent assembly

The opposition called for residents to block all roads in their neighborhoods, restricting access to schools and health services.

Venezuelan opposition leaders have called on their supporters to block all roads in their neighborhoods Tuesday as a way of rejecting President Nicolas Maduro's call for a national constituent assembly, a process to bring together social and other organizations to rewrite the the country's 1999 constitution.

The proposal was presented by the president on May Day as an attempt to ease political tensions after opposition and pro-government supporters have taken to the streets in near-daily protests for the past month.

But the opposition slammed Maduro's announcement as a "coup," claiming that it would consolidate “one more constitutional fraud” and called for people to rebel in the streets in a fresh round of protests Tuesday. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles warned that Maduro's opponents will continue to organize against the government.

In recent weeks, waves of protests have resulted in a number of violent incidents that have led to the deaths of more than two dozen people with hundreds more injured. Amid the protests, public institutions including schools and hospitals sustained damaged and many small businesses were looted.

On Tuesday morning, protesters began setting up road blocks in various Caracas neighborhoods.

"They want peace, constituent power, they want elections, constituent power," said Maduro during Monday's rally where he announced the new plans for a constituent assembly.

In 2013, opposition leaders, including Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez and María Corina Machado, signed a statement demanding a constituent assembly to remove the president.

According to the constitution, the constituent assembly would be comprised of 500 members, directly elected by Venezuelans. Maduro said that half of the assembly would be organized by sectoral organizations instead of political parties, such as associations of people with disabilities, student groups, the LGBTQ community, unions, campesino organizations, as well as the private sector.

Venezuela's current 1999 constitution was written under late President Hugo Chavez's and is widely regarded as one of the most progressive in the world, enshrining social rights and creating space for the population to intervene in political decision-making.

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