Two Venezuelan opposition leaders were taken from their homes late Monday night, according to their families, the latest sign of an impending dictatorship in the beleaguered South American nation.
It came only a day after President Nicolas Maduro claimed a major victory over his opponents in an election that many Venezuelans and international observers viewed as illegitimate.
Maduro had called the July 30 election in order to establish a new “Constituent Assembly” composed of his supporters. This assembly, which many believe will try to replace Venezuela’s democratically elected National Assembly, would have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, potentially paving the way for Maduro to remain in power for life.
Maduro claimed this new assembly would restore peace and stability to the country after months of protests. However, critics saw it as an authoritarian power grab by Maduro, and it sparked even more protests throughout the country.
Venezuela has been wracked by violent protests for well over a year. Frequent electrical blackouts and chronic shortages of food and medicine have caused great unrest, turning much of the population against Maduro and his regime. The country’s pro-Maduro Supreme Court only fanned the flames in March when it tried to seize power from the National Assembly, which has been controlled by Maduro opponents since December 2015.
Observing the South American nation from his perch as chairman of the D.C.-based Religious Freedom Coalition, William J. Murray sees a country consumed by utter chaos.
“Venezuela is already in a state of anarchy,” Murray told WND. “It has one of the highest murder rates in the world and people are killing each other for boxes of cereal. The average Venezuelan has lost more than 10 pounds because of starvation – in a nation which has the largest oil reserves in the world and should be rich.”
But Murray is not surprised that Venezuela is poor despite its abundance of oil. The country has been in the grip of socialist rule since 1999, starting with the late President Hugo Chavez and continuing with Maduro.
Socialism is one strain of utopian thought, and as Murray demonstrates in his book “Utopian Road to Hell: Enslaving America and the World with Central Planning,” utopian rulers throughout history have always brought poverty and misery to their people.
Murray believes Maduro has joined the long line of utopian dictators, as evidenced most recently by his illegitimate Constituent Assembly election.
“There was a democracy in Venezuela,” Murray said. “It was a functioning democracy, and this Constituent Assembly is for one purpose – to put Maduro in power for life without any further elections despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of people want him out now.”
Believing Sunday’s election to be a sham, Maduro opponents boycotted it, leading to a sweeping victory for the president. Murray thinks that was the wrong move.
“Boycotting elections like this is always a mistake,” Murray declared. “This is precisely what put the Muslim Brotherhood in charge in Egypt – the opposition boycotting the election – and they wound up with a repressive government that was going to force Shariah law down everyone’s throat.
“Yes, I think Maduro’s opponents would have been better off participating. I understand their fear that the vote results were going to be altered, but I think they would have had a better command of the situation had they had millions of people in the street today saying, ‘We voted against this.’ Now they don’t have that alternative.”
The election prompted an outcry from the international community. The U.S. State Department said the election was “designed to replace the legitimately elected National Assembly and undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination.”
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., tweeted: “Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail.”
Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail.
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) July 30, 2017
On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Maduro. The U.S. joined Canada, Britain, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Panama and Paraguay in declaring they would not recognize Sunday’s vote.
Murray dismissed the effort to sanction Maduro.
“As far as our so-called sanctions are concerned, they’re a joke,” he scoffed. “And Trump reinstating sanctions against Cuba is a joke. The sanctions and embargoes that we put up against Japan in 1939 and ’40 to ‘stop their aggression’ did not stop the attack on Pearl Harbor. The decades of sanctions against Cuba did not stop anything, and our farmers not being able to sell things inside Russia is just a total joke.”
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council claimed more than 8 million people, or about 42 percent of registered voters, voted in Sunday’s election. However, the opposition and independent media outlets believed the actual turnout was somewhere between 2 million and 3 million. One independent analysis estimated the turnout at 3.6 million.
Opposition leaders had held an unofficial election of their own two weeks earlier. On July 16, 7 million Venezuelans voted in a referendum to reject Maduro’s proposed Constituent Assembly. Although 98 percent of voters voted to call off the July 30 vote, Maduro ignored them, pushing forward with his election anyway.
Opposition members reacted to the July 30 election by calling for a massive protest Monday. In fact, on the day of the election, 10 protesters were killed, including two teenagers. Roughly 200 people gathered in Caracas Monday night for a vigil to honor the more than 121 demonstrators who have been killed in protests since April.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who has become an anti-Maduro voice within the government, said the administration doesn’t care about protester deaths.
“The government dances and laughs while our people are dying,” Ortega said, according to CNN. “This is the state of the country.”
Ortega also referred to Sunday’s controversial election as “the end of freedom of expression.”
Murray, for his part, believes it’s too late for Venezuela to save itself.
“Something needed to be done before it reached this stage,” he opined. “Unfortunately, now it’s going to take other Central and South American nations to probably move in and take some action to restore democracy and to end the poverty and starvation that socialism has caused in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, a nation that has the world’s largest oil reserves.”
Murray said the chaos in Venezuela will end with military intervention by Cuba, Bolivia or the democratic nations of South America.
“I personally believe the Colombians need to get involved,” Murray asserted. “They share a border there. They have huge smuggling problems. They have attempts by the socialists in Venezuela to alter their elections through illegal campaign contributions. They should be the ones to take action. They have an experienced military that has been fighting terror for some time. It would not take them three days to go into Venezuela and restore the democracy and hand the nation back to its people.”