The Venezuela crisis has been vacuuming up headlines in recent weeks, with the South American country spiraling into a full-fledged civil war. As foreign ministers from 14 nations are due to meet in Peru on Tuesday to forge a regional response to the volatile political crisis in Venezuela, the 31 million-populated nation has thrust itself into the global spotlight.
With Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro crushing his political opponents, brutally massacring peaceful protestors and downgrading the nation to dictatorship, ordinary Venezuelan struggle to express their own opinion.
ValueWalk’s cartoonist, Carlos Gonzalez, is a Venezuelan citizen who has seen first-hand some of the scariest things a dictator with blood on his hands can do. Today, the former lawyer reveals the truth behind the lingering Venezuelan crisis that has killed over a hundred people in anti-government unrest.
Venezuela ‘Sham’ Vote Marred by Deaths and Violence
Mr. Gonzalez and his relatives have witnessed their native country plunge into a deep political crisis and their countrymen suffer from violence from pro-Maduro government forces. As Venezuela had been steadily headed toward crisis since April – when protesters took to the streets demanding Maduro to resign for eroding democracy – the Venezuelan President reached the point of no return with the July 30 vote to overhaul the country’s Constitution.
With voting company Smartmatic declaring the controversial election to create a so-called Constituent Assembly as “fraudulent” and concluding that the turnout was “manipulated” by the government, Mr. Gonzalez was one of many Venezuelans who stayed at home on July 30 – one of limited options Venezuelans had that day to express their opposition to the government.
Other Venezuelans resorted to risking their lives on the streets, and many of them were brutally killed by government forces. At least six people, including two teenagers, were killed on the election day alone. With the death toll steadily rising to more than 100 since the unrest broke out on the streets of Venezuela in April, the constitutional vote was marred by deadly violence. The night before the election, an opposition candidate, José Félix Pineda, 39, was shot dead at his home by an armed group who broke into his house.
Venezuela Crisis: Maduro Regime Using ‘Old Communist System’
Only a handful of independent media outlets and journalists, whom Mr. Gonzalez calls “brave” and “strong,” reported that polling stations were empty. In his interview with ValueWalk politics writer Polina Tikhonova, Mr. Gonzalez says that while “big private media do not have the permission to inform any news damaging to the Maduro regime,” Venezuelan people take to social media to share truthful information.
While Mr. Gonzalez says the government is “seeking ways to limit” the use of social media in the South American nation, it is undeniable at this point that Maduro is following unwritten rules of turning his country into a dictatorship state. The July 30 election, in which the ValueWalk cartoonist says the government imitated a high turnout by “giving away free food among poor people,” marked a point of no return for the Maduro regime.
The sham election, the outcome of which prompted many world leaders – including U.S. President Donald Trump – to slap the Maduro regime with sanctions, allowed President Maduro to replace Venezuela’s now-former legislative body – the National Assembly, which had been controlled by the opposition since 2016 – with a new institution called the Constituent Assembly.
Maduro’s all-powerful Constituent Assembly will not only allow the regime to rewrite the constitution, but also have more powers than any other body in the nation. Members of the assembly have already shown to have much wider powers than just rewriting the existing constitution, as they approved the removal of independently-minded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega over the weekend.
Mr. Gonzalez says the Maduro government is using “the same old communism system” to have an all-out, unlimited rule over the country.
How Venezuelan People Were Coerced to Vote on July 30
The Maduro regime went beyond the usual dictator’s set of tools to assert his rule – faking the election turnout and using oppressive police tactics against protesters – as the government also resorted to using methods to coerce Venezuelan people into voting. Mr. Gonzalez reveals that the Maduro government introduced the so-called Country Card (“Carnet de la Patria”), which was an obligatory document for every Venezuelan to be able to vote in the July 30 election.
The Country Card, which is not the same as Venezuela‘s National Identification Card, is “a new political method of control,” says the ValueWalk cartoonist, who personally does not have the card. Mr. Gonzalez reveals that only Maduro regime followers can get the Country Card, which requires every Venezuelan to give all of their personal data to get one, and yet the government is using the card against its own supporters.
Mr. Gonzalez, who says there is a barcode on every Country Card that informs the regime if the cardholder has voted or not, suggests that the government used Country Card holders’ personal data to force them into voting in the sham election late last month.
“If you are a Public Employee (Military Sector & Public Administration Employees) and they know you are not going to vote through the barcode register, they can call you through your direct boss and threaten you with dismissal because they have your data,” Mr. Gonzalez says, adding that, “If you don’t go, you are fired.”
The former lawyer says some of his relatives were “forced to vote” under the threat of being fired from their job.
Venezuelan People Are Killed Even When NOT Protesting
As the Venezuela crisis is on the brink of spiraling into an all-out civil war, world leaders, including U.S. President Trump, are slamming the Maduro regime for using oppressive police tactics against protesters.
Mr. Gonzalez, who has personally seen bloody violence on the streets of his country, says violence in the Venezuela crisis is coming from the pro-government police “in a greater proportion.”
“Young people gathered to protest on the street next to my building, and police came and shoot tear gas bombs and rubber bullets at them,” the ValueWalk cartoonist recalls the incident he has witnessed not long ago. “It is unfair, because our Constitution allows the protest, and we have no guns.”
However, things are getting “really, really dangerous” in mass protests, says Mr. Gonzalez. Apart from using plastic bullets rather than rubber ones, the former lawyer says he had seen Regime Security Forces “shooting directly to the body (of protesters) and this can be deadly.”
There are also paramilitary forces named “Colectivos” (“common criminals”) taking part in the oppression of anti-government protests. “These forces have real guns and deadly fire power and act against protesters,” reveals the cartoonist. “You can die even if you are not protesting.”
Why Are Venezuelan People Protesting? A Venezuelan Answers…
That’s why ordinary Venezuelan people are “under a risk when we leave our homes” at the time of the Venezuela crisis, tells Mr. Gonzalez. But sheltering themselves from the deteriorating Venezuela crisis at home is not an option, as “normal people have to work, buy food and to live in general.”
“When my family have to do something, like buy food as provisions, we need to do these things early in the morning and be really careful dodging obstacles because many streets are obstructed by protesters or security forces or paramilitary forces,” the cartoonist reveals the daily struggles of Venezuelan people caught up in the political crisis that shows no signs of going away.
The cartoonist also complains that criminal rates have gotten “really high” in Venezuela since the violence broke out on the streets, recalling a horrendous incident when he and his wife were robbed by an armed individual near their front door. “These kind of things and other serious problems are very usual, and regime is doing nothing against that,” Mr. Gonzalez says, channeling the anti-government sentiments of millions of people opposing the regime. “Now you see why this country is protesting?”
Venezuela is ‘Already in Dictatorship’ Under a ‘Democracy Mask’
When asked if he thinks his country is on the brink of dictatorship, the former lawyer says “we are already in dictatorship, but not a normal dictatorship.”
“Politicians and some experts call it neo-dictatorship. We have a dictatorial regime uncovered under a democracy mask,” says the cartoonist, adding that, “this mask is only to gain legitimacy to show the world.” While Mr. Gonzalez says Venezuelans have the right to vote, he reminds of the Country Card and other “multiple obstacles” put up by the Maduro regime to allow only its followers to vote and to force them into voting.
With the all-powerful Constituent Assembly now in power to rewrite an existing constitution or draft a new one, the Maduro regime is planning to “take all of us to the Soviet era,” says Mr. Gonzalez, adding that with its “infinite power” after the July 30 vote, the government can now “dissolve another democratic institution like the actual Assembly or remove the actual general prosecutor.”
Prior to the creation of the Constituent Assembly, changes to the constitution could have been made only by “the president of the nation and the minister council, the president of the parliament with 2/3 deputies or a 15% percentage of the electorate,” explains the former lawyer. “Then electoral power needs to hold a general election to decide if the constitutional change is necessary or not, and how people who will write a new constitution will be elected.”
With the Constituent Assembly, the Maduro regime is no longer required to ask Venezuelan people’s opinion about constitutional changes and it can elect the Constituents directly and elect whoever the government wants. “Democrats (opposition leaders) did not participate in the process because the process itself is against the Constitution,” says Mr. Gonzalez, revealing the ugly side of the Venezuela crisis.
Venezuela is Sitting on a ‘Time Bomb’
The new legislature superbody of President Maduro, which was sworn in on 4 August, has already shown worrying signs that expose the dictatorship face of the regime. The decision to sack the chief prosecutor was unanimous, which means the Constituent Assembly – filled with Maduro’s followers – is closely aligned with the government.
Many Venezuelan people, such as Mr. Gonzalez, are worried about the consequences of the Venezuela crisis as the “democratic side does not have any representation in this horror.” Following the removal of the chief prosecutor from office, a group of 20 people carried out a guerilla attack on an military base in the central city of Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city. Two of the intruders were shot dead by military officials, one was injured and seven arrested.
The guerilla attack on the Valencia army base in the latest indication that political tensions continue to deteriorate parallel to the erosion of democracy in Venezuela. At this rate, it will not be long until the nation enters a civil war. “I think that Venezuela is sitting on a time bomb, and the country is under a real danger because people is really angry,” Mr. Gonzalez reveals what ordinary Venezuelans think of the growing political crisis in the South American country.