Venezuela’s ongoing civil unrest may be approaching a new phase of armed insurrection against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, following a weekend raid on a military base by a combined group of civilians and army officers.
The raid, in which the attackers made off with a cache of weapons, raised new fears that opposition groups are preparing an increasingly violent response to the regime’s crackdown on demonstrators, reports Reuters. After the formation of a new legislative body with the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, many anti-government groups are now wondering if there is any point to using peaceful, democratic means to oppose Maduro.
The possibility of escalating violence comes as Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party moves to strengthen its grip on the levers of power. Government supporters inaugurated the Constituent Assembly on Friday as the most powerful political institution in Venezuela.
The new body, which is filled with Maduro loyalists, has the authority to override other government institutions and dismiss opposition officials. In its first session, the Constituent Assembly removed Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a former Maduro supporter who had opposed the election to establish the new legislature.
The power grab has drawn widespread condemnation from governments around the world, including the Trump administration, which froze all of Maduro’s assets “subject to U.S. jurisdiction” following the disputed election to approve the Constituent Assembly. The U.S. is now weighing additional sanctions on up to 20 government officials tied to Maduro, reports Bloomberg.
The installation of the Constituent Assembly likely provoked Sunday’s attack on a military base near the city of Valencia by soldiers and armed civilians. In a pre-taped video, more than a dozen men in military-style uniforms demanded a return to the previous constitutional order and called for Maduro to step down in favor of a transitional government, according to Reuters.
The raid was the second coordinated attack directly on government security forces in less that a week. During the election of the Constituent Assembly on July 30, an improvised explosive device exploded in Caracas, wounding seven police officers on motorcycles. The explosion capped a day of widespread violence, as 10 people were killed in anti-government demonstrations throughout the country.
Both the planned attacks and increasingly violent demonstrations have played into Maduro’s previous claims that he is facing an “armed insurrection” to subvert socialism in Venezuela and transfer control of the country’s immense oil reserves to U.S.-backed business elites.
However, most international observers have blamed the Maduro regime for the worsening violence. The U.N. human rights office said Tuesday that the government is using excessive force and arbitrary detention to suppress demonstrators. Security forces are responsible for at least 73 deaths and the dentition of more that 5,000 dissidents since protests began in April, according to U.N. investigators,
“These violations have occurred amid the breakdown of the rule of law in Venezuela, with constant attacks by the Government against the National Assembly and the Attorney-General’s Office,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.
“The responsibility for the human rights violations we are recording lies at the highest levels of government,” he added.
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