July 6, 2017
Venezuela celebrated 206 years of independence in a manner uniquely befitting Latin America’s socialist paradise: A gang of armed Maduro supporters broke into the National Assembly and viciously assaulted opposition lawmakers, nearly killing one.
“The melee, which injured seven opposition politicians, was another worrying flashpoint in a traumatic last three months for the South American OPEC nation, shaken by opposition protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Pipe-wielding government supporters burst into Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress on Wednesday, witnesses said, attacking and besieging lawmakers in the latest flare-up of violence during a political crisis.
The melee, which injured seven opposition politicians, was another worrying flashpoint in a traumatic last three months for the South American OPEC nation, shaken by opposition protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.”
Mobs of anti-government protesters have been gathering daily in the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities to protests Maduro’s intensifying crackdown on dissent. As is well known, government mismanagement in the country with the world’s biggest oil reserves has led to hyperinflation of over 10,000% and a total collapse in the standard of life. The country’s dire financial straits have led to widespread hunger while necessary supplies like medicine have become dangerously scarce. At least 90 people have died in the unrest since April, many of them young men, like a 22-year-old protester whose government-sanctioned murder was caught on tape.
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Earlier this year, Maduro “annuled” the Assembly, stripping it of most of its legislative powers in favor of consolidating power in the hands of the executive branch.
After the July 5 “Independence Day” attack (Venezuela celebrates its independence one day after the US), National Assembly president Julio Borges said more than 350 politicians, journalists and guests to the Independence Day session were trapped in the siege that lasted until dusk.
‘There are bullets, cars destroyed including mine, blood stains around the (congress) palace,’ he told reporters. “The violence in Venezuela has a name and surname: Nicolas Maduro.”
The crowd had gathered just after dawn outside the building in downtown Caracas, chanting in favor of Maduro, witnesses said. In the late morning, several dozen people ran past the gates with pipes, sticks and stones and went on the attack. Several injured lawmakers stumbled bloodied and dazed around the assembly’s corridors. Some journalists were robbed. After the morning attack, a crowd of roughly 100 people, many dressed in red and shouting ‘Long Live The Revolution!’, trapped people inside for hours, witnesses said.”
Some in the crowd outside the legislature brandished pistols, threatened to cut water and power supplies, and played an audio of former socialist president Hugo Chavez saying “Tremble, oligarchy!” Fireworks were thrown inside. One lawmaker, Americo De Grazia, was hit on the head, fell unconscious, and was eventually taken by stretcher to an ambulance. His family later said he was out of critical condition and being stitched up.
In October 2016, Maduro quashed a recall vote organized by the assembly. Maduro, a former bus driver and chosen successor of its deceased former leader, Hugo Chavez. Venezuela’s opposition has stepped up its criticism of the dictator Maduro for seeking to solidify his control through the creation of a Constituent Assembly, a superbody that will be elected at the end of July. The opposition has promised to boycott the vote, which it (rightly) claims is being rigged.
There has been a string of clashes at the country’s assembly since the opposition thrashed Maduro’s Socialist Party in December 2015 parliamentary elections.
“In a speech during a military parade for Independence Day, Maduro condemned the “strange” violence in the assembly and asked for an investigation. But he also challenged the opposition to speak out about violence from within its ranks.
In daily protests since April, young demonstrators have frequently attacked security forces with stones, homemade mortars and Molotov cocktails, and burned property. They killed one man by dousing him in gasoline and setting him on fire.
In a statement that redefines irony, Maduro condemned the violence on the opposition that was unleashed by his own supporters.
‘I want peace for Venezuela,” Maduro said. “I don’t accept violence from anyone.’”
Western officials quickly condemned the attack:
‘I condemn the grotesque attack on the Venezuelan assembly,’ tweeted UK ambassador John Saville.
‘This violence, perpetrated during the celebration of Venezuela’s independence, is an assault on the democratic principles cherished by the men and women who struggled for Venezuela’s independence 206 years ago today,’ the U.S. State Department said.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s opposition is demanding general elections to end Maduro’s rule over the OPEC member state. Police pilot Oscar Perez, who staged a coup attempt earlier this month and somehow survived, also condemned the violence.
As previously noted, Perez had not been seen since he hijacked a helicopter last week and flew through Caracas pulling a “Freedom” banner.He reportedly opened fire and dropped grenades on the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court but nobody was injured. That attack is widely believed to have been staged to divert attention from the unrest that has brought the country to the brink of economic and political collapse.
Expect violence to worsen as the Constitutional Assembly vote – slated for later this month – draws closer.
Meanwhile, international investors, who have largely ignored the political upheavals in the socialist nation, have started to notice, and as
Bloomberg reports, Venezuela’s default odds are once again sharply rising as its foreign reserves tumble toward $10 billion amid ongoing deadly anti-government protests and President Nicolas Maduro’s push to rewrite the constitution.
The implied probability of the country missing a payment over the next 12 months rose to 56 percent in June, based on the latest CDS data, the highest level since December. Implied odds of a credit event over the next five years increased to 91% last month.
Maduro, who has faced three months of violent protests that have left almost 80 dead, has drastically cut imports of food and medicine in order to conserve the cash needed to pay bondholders with declining oil prices and production. That hasn’t stopped a drop in reserves, which usually provide investors with a certain degree of assurance that the government will avoid default in the short-term. Recent deals to provide the government with liquidity have only resulted in minor spikes that have disappeared quickly.
The country faces payments on principal and interest of more than $5 billion in the remainder of the year, although no large sums are due before October. Judging by the recent moves in Venezuela CDS, the market is growing increasingly concerned that Maduro will have enough control over the country to make them.