By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio told the embattled administration of Nicolas Maduro Tuesday to “expect severe U.S. sanctions if "constituent assembly" happens”, posing the biggest challenge yet to the President’s initiative to ditch the present Constitution and write a new one to replace it.
“Reconciliation possible in #Venezuela if Maduro follows this path. But expect severe U.S. sanctions if "constituent assembly" happens”, Rubio, who has repeatedly shown concern about the Venezuelan situation, said in one of four tweets he devoted to the crisis in the oil-rich nation Tuesday.
However, Rubio’s challenge is not the only one Maduro is facing. The normally pliant CNE electoral board admitted a challenge Monday by a group of dissenting “chavistas” that aims to have the Constituent Assembly vote, scheduled for July 30th, stopped or at least altered, Maduro cabinet minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo said during a television interview.
Rubio also expressed faith in the maturity of the Venezuelan opposition and said ditching the Constituent would actually offer Maduro a way out of the present cycle of violent street protests. “The goal of the opposition in #Venezuela is not vengeance.The protests will end if Maduro govt. returns to constitutional order,” the Senator said in another tweet.
And Maduro best hurry, Rubio added, in a separate tweet that added urgency and the hinit of a threat. “We will support REAL efforts to achieve reconciliation & restore democratic order in #Venezuela.But time is running out”, he said in his last tweet.
The Attorney General’s Office has been trying to stop Maduro’s Constituent almost since the President announced it, May 1st, going repeatedly before the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court but so far with little success. And street protests against the initiative have grown unusually violent, even for Venezuela, with the same agency saying 91 Venezuelans have been killed during protests and related events, such as riots and looting, a figure that includes both demonstrators and security forces.
Perhaps the biggest challenge against the Constituent initiative resides in the fact that Maduro needs more than 5 million voters (25% of the almost-20-million voters’ roll) for the July 30th vote to be valid and the vast majority of Venezuelans, according to all available polls, will not take part in the vote, which the opposition has deemed unconstitutional since it wasn’t preceded by a separate vote asking people if they indeed want their Constitution changed.
Maduro’s popularity is stuck at a 10% approval rate, although some polls put it lower than that.