Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Venezuela rejects Trump sanctions threat, reviews relations

By on July 18, 2017

In this April 28, 2017 photo, Samuel Moncada, then Venezuela’s deputy minister of foreign affairs for North America, speaks during a news conference at the Venezuelan consulate in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Venezuela rejected President Donald Trump’s call to halt a rewriting of its constitution that is widely seen as a move to consolidate the government’s power, saying Tuesday that it is reviewing its relations with the United States in response to Trump’s threat to impose economic sanctions.

Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on state television that the election of members of a constitutional assembly will take place as planned on July 30. He said President Nicolas Maduro has asked him to reconsider the country’s diplomatic relations with the U.S.

“The constitutional assembly is happening,” Moncada said, adding that Venezuela is “conducting a deep review of relations with the U.S. government because we don’t accept humiliation from anyone.”

On Monday, Trump threatened to take unspecified “economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with the assembly. Maduro’s socialist supporters want the assembly to grant him more power over the few institutions still outside the control of his ruling party.

The U.S. is a major market for the oil exports that drive Venezuela’s economy. Trump has imposed travel bans and has frozen the assets of high-ranking officials in recent weeks, but refrained from broad sanctions against the country that could deepen its economic crisis.

Venezuela’s opposition called Monday for a 24-hour nationwide strike to pressure Maduro to drop his plans to rewrite the constitution. The opposition said that more than 7.5 million people voted against the constitutional assembly at unofficial ballot boxes set up nationwide and in expatriate communities Sunday.

While that number cannot be independently verified, it’s roughly equivalent to the number of votes garnered by winning candidates in recent Venezuelan elections, an indication that Venezuelans would vote down the constitutional assembly if asked in an official referendum.

Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Colombia and the European Union have also come out against the effort.

The opposition said it would launch a plan it called “zero hour” on Wednesday that includes an agreement to form an alternate government and create 2,000 local committees that would function as street-level support for the opposition.

That would be followed Thursday by a nationwide strike, which could bring much of Venezuela’s already sputtering economy to a standstill. Venezuela’s largest chamber of commerce told The Associated Press that its members would not punish employees for participating in the strike.

On Friday, the opposition plans to name 13 judges to the supreme court to replace those named by the outgoing, ruling-party-dominated congress in 2015 in a process that legal experts say violated nomination procedures. Those nominations would not give the opposition a supreme court majority but are almost certain to be rejected by the current court and the executive branch, making them a largely symbolic tactic to increase pressure on Maduro.

More than three months of street protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.

Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers.

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