A general strike entered its second day in Venezuela Thursday as clashes left three more people dead in an intensifying showdown over President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the beleaguered nation’s constitution.
With the approach of controversial elections on Sunday of a 545-seat Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution, the opposition and the Maduro government, which has shown no sign of backing down, skirmished in the streets.
Barricades made from debris dotted eastern Caracas and signs were up that read “No more dictatorships!”
Maduro says a new constitution is the only way to bring peace, but the opposition is vehemently opposed, fearing a power grab to keep the embattled leftist government in power.
“What happens if they impose the Constituent Assembly? The crisis will worsen. Where does Maduro want to take the country? To a social explosion?” said Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader.
The latest deaths in clashes with security forces raised to 106 the number of people killed since April 1.
In Washington, the US Treasury unveiled a list of 13 current and former officials, including the interior minister, senior military brass, the president of the electoral council, and the finance chief of state oil company PDVSA, whose US assets would be frozen.
“Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential US sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said.
His threat was echoed by other US officials who said such penalties could be applied to any “bad actors” in Maduro’s government who are involved in corruption, human rights abuses or efforts to undermine democracy.
The Venezuelan president called the US punishment “illegal, insolent and unprecedented.”
But in his country, where there are widespread shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protesters are showing their discontent with Maduro’s leadership. Organizers claimed 92 percent support for the walkout.
The Venezuelan military has declared its loyalty to him. But some 70 percent of Venezuelans are opposed to the Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.
The hardening political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen.
The opposition has planned another major demonstration in the capital on Friday.