Venezuela Balks at Trump Sanctions Threat

Venezuela’s foreign minister said Tuesday the country will move forward with plans to elect members of a constitutional assembly and review relations with the United States, despite sanction threats from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The constitutional assembly is happening,” Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on state television. He also said Venezuela is “conducting a deep review of relations with the U.S. government because we don’t accept humiliation from anyone.”

Trump said late Monday the United States will take “strong and swift economic actions” if Maduro goes through with his plans.

“The Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law,” the U.S. president said in a statement. “Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”

Trump’s comments came after Venezuela’s opposition launched what it says is a “final offensive” on Maduro to call for early presidential elections.

In a nonbinding national referendum Sunday organized by opposition groups, more than seven million Venezuelans – nearly one-third of the national electorate – called on Maduro to give up the idea of electing a special assembly to put together a new constitution.

The opposition group also called for a daylong general strike Thursday, hoping to pressure Maduro into calling off plans for a new constitution.

Maduro brushes off opposition

Maduro called the opposition referendum illegal and is continuing to push ahead with plans for a July 30 vote for the special assembly.

Changing the constitution is the only way to pull Venezuela out of its deep economic and social crisis, the president said.

“I’m calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect the constitution, to sit and talk,” he said Sunday. “Let’s start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace.”

The opposition says the assembly will be rigged in Maduro’s favor. It says rewriting the constitution is nothing but a Maduro ploy to dissolve state institutions and turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship, leaving the opposition-led national assembly irrelevant.

No food, no rights

One voter who rejects the idea of a new constitution told The Associated Press: “There’s no medicine, no food, no security. … No separation of powers, no freedom of expression.”

Lower global energy prices and government corruption have destroyed Venezuela’s once thriving economy, which is dependent on oil revenues.

Consumers face severe shortages of basic goods such as gasoline, flour, sugar and cooking oil. Supermarket shelves are bare and many Venezuelans cross into neighboring Brazil and Colombia to buy food.

Daily street protests against the government frequently blow up into violence. Nearly 100 people have been killed over the last three months.

Maduro blames his country’s woes on what he calls U.S. imperialism. He warns against intervention by the Organization of American States, saying that would surely bring on civil war.

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