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Venezuelans begin 'final offensive' 24-hour walkout against President Nicolas Maduro

21 July 2017

The Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez stated in a press conference Wednesday that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela strongly rejects the interference of western powers in the internal affairs of the country.

But even as the diplomatic temperature between the two countries hovers near zero, economic relations have always been close: The United States remains the leading importer of Venezuelan oil, and several American multinationals, including automaking giant General Motors, have invested heavily for decades in what they viewed as a southern El Dorado.

Maduro's government is now organizing the creation of a "National Constituent's Assembly" tasked with drafting a new constitution that would cement his stranglehold over the presidency, even as a national opposition-led vote found that 98 percent of Venezuelan citizens around the world oppose the measure.

Maduro vowed that the July 30 election would go ahead despite a boycott and escalating protests from a majority-backed Venezuelan opposition, and growing foreign condemnation from the European Union to major Latin American countries.

The conservative opposition, which has the backing of the United States, has opposed the initiative and even organised an informal poll on Sunday to gauge support.

Facing a crisis in Venezuela, US President Donald Trump has threatened to inflict "swift and strong" economic sanctions unless President Nicolas Maduro backs away from a plan to rewrite that nation's constitution.

Despite Trump's threats, Venezuela has continued to forge ties with some United States-based oil companies working to improve relations.

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Leaders of Venezuela's 2.8 million public employees said state businesses and ministries remained open on Thursday.

Maduro criticized Trump's threats as "vulgar", arguing "the process of the constituent assembly is already in the hands of the people who will exercise their right to vote".

Venezuelans have launched a massive national strike as pressure builds on President Nicolas Maduro over his controversial plan to consolidate power. Venezuelan experts say it's not clear if top officials are vulnerable to such measures, but said expanding the list of targets throughout the army hierarchy could force some military officers to reconsider the cost of supporting Maduro's government.

In response, the opposition called Thursday's general strike.

"We continue within the framework of democracy, within the framework of peace", Torrealba said.

"They expressed their recognition of the Venezuelan people, who achieved the release of López, following more than 100 days of pro-democracy protests", the statement continued. Some 496 polling centers were authorized in all the municipalities of the country, 55 of which functioned as pilot centers, according to the National Electoral Council.

Venezuelans in other parts of the world as far as Miami, New York City and Spain also participated in the non-binding referendum.

Venezuelans begin 'final offensive' 24-hour walkout against President Nicolas Maduro