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Unrest In Venezuela Deepens After 'Sham Election'


Months ago, Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, ordered a rewriting of his country's constitution to give himself sweeping new powers, a move that's provoked violent protest. A vote on that yesterday elected a new assembly to carry out that task. The election received criticism from around the world, including from Venezuela's traditional allies. And the Trump administration announced sanctions against President Maduro, freezing any assets he has in the U.S. and forbidding Americans from doing business with him.

For a view from the ground in Venezuela, we reached out to journalist Mariana Zuniga in Caracas. I asked her how this election was being viewed inside the country.

MARIANA ZUNIGA: For many people inside the opposition, this vote mean the end of democracy. Many people, many protesters felt a little bit despair that after four months of street actions, still the president decided to go on with this initiative.

CORNISH: So here we are the day after the election. What was it like on the streets? I mean for months we've been seeing images of clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.

ZUNIGA: Well, on the west part of Caracas, the vote developed really peacefully in the morning. Some people show up in the voting centers in favor of this constituent assembly but not as much as expected. But in the other side of the city, in the eastern part of the city, we saw some kind of escalation of the protests here in Caracas because some guy who's known for being part of la resistencia, of the guys that usually clash the most with the security forces, put some kind of explosive devices in the middle of the street.

And around 80 men belonging to security forces in motorcycle were passing by, and the barricade just explode. And seven militaries got injured. And we could see the anger from the security forces because they start shooting tear gas canisters. So we saw an escalation of violence in the country yesterday. Also, according to the public prosecutor, 10 people died yesterday. And this made the - Sunday's vote probably the deadliest day in Venezuela since the protests started four months ago.

CORNISH: And so here we are today. You said people woke up in shock. What was it like on the streets during the day today?

ZUNIGA: Yeah. People woke up in shock because they didn't believe these results. Also, many people were expecting more strong response from the opposition today. There is a march today, but it will be more like some kind of remembrance of those who have been killed during these months of protest. It won't be such a strong protest as we've seen. So that's why people - they were expecting, like, a more strong reaction from the opposition. So that was the general feeling in the city or the one that I could perceive today.

CORNISH: Much of this referendum was so that Maduro could bring in more of his own supporters into the National Assembly after the opposition had made gains there and, as we said, to make changes to the constitution. What's next for the opposition and street protests? What do you do now if he tries to seat his new assembly?

ZUNIGA: I think what we should expect is - will be more strict action from the opposition and maybe also more violent response from the government. It seems that they are - the government is ready to put some opposition leaders in jail if needed. But the opposition wants to take the risk and to continue on the streets because for them, it's the only way to actually do something about it.

CORNISH: Mariana Zuniga, thank you for speaking with us.

ZUNIGA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.