|Maduro and followers celebrate their 'victory' in rigged voting in Sunday's election.|
Perhaps the best evidence of Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro's anti-democratic intentions is the fact that he never permitted regional elections supposed to be held late last year - and which his party was sure to lose. Maduro claimed that the country, which has the world's largest oil reserves, lacked the money to pay for elections, and called democracy a luxury for the elites.
Yet, miraculously, Maduro had no trouble finding the money for Sunday's constitutional assembly - which he made sure he'd win.
The Maduro government has also packed the Supreme Court, done all it could to negate the results of unfavorable elections, shuttered hostile media, imprisoned political opponents - and even briefly dissolved the opposition-dominated National Assembly.
But none of the Venezuelan government's anti-democratic measures have come close to Sunday's election of a constitutional assembly, manipulated to ensure a pro-government majority, despite Maduro's extreme unpopularity. The assembly has apparently unlimited powers to rewrite the country's constitution and remake its government.
The voting for the assembly representatives included manipulations such as giving rural voters - who have remained loyal to Maduro - disproportional representation, while reducing representation for city dwellers, who overwhelmingly reject Maduro. (Come to think of it, that arrangement is a lot like the United States' unfair and illogical Electoral College - which gave us president Trump.) And the voting system also gave pro-Maduro social organizations preponderant weight in the voting.
Government workers were ordered to vote or lose their jobs. Even so, media observers reported that voter turnout was light.
What's more, many experts say that Maduro lacked the authority to call this vote without first holding a popular referendum. But Maduro knew he'd lose any such referendum.
The Venezuelan opposition boycotted the vote in order to not give it legitimacy. As a result, Maduro's victory will be close to 100%, whether votes are counted fairly or not.
The new Constitutional Assembly's powers aren't defined, and may be unlimited. Expect Maduro to order his minions to eliminate the country's hostile National Assembly and to remove the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, a courageous politician who stood on principle in the face of the government's violations of human rights and trampling of its own Constitution.
Ortega charged that Venezuela was turning into a dictatorship.
In fact, immediately after the vote, Maduro called for removing National Assembly legislators' legal immunity and for replacing Ortega. Two prominent opposition leaders were quickly arrested.
The travesty will continue as long as Venezuela's armed forces - the police and military - continue backing Maduro, and so far they show no signs of wavering.
Already, the governments of Colombia, Mexico and Panama have said they will not recognize the voting's results. But if not, how will they deal with a government they consider illegitimate?
The U.S. and other nations have threatened the Maduro government with sanctions for holding the assembly vote. But don't expect the Trump administration to make the single move which could topple Maduro - cutting off oil sales to the United States. That's because doing so would hurt too many big corporations and lose Trump popularity among drivers.
Maduro and Trump, two incompetent, populist leaders, are also co-dependent.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours