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Venezuela to vote on constituent assembly as international isolation deepens

July 30, 2017 - VENEZUELA

Venezuela's government is set to press ahead with a vote to elect a constituent assembly, prompting the opposition to blast the body as a sham designed to keep embattled President Nicolas Maduro in power.

Beset by near-daily street protests, Maduro in May announced a plan to create a "constituent assembly" with powers to rewrite the constitution, in what he says is a bid to bring peace back to the oil-rich nation.

Opponents say Maduro, helped by a compliant Supreme Court and National Electoral Council, is seeking to dodge national elections and is ignoring protester demands for an end to crushing food and medicine shortages.

Unrest prompted by food shortages has resulted in the deaths of at least 64 people since April.

The opposition has vowed to boycott the constituent assembly, and is calling for early presidential elections and respect for the existing congress, which has been led by Maduro critics since early 2016.

Domestic woes are not the only issues besetting the crisis-hit South American country. United Airlines recently announced that it would end its daily flight service to Venezuela in July, deepening the country's isolation from international travel after the exit of many major airlines in recent years.

Many airlines left after a protracted dispute over billions of dollars they say Maduro's government owes them. They say his administration failed to reimburse companies in hard currency for ticket sales in local currency, as per strict currency controls in the socialist nation.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in 2016 that US $3.78 billion was owed to international airlines by Venezuelan authorities. A handful of airlines including Copa and Avianca - part of the Star Alliance network alongside United - as well as Air France and Iberia, continue to operate in the beleaguered OPEC nation.

Venezuela eyes assembly vote in July

United Airlines ends flights to Venezuela, further isolating country

Date written/update: 2017-06-19