Venezuela’s Controversial Constitution Rewrite

By: Alexandra Stafford

How did Venezuela’s Crisis Begin?

The problems in Venezuela today dates back to the 1990s when Hugo Chavez was in power. Although Chavez died in 2013, many economists blame his policies, spending, subsidies, and price controls as part of the reason for the crisis Venezuela faces today.[1]


The Current Crisis

According to the New York Times, Venezuela is a country that “has brought itself from wealth and democracy to the brink of collapse.”[2] Today, Venezuela’s largest export, oil, is decreasing in price dramatically making the situation even more difficult to pay back enormous foreign debt in the midst of a drought crippling the country.[3]

After inheriting a country whose economy was on the decline, President Nicolas Maduro printed more money to pay for subsidies.[4] This drove up inflation so Maduro put price controls in place and fixed the currency exchange rate.[5] This caused imports to become extremely expensive, shut down businesses, and increased inflation- continuing the cycle.[6]

Food became scarce, violence filled the streets, and black markets escalated. In response to this, President Maduro deployed police and military, but it soon became what some called “a blood bath.”[7] The political system has become an “unstable mix” of a hybrid of democratic and authoritarian features.[8]


President Maduro’s Plan to Rewrite the Constitution

Madura’s announced his next step on May 1 to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution in order to “bring peace to Venezuela.”[9] The theory is to channel resources directly to local communities; however, opposition says that the rewrite is a “naked power grab”.[10] Since this announcement, at least sixty-seven people have been killed and over a thousand injured during opposition protests against the government.[11] In a survey conducted by Datanalysis polling, 85 percent of Venezuelan respondents were opposed to the constitution rewrite.[12]


The Constituent Assembly Vote

On July 30, 2017, Maduro assembled a national vote to elect a Constituent Assembly to redraft the constitution.[13] A similar vote occurred in 1999 under Hugo Chavez with the intent to give the people “originary” power. [14] The vote to create the National Constituent Assembly, composed of new delegates who will rewrite the constitution, has the authority to change the constitution as well as to dismiss exiting officials and institutions.[15] NPR reported that this vote would have the power to dissolve the National Assembly, which is largely made up of lawmakers of the opposition.[16]

There was heavy opposition boycotting on the day of the vote. Over ten people were killed and many were wounded, included police.[17]  According to the Associated Press, "[s]even police officers were wounded when an explosion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to blockade a street in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas.”[18]

Only 15 percent of Venezuelan’s registered voters planned to vote and it was said that government workers were heavily pressured to vote in fear of losing their jobs.[19] The official turnout on the day of the vote was 8.1 million voters, or 42 percent registered voters, which was treated with extreme skepticism from the opposition.[20] The British company, Smartmatic, supplied voting machines for the election of the delegates. Smartmatic later announced that the government has manipulated the results and was “off by more than 1 million votes.”[21] Not the ideal start for the assembly’s legitimacy.

On August 4, 2017, 545 new members of the Constituent Assembly were sworn in.[22] The assembly chose former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriquez as its president. Rodriguez said, “we come not to destroy our constitution. We come to defend, deepen, and renew it.”[23]


International reaction

Several countries have rejected Venezuela’s constitutional rewrite. A number of Latin American countries, the United States, Canada, and Spain said they will not recognize the Constituent Assembly.[24]

The United States already sanctioned 13 Venezuelan leaders. The Trump administration put sanctions specifically on Maduro freezing his assets in the U.S. and prohibiting Americans from doing business with him.[25] After Trump called Maduro a dictator, Maduro lashed out and told Venezuelans, “you are either with Trump or you are with Venezuela. You are either with Trump or with democracy.”[26]

Mexico, Columbia, and Panama followed the U.S. sanctions against the Venezuelan leaders.[27] Brazil, Canada and Guatemala denounced the vote.[28] However, Nicaragua and Bolivia came to Venezuela’s defense praising the vote.


What’s next?

On August 26, 2017, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez announced a nationwide military drill. [29] The goal is to keep the country “battle ready.” Padrino said that the exercise is meant “to say to the world that there is an armed force in Venezuela and a people who are willing to give all of themselves to defend our country.”[30]

Currently, the U.S. has not announced any military intervention in Venezuela. However, it is too soon to tell and the crisis in Venezuela is not fading anytime soon.



[1]Venezuela Election for Constituent Assembly to Rewrite Constitution Could Be a New Phase in Crisis, ABC News (July 29, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[2] Max Fisher & Amanda Taub, How Velezuela Stumbled into the Brink of Collapse, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017)..

[3] Venezuela Election, supra note 1.

[4] Fisher, supra note 2.

[5] Fisher, supra note 2.

[6] Fisher, supra note 2.

[7] Fisher, supra note 2.

[8] Fisher, supra note 2.

[9] Aria Bendiz, Maduro Plans to Rewrite Venezuela’s Constitution, The Atlantic (May 24, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[10] Mariana Zuñiga & Nick Miroff, Maduro Wants to Rewrite Venezuela’s Constitution. That’s Rocket Fuel on the Fire, WorldViews (June 10, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Jennifer L. McCoy, Venezuela’s Controversial New Constituent Assembly, Explained, The Washington Post (Aug. 1, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Colin Dwyer, In Unofficial Vote, Venezuelans Overwhelmingly Reject Constitutional Rewrite, NPR (July 17, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[17]Emma Bowman, Several Countries Reject Venezuela’s Election to Rewrite Constitution, NPR (July 30, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[18] Id.

[19] McCoy, supra note 13.

[20] McCoy, supra note 13.

[21] Mery Mogollon & Chris Kraul, Venezuela's Controversial New Assembly is Set to Begin Rewriting the Constitution, LOS ANGELES TIMES (August 4, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] McCoy, supra note 13.

[25] Marilia Brocchetto, Natalie Gallón & Holly Yan, Venezuelan President Maduro: 'Why are they sanctioning me?', CNN ( Aug. 1, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29]Venezuela Begins Military Drill, The Herald (Aug. 28, 2017), (last visited Aug. 28, 2017).

[30] Id.