On 5 August the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly (ANC) - all 545 members from the Chavista bloc - ‘elected’ to refashion the current constitution promulgated by Hugo Chavez in 1999, held its inaugural session. Widely regarded as President Maduro’s ploy to strengthen his hold on power and further marginalise the opposition - which holds a two-thirds majority since December 2015 in the emasculated parliament – the election was preceded by violent protests by civil society and the political opposition, which had on 16 July held its own informal referendum, with over 7 million voting against it.
Backed by the ANC, the government suspended the rebellious Attorney General who objected to the moves taken by the government and the Supreme Court, jailed political opponents and closed down TV stations, threatening to prosecute the opposition for treason. On 18 August, the ANC assumed "the power to legislate on (all) matters...”
Seventeen regional governments condemned the move by President Maduro. At the Mercosur Summit in Buenos Aires on 21 July, Presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, accompanied by Chile, Guyana and representatives of Mexico, Peru and Colombia, called on the Maduro government to “not take any initiative that could divide Venezuelan society even more, or aggravate institutional conflicts.” Bolivia – due for full membership of Mercosur - did not sign on. On 5 August Mercosur suspended Venezuela – a member since 2012. Twelve South American countries went further in early August in Lima, Peru whose government recalled its Ambassador from Caracas.
Venezuela is a prime battleground between the US/Europe and Russia/China. Russia has supported Maduro through oil deals and financing primarily by Rosneft. China issued a ‘hands off Venezuela’ statement end July. Both countries shipped food and other necessities and purchased Venezuela’s dollar-denominated bonds. President Trump levied financial sanctions. His threat of a ‘military option’ was condemned even by Latin American governments opposing the Maduro regime.
On 12 July, a Brazilian judge sentenced former President (2003-10) Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) of the Workers Party to nine and a half years in prison for accepting services valued at $1.1 million from a construction company that benefited from contracts with national oil company Petrobras. Brazil’s first ex-President to be convicted, 71-year old Lula left office with very high approval ratings, is a leading candidate for re-election but faces four other cases of corruption. If the convicted is upheld, he cannot run in November 2018.
On 3 August, President Michel Temer, highly unpopular but a master politician, managed to survive a vote in Congress (263 to 226), that could have forced his resignation and sent him to trial. Corruption charges against him, based on testimony by a businessman, can now only be filed after he hands over on 1 January 2019. Other charges are being investigated.
The Brazilian corruption saga reverberated in Ecuador and Peru and elsewhere in Latin America. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno divested Vice President Jorge Glas of ‘all duties’ till further notice on allegations of corruption. Glas and former President Rafael Correa are both been critical of Moreno, who is perceived as more centrist. Peru’s former President Ollanta Humala (2012-16), was imprisoned along with his wife. Both cases involved bribes from Brazilian company Odebrecht.
September 12, 2017