Venezuelan vote tips life in Caracas into chaos
Gideon Long reports on the worsening political and economic crisis unfolding in Venezuela.
Produced by Greg Bobillot. Footage by Reuters and Ben Marino
Venezuela has moved a step closer to full blown dictatorship. Members of President Nicolas Maduro's Constituent Assembly, a new body that he's devised in a bid to cling onto power, have taken their seats in the Congress building.
The assembly has sweeping powers that can dissolve Congress, rewrite the Constitution, scrap future elections, and draft new laws. The opposition says it will be a Cuban-style puppet parliament, rubber stamping the president's orders.
It was voted in last Sunday in a discredited election which has been condemned around the world. The 545 members of the new body are all government sympathisers because opposition parties boycotted the ballot.
The new assembly will sit in the same building as the democratically-elected parliament, a graphic illustration of the polarisation of Venezuelan society.
The building has served as the country's Congress during decades of democracy. Meanwhile, the fallout from last weekend's ballots has continued. Dozens of public sector workers who refused to vote for the Constituent Assembly have been sacked as punishment.
And in a throwback to Latin America's dark days of the 1970s and 1980s, the Venezuelan intelligence service has been rounding up opposition figures and gaoling them. The country's best known political prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, and an opposition mayor, were dragged from their homes in the middle of the night this week and taken to a military prison. At least four magistrates sympathetic to the opposition have taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy in Caracas.
The international community has threatened sanctions against the Maduro regime, and in a rare show of Latin American unity, the region's major nations have condemned the vote and refused to recognise the assembly.
Members of the Merocsur trade block were due to meet in Sao Paolo on Saturday to decide whether to expel Venezuela. The country has already been suspended from the group for some time.
The political turmoil comes against a backdrop of economic devastation. The currency, the bolivar, has lost 60% of its value on the black market in the past month, and dropped 18% on Thursday alone, a massive fall even by the country's notorious inflationary standards.
Mr. Maduro blames speculators, and has threatened to lock up shopkeepers who adjust their prices to reflect the black market rate.
In a McDonald's, shoppers pay 20,000 bolivars, a fifth of the monthly minimum wage, for a burger, fries, and Coke. Nearby, gangs of young boys throw sticks into the mango trees to dislodge the fruit. In happier times, mangoes were often left to rot where they fell in Caracas. These days, they're a welcome source of food.
Gideon Long, Financial Times, Caracas.