With all-powerful assembly, is Venezuela still a democracy?

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Venezuela has installed an all-powerful constituent assembly with the authority to rewrite the constitution, remove public officials and trump all branches of government, raising concerns about the health of democracy in the country.

Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro fear it will solidly entrench his socialist administration and create a one-party state, while supporters say it offers a the best chance for peace after months of deadly unrest.

Some analysts evaluate the state of democracy in Venezuela:

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MICHAEL SHIFTER, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue: “It’s not a dictatorship in the classic formulation. Maduro was elected. But I think he’s lost any legitimacy. There has been a gradual erosion of democratic practice, and this is a significant line that has been crossed. To attach the term democracy to Venezuela with this new constituent assembly is on very weak ground. I think it can’t be taken seriously.”

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JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO, Washington-based director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch: “Two basic principles need to be present to characterize a government as a democratic one. The first is free, fair and competitive elections. The second is the obligation to govern democratically — to exercise power in accordance to respecting the limits of the rule of law, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, free press, respecting civil society. And you are not supposed to engage in persecution of dissidents and political leaders. At this stage, I don’t think Venezuela passes the test as an electoral democracy. And the Maduro administration should be treated as such. In plain language, as a dictatorship.”

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MARK WEISBROT, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington: “The media has kind of assumed that the assembly was a dictatorship of some sort, but they haven’t done anything yet. They haven’t abolished the National Assembly. So far, nothing has happened. … Venezuela is still a very polarized country and there’s a standoff between the two sides. Mediation failed last year because neither side was willing to concede anything. There is going to have to be a negotiated solution, with elections. And for those elections to settle the conflict there is going to have to be constitutional guarantees that the losing side is not going to be politically persecuted. That’s the only way I can see to avoid a descent into violence and civil war.”

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LUISA ORTEGA…

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