US Refineries Prepare for Imminent Sanctions against Venezuelan Oil

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Friday his government will not recognize Venezuela's constituent assembly, according to a statement released on the country's official website.

The election comes after months of sometimes deadly protests as an economic crisis has led many to flee the country in search of easier access to food and medicine.

Opposition parties have said the vote on the Constituent Assembly is a "fraud" to establish a "dictatorship" and planned massive marches in Caracas for Friday.

But it will also have the power to change laws and to dissolve the legislature, the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition.

Venezuela's government-stacked National Electoral Council created an unorthodox voting system that opponents say heavily favors the ruling party. "The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles".

But some of the most populated states have relatively few municipalities, while some smaller ones have many. Despite sitting on top of the world's largest proven oil reserves, the Venezuelan economy shrank by more than 18 percent in 2016.

Voters on Sunday will choose 364 constitutional representatives distributed across municipalities and state capitals and another 181 "sectoral" candidates from demographic groups ranging from students to farmers and fisherman. Eight slots are reserved for indigenous communities.

Maduro is aligned with the political movement of Hugo Chavez, the President from 1999 until his death in 2013.

Once the members of the Constituent Assembly are elected and these hold their deliberations for the proposal of a new Constitution, a referendum will be held in which Venezuelans must decide whether or not to approve the new Constitution. But some of his closest associates have provided a hint at what might come.


"If they ever got sanctions from the US - that would be completely crippling", says Diego Ferro, co-investment officer at Greylock Capital, a USA firm that owns Venezuelan debt.

The new assembly would comprise 545 citizens chosen from across the country, and from societal sectors over which Maduro's government holds influence. "Eventually we will not have any more elections in Venezuela." .

Maduro says the assembly will give power to the people to help Venezuela survive what he says is a US-backed right-wing "coup" plot to topple his socialist government.

In announcing the United States sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said America was "standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy". Professor Margarita Lopez Maya of the Catholic University in Caracas says it's easy to see what Maduro and his officials are doing.

Venezuela is undergoing a major economic crisis, with millions suffering food shortages, monthly wages worth only the tens of US dollars, and soaring inflation - though no official data is available. Aside from government loyalists, groups of state workers and government organization are being mobilized and pressured to cast ballots.

Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from Caracas, said that - while thousands protested across the country - the government's ban on protests seems to have also intimidated many into staying off the streets.

What is Sunday's vote trying to accomplish?

Even as he has pushed ahead with the constitutional rewrite, Maduro has been trying to get the opposition to the negotiating table in hope of quelling widespread protests and strikes in which nearly 100 people have died and and paralyzed much of the nation. "I've been loyal to Chavez's legacy".


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