Protesters gathered outside of Toronto’s Venezuelan consulate Sunday in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro and the country’s vote for a constitutional assembly, which would rewrite the its constitution.
Many fear the election will give ultimately give Maduro unlimited power and will effectively replace the country’s democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.
Rebecca Sarfatti was one of many protesting at the consulate and says the controversial election is “phony.”
“[It’s] a day of mourning because they’re killing the constitution,” she told CBC Toronto. “Venezuela didn’t need a change in constitution. Venezuela needs a change in government and a change in the way of doing things.”
In the months leading up to the vote, about 100 have been killed and thousands have been injured and detained in the political upheaval.
Officials said in the hours before voting began, a candidate in the election as well as an opposition activist were killed.
“We’re holding this protest because we want democracy. We want fair elections. We want our political prisoners to be freed,” Sarfatti added. “We want Venezuela for the future, and the way it’s going, there’s no future.”
The election has drawn scrutiny abroad with the U.S. threatening to place further sanctions on the country. Despite the push back, Maduro has gone ahead with the vote.
Pablo Benitez, who describes himself as a Venezuelan-Canadian since 1995, was also at Sunday’s protest and says the situation in Venezuela is dire with limited medication, food or social care on top of the political turmoil.
“What I’m asking the world is to please help. We’re crying for help,” Benitez said. “People can not ignore what is happening in Venezuela. They need to peacefully intervene and try to get this regime out of power.”
However, Donald Kingsbury, a political science and Latin American studies professor at the University of Toronto, says it isn’t just Maduro that’s causing havoc in Venezuela. He says the opposition is also to blame.
“Two weeks ago opposition protesters burned a man alive because they thought he looked like a Chavista,” he said. “They’re using homemade mortars against buildings [and] public housing missions. They’re attacking hospitals.
“They’re in a situation of civil war right now and both sides are culpable.”