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Maria Corina Machado Denied Access to the National Assembly

Maria Corina tried to get into the National Assembly today, but National Guard troops and National Police officers denied her access. Maria Corina said, “With the actions against me, the republic has been dismantled”, referring to the unconstitutional way in which she was removed from her seat by Diosdado Cabello last week. The day in Caracas went down like this:

At around noon, a demonstration in solidarity with Maria Corina met in Plaza Brion, Chacao:

Maria Corina and a couple of other politicians gave speeches. When Maria Corina’s speech ended, the National Guard dispersed the crowd with tear gas, and Maria Corina caught some of it:

Some time after, she got on the back of a bike and and headed down to the National Assembly. The graffiti on the side of the road appears to partially read “[con]tra el fasismo unidad revolucionaria” [against fascism, revolutionary unity]:

The way to the National Assembly was blocked by National Guard and National Police pickets:

A crowd also formed in front of the National Assembly, and there were lots of National Guard on hand as well:

Eventually, Maria Corina reached a point where she could go no further. She was confronted by National Police officers, who turned her away. She was denied access to the National Assembly:

I’m not sure if this was related to the protests, but the building housing the Ministerio de Viviendas (Ministry of Homes) in Chacao caught fire:

After being turned away, Maria Corina headed straight to the Supreme Court, where she introduced some kind of legal proceeding to have the decision to have her removed either stayed or overturned. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Maria Corina Machado was in violation of articles 191 and 197 of the Constitution (for having been invited by Panama to speak at the Organization of American States) and removed her from her seat, a full week after Diosdado Cabello made the same ruling.

 

Amnesty International Releases Report on Venezuela

Amnesty International released a report today on the situation in Venezuela. The report itself is in Spanish, but the Amnesty International website has a summary of it in English. The report says that the organization has received allegations that “security forces have resorted to the excessive use of force, including the use of live fire, and even torture when dealing with protesters.” It calls on both sides to clearly and unambiguously call for an end to violence, and makes a couple of suggestions to the authorities respecting the rights of those who have been detained.

On Leopoldo Lopez, the report says:

Notwithstanding, the organization considers that the fact that the arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez was issued the day after the President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the Minister of Foreign Relations, Elias Jaua Milano, had accused him of being responsible for the violence that took place during the protests against the government damages his right to the presumption of innocence, and in connection, due process. Also, the words by President Nicolas Maduro asking for the imprisonment of Leopoldo Lopez one day of after his detention do not contribute to create a climate of confidence in the justice system, which should act in an independent and impartial manner.

The full report, in Spanish, can be viewed here.

 

News From Around the Country:

Faced with a shortage of paper to print on, Venezuelans newspapers (in particular, El NacionalEl Impulso, and El Nuevo Pais) are expecting a shipment of print paper from Colombia, 52 tonnes of which are on their way to Venezuela. Here is a picture of one of the trucks carrying the paper on its way to Venezuela:

During a demonstration in El Trigal, Valencia, 19 year old Arturo Ramirez was arrested by Carabobo state police. A tense standoff ensued between demonstrators and security forces, as the protesters demanded the release of the young man.

Arturo was released after about 30 minutes in police custody:

Removing barricade debris in Caracas:

Barricades in Caracas:

From Barquisimeto, where apparently there were confrontations happening this morning:

In San Cristobal, Tachira, the heightened military presence continued into today:

A line to buy food in Los Teques:

 

Commentary

Maria Corina Machado was removed from her seat because she spoke at a meeting of the Organization of American States at the invitation of Panama, which ceded its seat for her to have the floor to speak. Diosdado Cabello (and a full week later, the Supreme Court) argued that by doing so, she violated Articles 191 and 197 of the Constitution, which read:

Article 191: National Assembly deputies will not accept or conduct public office without losing their [National Assembly] investiture, except for activities that involve teaching, or are academic, accidental or auxiliary, as long as they do not assume exclusive responsibilities [to these activities].
(…)
Article 197: National Assembly deputies are obligated to dedicate themselves exclusively to their duties, for the benefit of the interests of the people and to maintain constant residence amongst the electors, listening to their opinions and suggestions and keeping them informed about National Assembly sessions. They must make annual summaries of their sessions to the electors in their constituency, and they [it is possible to call] a recall vote according to the previous terms found in this Constitution and in the law.

Article 191 exists to that if you’re a National Assembly member you can’t also be Minister of Agriculture in Brazil. Or, if you’re a National Assembly member, you can’t be a full time professor at a university. This makes sense, because being a member of the National Assembly is a full time job and requires your full attention.

Article 197 more or less seems to tie the deputy to their constituency, and charges them to keep the voters in mind and keep them up to date on the goings on of the government, which is great. It also charges deputies to “dedicate themselves exclusively to their duties”, which appears to be the government’s main avenue of attack against Maria Corina.

What Diosdado Cabello – and eventually, the Supreme Court – argued was that when Maria Corina accepted the invitation from Panama to speak, she essentially became a Panamanian ambassador. By becoming a Panamanian ambassador, she was not only accepting a public office, but she was no longer dedicating herself exclusively to her duties as a deputy. Of course, Maria Corina and the opposition have argued that she spoke at the OAS meeting as a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, but the government didn’t buy that.

Even if we accept the government’s claims that she violated these articles through her actions, the way in which the government removed her from the National Assembly makes a mockery of the separation of state powers and the rule of law. Diosdado Cabello declared her seat empty last week. He does not have the power to do that. Only the Supreme Court does. A full week after Diosdado’s proclamation, the Supreme Court came along and said, “Remember what Diosdado said last week? We agree with that, so here it is in writing”.

The Amnesty International report raised serious questions regarding the confidence in the Venezuelan legal system to be impartial and independent. The fact that the Supreme Court followed suit with Diosdado’s proclamation last week regarding the status of Maria Corina Machado is a clear signal that the separation of powers in Venezuela exists only on paper.

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