The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), Venezuela’s opposition bloc, unveiled its plan to have Maduro removed from his post as President of the Republic prior to the end of his term in 2019. After weeks of speculation over which constitutional tool the MUD would use (namely a recall referendum or a constitutional amendment to shorten term limits), the MUD announced that it would launch a multi-pronged attack involving a recall referendum, a constitutional amendment, and continued pressure to have Maduro resign willingly.
El Nacional reports that sources within the MUD have revealed that the first stage in the quest to end Maduro’s term as president will be an amendment to the constitution to reduce term limits from the current six years to four. If the National Assembly approves the amendment, Maduro’s term would end in 2017 instead of 2019, meaning that Venezuelans would head to the polls to choose a new president this year.
The MUD will also seek to put Miranda state governor Henrique Caprile’s suggestion of a recall referendum into action. However, the current laws outlining the steps to a successful referendum are relatively complex, and El Nacional reports that the National Assembly will first try to reform referendum laws. The goal of the referendum law reform will be to make it more difficult for the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the country’s electoral body, to stall the proceedings.
Capriles has said that he believes that if works begins earnestly on the referendum today, it could be approved in October.
The same insiders told El Nacional that the National Assembly also has an ace up its sleeve in case the Tribunal Supreme de Justicia (TSJ) (the Supreme Court) or the CNE throw a wrench in their plans: a constituent assembly. This measure would allow the National Assembly to create a special body that would be tasked with re-drafting the constitution, a process that was most recently deployed by Chavez in 1999.
On top of these legislative measures, the MUD will also continue to make public calls for Maduro to resign through peaceful demonstrations, for example.
CORPOELEC Executive Arrested for Cocaine Trafficking
The communications coordinator for CORPOELEC, Venezuela’s state-run electricity utility company, was arrested on March 1 after being stopped by authorities with 300 packs of cocaine.
According to the Public Ministry, Kevin Jose Nava Vieras was travelling as a passenger in an SUV registered to CORPOELEC in Pedro Gual, Miranda state when National Guard soldiers ordered the vehicle to stop. The driver sped past the National Guard roadblock and a chase ensued, ending three kilometers away. Once the men were arrested, the National Guard found 335 kilograms of cocaine divided into 300 packs inside the vehicle.
Confusion Over Fate of 28 Missing Miners in Bolivar State
Media reports began surfacing on Friday that 28 miners had been murdered near Tumeremo, a remote town near the border with Guyana in Bolivar state. Reports of the alleged event began spreading through social media on Friday.
On Saturday, Bolivar state governor Francisco Rangel Gomez (PSUV) said that reports of the murders were “absolutely false”, and called for authorities to act against MUD National Assembly deputy Americo De Grazia for spreading the news. Rangel explained that there had indeed been a confrontation between gangs in Tumeremo on Friday, but that no one had been injured.
Mayor Calls Governor “Misinformed”
The mayor of the Sifontes municipality (which contains Tumeremo), Carlos Chancellor, responded to governor Rangel’s statements today, and suggested that the governor was misinformed in suggesting that the news was part of an opposition plot to spread chaos and confusion in the state. Chancellor said:
He dared say that [the news was politically motivated], but that doesn’t make any sense (…) I’m not sure if the governor is misinformed, but these are human beings, whole families that are crying real tears over the disappearance of their relatives. We don’t play politics with human suffering.
Chancellor also stressed the while no bodies have been found yet, there is undeniable evidence that the men are missing, which should be reason enough for serious concern:
There is a concrete, undeniable, public and flagrant event, which is that there is a great number of family members – parents, brothers – who are reporting strange disappearances in the mining area between the Sifontes, Juan German Roscio and El Callao municipalities.
While Chancellor could not confirm the number of deaths or who was responsible, he did cite local sources as saying that the miners were murdered as part of a dispute between armed groups fighting for control of the area’s natural resources.
Families Protest, Pressure Authorities
Family members of the missing miners staged a protest in Tumeremo today to pressure local authorities to properly investigate the disappearance of their loved ones.
Some family members placed sheets of paper with pictures and information about their missing relatives on their windshields, as seen in the picture below:
Below, images of family members protesting earlier today in Tumeremo over the disappearance of their relatives:
One Family Blames Authorities for Alleged Murders
Juan Jose Coello, the father of one of the missing miners, told El Nacional that his son’s friend claims to have witnessed the murders. Coello’s son is named Angel Ignacio Trejo Sosa.
According to Angel’s friend, the two were riding on a motorcycle towards the mine when they were stopped at a roadblock. According to the friend, local authorities – namely the SEBIN and the CICPC – have agreements with criminal gangs to receive kickbacks for illicit activities relating to the mines’ gold extraction operations. The alleged head of criminal operations in the Tumeremo area is a man named “El Topo”, from Colombia.
Coello related the rest of Angel’s story in the following way:
They stole my son’s motorcycle and they [placed him in] a row of young men, and they started to execute the ones standing beside him. My son got scared and tried to run away, but they shot him (…) what his friend tells me is that at least 23 miners standing in that row were murdered, and they threw them into the bush. Then, they entered the mine and killed a few more.
While it’s not clear how Angel’s friend managed to escape the massacre, Coello says that he was worriedly waiting for his son to return home when he received the news from the friend. Coello says that he immediately went to the CICPC to report the crime, and was told by officers there that he had to wait at least 48 hours to declare his son missing. Angel’s friend refused to provide his witness testimony to the police out of fear of reprisal.
Coello said that by the time he left the CICPC office, “the people had already taken to the streets” as news of the alleged massacre began to spread.
All of the evidence available at the moment appears to suggest that the men are missing. A National Guard patrol sent to the mine to investigate the murder reported that it found no bodies.
The Public Ministry has assigned two prosecutors to investigate the case.
Cartoon Plays on Chavez’s Legacy
A political cartoon making the rounds on social media today plays on Chavez’s legacy a day after the third anniversary of his death.
The cartoon below reads: “You’re gone, great one, and left us with a great emptiness…”
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