For the first time since coming to power in December, the opposition-controlled National Assembly used its power today to remove government ministers, voting to sack Rodolfo Marco Torres as the head of the Ministry of Education.
By approving the voto de censura [literally, “censure vote”; akin to a vote of no confidence], the National Assembly essentially stated that it does not believe that Torres was able to satisfactorily conduct his duties. Venezuela is currently suffering through the worst food scarcity crisis in decades.
The most direct event that led to Torres’ removal from his post was his contempt before the National Assembly after his refusal to appear as summoned last Tuesday and today to provide an explanation for the food scarcity crisis in the country.
The legislature’s PSUV bench protested the vote, and claimed that it was an illegal move given a string of decisions by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) which severely limit the National Assembly’s powers. Before the vote, PSUV deputy Ricardo Sanguino said:
This session is illegal [“esta sesion es irrita”] because it ignores a sentence by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia.
National Assembly president Henry Ramos Allup answered Sanguino defiantly, and continued to stress that he believes the TSJ rulings are nothing but an illegal attempt to tie the National Assembly’s hands, saying:
[The National Assembly] will not abide by any decision by the [TSJ’s] Constitutional Chamber, nor any of its other Chambers, so long as the decisions are contrary to the Constitution.
Normally, following a vote of censure against a government minister, the President of the Republic must ask that minister to resign. Given Maduro’s stance on the National Assembly, it is not certain that he will do so.
MUD Deputy Accuses Torres of Corruption
During today’s parliamentary session, MUD deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia took the floor to point out that while he was Minister of Nutrition, Torres personally signed contracts that awarded money to three companies owned by a man named Naman Wakil. An accused fraudster, Wakil is suspected of having moved $5.85 million in embezzled money to shell companies registered under the name of former Minister of Nutrition Carlos Osorio’s in-laws, Jesus Tomas Marquina Parra and Nestor Marquina Parra.
According to Berrizbeitia, Torres awarded government contracts to three shell companies named Perdigao Industrial, Casa Sociedad Anonima and Atlas Sistema Internacional. Berrizbeitia also said that the companies were all registered through a law firm out of Miami, Florida called Morgan and Morgan, which is owned by Osorio’s in-laws.
Berrizbeitia provided documentary evidence showing that at least $160 million flowed into the shell companies, $5 million of which went to Wakil personally.
The documents allegedly show that the contracts overpaid for products. For example, a contract signed on February 9, 2009 shows that Torres approved the purchase of a tonne of chicken for $1,870, when the average price was $1,238. Berrizbeitia explained:
That order totaled $25 million. The surcharge added up to $14 million. [Speaking to the PSUV deputies] This is the homeland you’ve got for yourselves. Those dollars belong to the people, and you’re protecting this [behaviour].
Another document shows how, in June 2008, Torres approved the purchase of 15,000 tonnes of meat at a price of $4,740 per tonne, when the average price was $2,071. As a result, the contract funneled $31 million “extra” dollars into Wakil’s shell company.
Capriles: 1.1 Million Recall Signatures and Counting
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles has just announced that the opposition-led recall referendum signature drive [url=http://www.talcualdigital.com/Nota/125608/mas-de-un-millon-de-firmas-se-han-recolectado-para-el-revocatorio?platform=hootsuite]has collected 1,102,236 signatures in its first 48 hours[/url], with 600,000 of those coming in the first day alone.
For this first step in the process, the Consejo Nacional Electoral only requires 195,721 signatures, but [url=https://invenezuela.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/04-27-16-good-lines/]impressive turnouts at signature-collecting stations throughout the country yesterday[/url] suggested that the goal would be easily met.
Armed Group Allegedly Attacks Recall Signature Rally
El Nacional reports that an armed group allegedly attacked a rally to collect signatures as part of the recall referendum process at the Universidad Central de Venezuela earlier today.
Below, a picture allegedly showing the site after the attackers left:
Poll: 60.3% Would Vote to Recall Maduro
A poll by the Venebarometro firm released today found that 60.3% of Venezuelans would vote to recall Maduro if the referendum were held today. The figure mirrors the percentage of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition in December’s parliamentary elections, and would be more than enough to have Maduro removed from office.
The same poll found that while 57.5% of Venezuelans want the recall to take place this year, 33.7% would not disagree if it were held in 2017. The year in which the recall takes place is important: if it takes place this year, there would be a presidential election, which could usher in a non-PSUV president; if held next year, Maduro would be replaced by Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz.
The poll also found that 84.1% of Venezuelans consider the situation in the country to be bad, while 15% see it positively.
The poll was conducted between April 1 and 8. It sampled 1,200 homes and has a margin of error of 2.37%.
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