Last night, Maduro declared a state of exception [estado de excepcion] throughout the country, citing unspecified threats from domestic and foreign enemies. Maduro made the announced during a televised speech, and explained the reason why he decided to make the declaration:
… for the protection of our people, to guarantee peace, to guarantee stability, so that in the coming months – May, June, July, and throughout 2016 and probably 2017 – recover the country’s productive capacity, attend to our people, strengthen CLAP [a program that delivers food directly to people’s homes], strengthen the tools for the misiones and gran misiones, and above all else, to prepare, denounce, neutralize and defeat every external, foreign aggression that has been initiated against our country.
This is not the first time that Maduro has declared a state of exception. Late last year, Maduro declared a state of exception along the border with Colombia, effectively shutting it down to all traffic.
However, Maduro explained that this time, the state of exception would work because “it is more complete, more integral”, although he did not explain what he meant by this.
Constitutional Lawyer: Decree Could Harm Civil Rights
Constitutional lawyer Jose Vicente Haro told El Universal that Maduro’s declaration of a state of exception in Venezuela could harm civil rights, given the wide-reaching powers it grants to the president.
This decree extends far beyond the economic sphere. [It extends into] the political sphere, the sphere that the president has called possible “external threats”, threats about a coup d’etat and public order, all of which could harm the Venezuelan state.
Haro explained that it is likely that Maduro will first “restrict rights” related to “internal order, with civil and political rights”. Haro believes that the first likely targets would be the right to peaceful protest and the right to peaceful assembly.
On the method by which Maduro chose to declare the state of exception, Haro explained that the Constitution is clear on the proper way to do it:
The decree will not be legally in effect until it has been approved by the National Assembly and the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, as is stated in the Constitution.
Torrealba: Decree Unconstitutional
The head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, Jesus Torrealba, spoke from the opposition demonstration in Caracas this morning, saying that Maduro’s declaration of a state of emergency is unconstitutional. Torrealba explained:
Last night, Mr. Maduro spoke about a state of exception, which is first of all absolutely unconstitutional. For a decree to have legal standing, it must be approved by the National Assembly, which is something that won’t happen.
Torrealba made the comments from the Casanova avenue in Caracas, where the MUD held a rally to demand that the Consejo Nacional Electoral stop deliberately slowing down the recall referendum process.
Torrealba also suggested that internal divisions within the PSUV might be affecting the referendum process:
It looks like there’s a group within the government that wants to slow down the recall referendum process so they can get rid of Maduro and remain in power themselves.
If the recall referendum takes place before January 10, 2017, a presidential election will take place and the opposition will likely win. If the referendum takes place after January 10, 2017, then the vice-president – Aristobulo Isturiz – will become president, meaning a continuation of PSUV rule in Venezuela.
Allup: Gov’t Turning to Colectivos For Help
National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup told opposition supporters at today’s rally that the National Guard has told Maduro that it does not want to be held responsible for the violent repression of peaceful protests. As a result, Allup believes that the government will begin to rely more and more on colectios armados [armed collectives], pseudo-militias made up of armed civilians who are loyal to the PSUV.
Allup also said that the president of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), Gladys Gutierrez, lives in the Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas. Allup said:
She lives in a home that was assigned to her against all norms by the Ministry of Defense. Other [Supreme Court magistrates] have asked for homes there because they’re afraid.
Speaking on the possibility that the TSJ will continue to issue rulings that limit the National Assembly’s powers and strike down the laws that it passes, Allup said:
This right [to legislate] was not given to us by this constitutional mafia. We were elected by the people. If [the TSJ argues] that we’re in contempt, we at the National Assembly will not abide by any ruling that violates the constitution.
Allup has been saying recently that the TSJ has drafted a ruling that would declare the National Assembly’s executive committee to be in contempt of the law, effectively removing them from power. Allup claims that the TSJ is waiting for the right moment to release the ruling.
Capriles Calls for March to the CNE on Wednesday
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles called on Caracas residents to march to the offices of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) on Wednesday to demand that the body get on with the recall referendum process. Opposition protesters attempted to reach the CNE building last Wednesday, but were dispersed by National Guard troops.
Speaking at an opposition rally in the Casanova avenue of Caracas earlier today, Capriles also warned the national government that its tactic of removing all peaceful ways to achieve political change in the country has the potential to backfire:
If you block the democratic path, we don’t know what might happen. Venezuela is a ticking time bomb that could explode, and we don’t want that bomb to explode (…) we don’t want a coup d’etat or a social explosion.
Below, some pictures of the opposition demonstration in Caracas earlier today:
Abad: Venezuela to Cut Imports
We’re going to maintain this level of restriction to force the productive sector of the economy to increase output. Hopefully we could cut imports to as low as $15 billion.
While Venezuela imported $37 billion worth of goods in 2015, Abad says the country is projected to bring in only $20 billion of goods this year.
Maduro Announces War Exercises, Threatens Private Industry
In a televised speech broadcast earlier today, Maduro announced that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces would participate in war exercises next Saturday, May 21. Maduro said that the measure was in response to comments by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who suggested yesterday at a “democratic country” should lend its military to protect the Venezuelan opposition.
Maduro spoke on Uribe’s words, saying:
I take these threats very seriously, because Uribe is a paraco asasino [literally, “paramilitary assassin”]. They don’t know what we’re capable of. No one should rest on their laurels: we must defend this country.
During the same speech, Maduro threatened private industry in the country, saying that any factory that was not making products should be taken over by the state.
Although Maduro did not explicitly name any companies, he was likely referring to Polar, the country’s largest private food-producing company. Polar has been systematically denied US dollars for imports, which has resulted in some of its production lines slowing down or shutting down.
We will give [the people] the idle factories in the country. The government and the people united, just as we did during the  oil strike.
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