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The head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), Jesus Torrealba, announced yesterday that the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) had accepted as valid 1.3 million signatures that the MUD collected in favour of a recall referendum vote against Maduro. This first step of the referendum process only required approximately 195,000 signatures.

Torrealba made the announcement after the opposition bloc managed to have a sit-down meeting with the CNE yesterday afternoon, after the electoral body cancelled the previous five.

Torrealba also announced that the CNE had given the green light to move on to the next step in the recall referendum process: collecting signatures from 20% of registered voters, which equal approximately 4 million people. This second step will come pending the completion of the first, which is the personal verification of each of the 1.3 million signatures by each individual who signed.

The meeting between the MUD and the CNE yesterday only involved one out of the CNE’s five rectors: Luis Rondon, who has historically sided with the opposition. The other four rectors are widely perceived to be PSUV backers.

Torrealba also chastised the PSUV – namely Libertador municipality mayor Jorge Rodriguez – over its repeated comments that the MUD had failed to collect the 197,000 signatures required in this first step.

Rodriguez, who is the head of the PSUV committee overseeing the recall referendum process, said on May 14 that the MUD “has not even remotely collected half” of the signatures required by the CNE.

CNE’S Verification Process “Vicious and Absurd”

Torrealba described the CNE’s verification process as “vicious and absurd” when explaining why the electoral body disqualified 650,000 signatures.

Last week, Caracas Chronicles journalist personally witnessed the CNE signature verification process.The journalist saw how CNE and PSUV staff worked side by side to disqualify entire forms – which contain ten signatures each – for the most absurd reasons, including “illegible” cursive writing that would make the name “Nicolas Maduro” appear as “Nuols Modwo”.

The Caracas Chronicles article can be found here.

Signature Validation Takes Place June 16-20

At the same time, Vicente Bello – who heads electoral matters at the MUD – announced that the signature verification process would take place between June 16 and 20. People who signed the petition in favour of holding a recall vote against Maduro must head to CNE verification stations throughout the country to personally verify that they signed the form.

Bello also said that he believes that despite the numerous delays, he believes that the referendum could actually take place in either September or October of this year.

The opposition is desperately trying to hold the referendum this year, while the CNE and the PSUV appear bent on delaying it until 2017. If the recall referendum happens this year and Maduro loses, a presidential election will take place and the PSUV might lose complete control of Venezuela. If the referendum happens next year, the vice-president becomes president, ensuring PSUV rule until at least 2019.

CNE Unveils Signature Withdrawal Option

Yesterday, the CNE announced that it was going to allow the approximately 2.8 million people who signed a petition in favour of recalling Maduro to withdraw their signature from the form through a website.

The MUD qualified the creation of the website as just “a new obstacle” in the process designed to derail the recall.

On the new website, Torrealba said:

This [website] is illegal and illogical. What comes next is the personal verification.

There is no historical precedent for a website that allows voters to rescind their signature in a referendum process, and there is no basis in the law or other regulation for such a mechanism.

National Assembly Votes to Reject CLAP

The National Assembly approved a motion yesterday officially rejecting the Comites Locales de Abastecimineto y Distribucion [Local Supply and Distribution Committees] (CLAP), calling the system “discriminatory and inefficient”.

The national government created the CLAP system this year with the goal of delivering plastic bags full of regulated products such as powdered milk and corn flour to Venezuelans door-to-door. Each CLAP committee is made up of community organizations including women’s groups and militias.

Since their inception, there have been numerous reports that CLAP engages in political discrimination by forcing people to integrate themselves into the PSUV political machinery in order to register for delivery.

At the National Assembly vote yesterday, PSUV deputies argued that the CLAP did not discriminate.

The motion includes the creation of a commission to document all suspected cases of human rights violations through political discrimination at the CLAPs, as well as a national registry where citizens who believe they have been discriminated against by the distribution program can log their case.

One Injured in Caracas Food Protest

A man was injured today during a food protest in the La California neighbourhood of Caracas today, as National Guard and National Bolivarian Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd to disperse the demonstrators. Pictures posted on Twitter by people at the scene appear to show a man bleeding from the left leg, possibly as a result of a rubber bullet impact.

El Nacional reports that the protest broke out after establishments in the area announced in the mid-morning that they had no products to sell. Some shoppers had been lining up in the area since 2:00 AM this morning. The out-of-stock establishments in the area include a Farmatodo pharmacy, and Unicasa and Locatel supermarkets.

Below, a video of the protest in La California earlier today. The crowd is chanting “Queremos comida! Queremos comida!” [We want food! We want food!]:

Below, more pictures from the protest:

Food protests and looting incidents have become a daily occurrence in Venezuela in recent weeks, a the national government appears to be incapable of tackling the worsening shortage of food and basic necessities.

EU Parliament Calls for Release of Political Prisoners

The European Parliament passed a motion today with a 501 to 94 vote calling on the Venezuelan government to respect “legal mechanisms” to allow the recall referendum process to take place this year, and to free the country’s political prisoners as a “precondition” for dialogue with the opposition.

The motion also expresses the European Parliament’s “serious concern” for the worsening situation in the country, including the national government’s repeated use of the Supreme Court and other institutions to undermine the National Assembly’s job.


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