The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) provided an update today on the progress of the recall referendum against Maduro.

The CNE is currently in possession of 407,622 signatures and corresponding fingerprints belonging to citizens who are in favour of holding the referendum against Maduro. This morning, the electoral body announced that it would check the validity of the signatures and fingerprints between July 18 and 20. The CNE also said that it would release its findings of the audit on July 26.

The CNE has become the target of heavy criticism by the opposition for what it considers to be the body’s blatant foot-dragging on the matter of the referendum. For example, in order to sign in favour of the referendum, citizens had to scan their fingerprints at sophisticated electronic voting machines which would register their prints and confirm their identity. It is not at all clear what exactly the CNE is validating at this stage or why, since checking the validity of the prints essentially means that they are validating the already-validated signatures.

The opposition handed over these fingerprints and signaturesto the CNE on June 24. Today’s announcement effectively confirms that the CNE has simply been holding on to the signatures and prints for three weeks now without doing anything with them.

Vicente Bello, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica‘s electoral coordinator, reacted to today’s announcement, saying:

In our opinion, enough time has passed to validate the signatures we handed over and ratify that the MUD has met [this stage’s] requisites. There’s no justification that the CNE can give for not providing us with an answer.

Allup Reiterates Recall is Non-Negotiable

National Assembly president Henry Ramos Allup reiterated the fact that the recall referendum against Maduro is a non-negotiable fact during a press conference today, once again seeking to placate fears that a possible dialogue between the government and the opposition might result in the process against Maduro being cancelled or postponed.

Speaking to reports, Allup said:

We’re not going to, for example, sit down to strike up a bargain to see if we can hold the recall. No. The recall has nothing to do with the dialogue. The recall is a constitutional right.

Allup also said that “the interest of the country is much thicker… than the worries of the president”, and stressed that the recall doesn’t “belong” to any one or any single party, since it is a right clearly outlined in the constitution afforded to all Venezuelan citizens.

Last night, Maduro said during his television show that the recall referendum would not take place at all. Speaking to the opposition, Maduro said:

What do they want? A war? You won’t be able to beat us, gentlemen. They say that they don’t want to discuss the referendum, and the first point they put on the agenda is the referendum… I can tell you many things about the referendum, the first being that it won’t happen.

Colectivo Attacks MUD Press Conference in Yaracuy

colectivo armado [pro-government armed group] attacked a MUD press conference in San Felipe, Yaracuy state, throwing rocks and stones at opposition supporters and shooting fireworks at them.

La Patilla reports that the colectivo was made up of approximately 40 individuals, and that at least three people were injured during the attack.

Below, a video showing the opposition crowd being dispersed by fireworks:

Isturiz: Changes To Price Regulations, Exchange System Coming

Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz spoke today on the state of the Venezuelan economy, and said that the national government was looking to make changes to both its price regulation policy and the currency exchange system.

On the currency exchange system – which is currently made up of a multi-tiered scheme that combines both set and free-floating rates – Isturiz said that the government was aware that changes need to be made, but that the time has not yet come to make them:

Those who know about the economy tell us that there should be just one exchange system. I wish! We want it to be like that, and we hope to achieve that, but right now we need to have [a system] for food and medicine.

The current system has a government-set rate of Bs. 10 per US dollar, which is supposed to be used by industries to either produce or import essential services. A free-floating rate, which is supposed to be used for non-essential needs, is currently trading at Bs. 640 per US dollar.

Speaking on the government’s price-regulation system which sets the prices for basic necessities and food in an attempt to help the poor afford them, Isturiz said that that system was also in need of change. Isturiz pointed out that the system can be taken advtange of, since people buy products at regulated prices and then sell them in the black market for huge profits.

On the possible changes to this system, Isturiz said:

An error that we’ve made has to do with the direct subsidy, because we subsidize products but then many times they don’t reach the people who need the subsidy because some people take advantage of this government subsidy for the poor to make money. We want to move away from the direct subsidy to an indirect subsidy.

This is why we have decided to give a consumption card to the truly poor, and give them the product at the price of the product according to the cost structure… so that people can go pay with their card. What we’re going to give to the people we will give to them directly, not the product.

While Isturiz did not say when this new subsidy system would be implemented, he did say that the government hopes to eventually hand out 500,000 subsidy cards. It is not clear on what basis the cards would be administered.

Bernal: CLAP Teaches People About Economic War

Freddy Bernal, the head of the Comites Locales de Abastecimiento and Produccion (CLAP), said yesterday that the organizations were succeeding partially because they are making people aware of the so-called “economic war” that the government maintains is being waged against Venezuela by her enemies.

Bernal explained his take on the success of the CLAP during Maduro’s weekly television show, En Contacto con Maduro:

Two of the biggest achievement of the CLAP has been to strengthen people’s organization, and two, creating awareness. We don’t deny that we are in a crisis, but the people – slowly but surely – has taken up this task. [Cojedes state governor] Erika Farias and I randomly selected a CLAP yesterday and we started to ask, “Did you get any food? Did you get the combo? Is there anything new going on? Is there anything strange going on?”. From that random survey that we’re conducting every day, well, we’ve found organization, awareness, and lots of motivation. And the most important thing: despite the really harsh media war against our people, our people aren’t confused. Our people are clear on the fact that there’s an economic war, and they’re clear on bachaqueo [selling regulated products at a profit in the black market], speculation, and hoarding. They’re clear, and we’ve been hearing that from really humble people.

The CLAP is a system of food distribution created by the Maduro government earlier this year to deliver bags of food directly to communities, bypassing traditional logistical routes of food distribution like supermarkets. They have come under fire by the opposition over allegations that the CLAP only distributes food to people who openly identify as government supporters.

Bernal admitted that the CLAP system wasn’t perfect because it is ultimately “a human invention”, but he assured listeners that there are mechanisms in place to correct any irregularities with the system.

NGO: 3,507 Protests in 2016

The Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social [Venezuelan Social Conflict Watch] [OVCS] released figures today showing that it registered 3,507 protests throughout the country so far this year for an average of 19 protests per day. The figure represents an increase of 24% for the same period last year.

OVCS also recorded 419 looting or attempted looting events during the first half of this year, the effects of which have included the loss of life. The report states:

Repression and violence against protests over food has left a toll of at least six deaths.

The report broke down the protests by primary motivator:

  • 954 protests (27%) “in rejection of scarcity and the lack of food”
  • 836 protests (24%) over basic housing issues
  • 624 protests (18%) over “labour rights”
  • 509 protests (15%) over security, crime, and political prisoners
  • 361 protests (10%) over “political demands”
  • 223 protests (6) over “educational rights”

OVCS said that the most common protest tactic is for demonstrators to physically block roads, followed my demonstrations in public spaces and marches.

The report’s release comes a day after a disabled transport truck carrying corn flour was looted by desperate motorists near San Feliz, Tachira state. The truck had suffered a mechanical problem and was receiving roadside assistance when looters overwhelmed it, carrying away bags of the valuable staple.

Also yesterday, a group of disappointed shoppers protested outside a Central Madeirense supermarket La Urbina, Caracas over the lack of food in the establishment. The shoppers were apparently waiting for food trucks to arrive with stock but the trucks failed to show up on time, triggering the protest.

Below, a video showing National Bolivarian Police officers responding to the protest:

Below, an image of the protest:

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