The national government has extended an emergency decree that allows Maduro to rule by decree with few limitations. The 60-day extension of the economic emergency decree came into effect yesterday, and was published in the Gaceta Oficial No. 40,942. 

The extension cites a “continued exceptional situation” in the form of the economic crisis as the reason for the need of the extension.

The National Assembly reacted to the extension swiftly, voting in favour of a motion rejecting the extension. According to Venezuelan law, the President cannot unilaterally announce an economic emergency decree: rather, he or she must propose it to the National Assembly, which must then vote to either accept or reject it.

Prior to the vote, National Assembly MUD deputy Jose Guerra pointed out that the economic emergency decree has been in effect since January, and that since then the economic crisis in the country has worsened significantly. According to Guerra, if the decree has not worked in the first six months of the year, there is little reason to believe it will work during the next 60 days.

Guerra explained:

During the term of the decree, we have seen a deterioration of the distribution of food, which is evidenced in the quality of life of Venezuelans.

Guerra also said that the annualized inflation rate is approaching the 500% mark.

National Assembly Annuls TSJ Appointments

Earlier this afternoon, the National Assembly passed a motion annulling the appointment 13 magistrates to the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) last December 23. The same motion annulled the appointment on the same day of 21 back-up magistrates to the country’s top court.

The opposition claims that the rushed appointments – which took place in just a single day – were clearly a desperate attempt by the PSUV-controlled National Assembly to stack the top court with its supporters. The appointments were also mired in controversy, as some TSJ magistrates have publicly stated that they were pressured to resign in order to vacate seats that the PSUV then filled with their supporters.

Today’s motion singled out three of the 13 magistrates for being particularly unfit to serve on the TSJ. They are Calixto Ortega, Lourdes Suarez Anderson, and Christian Zerpa.

MUD deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia explained that Ortega does not meet the requirements to be a TSJ magistrate, saying:

[Ortega] isn’t a legal expert in a recognized field. He’s never been a university professor. He’s never been a superior court judge. He’s a member of the PSUV, and was a National Assembly deputy for that party. He does not have a doctorate in law, and he is not a constitutional law expert. He only has a master’s degree in political law.

Christian Zerpa was a PSUV deputy before being voted into the TSJ on December 23. He voted for himself.

After annulling the appointments, the National Assembly agreed to begin setting a date for a new round of appointments in order to fill the vacant seats, although it is extremely likely that the TSJ will simply rule to strike this motion in order to keep the magistrates and back-up magistrates in their seats.

Hungry People Scoop Up Flour That Fell Off Truck

Hungry residents of the Catia neighbourhood in Caracas scooped up flour off the Sucre Avenue after some of it spilled out of a truck that had driven by.

Below, a video showing at least a dozen people scooping up the flour off the street into bags:

SEBIN Interrogates Kimberly-Clark Staff

Just five days after the U.S. personal hygiene company Kimberly-Clark announced it would abandon its operations in Venezuela due to worsening economic conditions in the country, agents from the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) have detained eight former employees.

According to El Nacional, the employees are being interrogated as the SEBIN is attempting to track down the Kimberly-Clark directors.

An anonymous source connected with the case told the newspaper:

We presume that the SEBIN has the organizational chart that the company gave to the Labour Inspectorate, and that’s how they are tracking people down. Kimberly-Clark had six directors and one general manager, which were the highest positions, and they’ve all left the country. Beneath them is a national sales director and seven accounts managers, and they’ve been interrogated. Those were their titles, but in reality they were salespeople.

El Nacional reports that the national sales director is still under SEBIN custody in Valencia, Carabobo, and that it is not clear when he will be released.

Yirven Laucho, the secretary general of the company’s worker’s union, said that now that the government has taken over the abandoned factories, he hopes to be able to get back to work. He said that the company’s Aragua plant – which produced Kotex feminine products – only had one out of seven production lines running, but that he hopes to re-start the rest:

We’re organizing ourselves to come up with a timetable to start re-activating the other lines. We’re counting on the government’s support from day one. They will give us the materials.

However, the anonymous source told El Nacional that they doubt the government will be able to run the plant, since it was precisely due to government inaction that the company was forced to leave the country in the first place. The source said:

We’d been waiting [for the government] to approve our currency exchange since January so that we could import materials, but the government wouldn’t authorize anything. What’s more, [the government] can’t pretend that they didn’t know what the situation was like with the company, because they’d had a commission at the plant since October made up by representatives from the SUNDDE, LOPCYMAT [government agencies] and the Ministry of Labour, and they checked or inventory, our material, what we produced and what we sent out for sale.

Yesterday, vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz said during a televised speech that Kimberly-Clark had forefitted all of its assets in Venezuela, and that while they were welcomed to come back to set up shop in the country whenever they wanted, “that plant doesn’t belong to them anymore”.

Cabello: No Negotiation with the Opposition

Speaking on his weekly television show last night, PSUV vice-president and National Assembly deputy Diosdado Cabello had stern words for the opposition in the eve of what could be a dialogue between the two sides. Cabello said:

We will not negotiate anything with you [the opposition]. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Cabello also spoke on repeated rumours that the PSUV is looking to force Maduro into resigning in order to save chavismo. Cabello spoke directly to one of the main proponents of these rumours, Juan Barreto, the head of the Redes party.

Cabello said:

No one is negotiating Maduro’s exit. Let them say whatever they want, but no one is negotiating Nicolas’ exit here because Nicolas was elected by the people and he’s the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (…) this revolution doesn’t negotiate. We didn’t come here to betray the people. We’re here with our boots on and our knee to the ground.

Zapatero: Doesn’t Matter if Recall Takes Place

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who is currently in Venezuela attempting to kick off a dialogue between the opposition and the PSUV, said in a television interview that aired on the state-owned Telesur network that he does not care if the recall referendum against Maduro takes place at all or not.

Zapatero said:

On the recall: if it’s got a date, whenever that is, in a year, or another year, or not at all, it doesn’t matter if there’s no recall. We have to build trust, reconciliation. We have to check confrontations between the parties and we have to talk about a lot of structural issues in Venezuela. That’s my position.

Zapatero’s comments drew the ire of opposition supporters. The recall referendum is a legal mechanism that is explicitly set out in Article 72 of the Constitution. As such, refusing to hold the recall would be a violation of a constitutional right.

The head of the MUD, Jesus Torrealba, reacted to Zapatero’s comments by saying:

[Zapatero] has to define who he will be useful for, if he’s going to continue to be a tool of the violent and corrupt ones, or if he’s going to serve the cause of constructing a peaceful, political, constitutional and democratic solution in Venezuela.

Torrealba also said that the first step in solving all of Venezuela’s problems is clearly set out in the constitution via the recall referendum.

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