The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) announced this evening that it was postponing the recall referendum process against Maduro “until further notice”. The announcement came shortly after a string of judicial decisions from Aragua, Apure, Monagas, Bolivar, Aragua and Carabobo states nullified all of the signatures collected in those states in favour of recalling Maduro.
The surprise announcement from the CNE means that the second step of the recall process, which was scheduled to happen from October 26 to the 28, will no longer take place. It is not not at this time when or if it will be allowed to happen.
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) has announced that it will make a statement regarding the postponement of the referendum tomorrow.
Five States Nullify Signatures Collected So Far In Favour of Recall
Opposition circles were thrown into disarray today as courts in Aragua, Carabobo and Bolivar state issued near-simultaneous ruling nullifying the collection of signatures from 1% of registered voters in each state in favour of holding a recall referendum against Maduro, potentially dealing a killing blow to the electoral effort. The decisions from those states were quickly followed by identical rulings from Monagas and Apure state.
The decisions come after the governors of each state – all members of the ruling PSUV parties – introduced motions with the courts earlier this year claiming that the opposition had committed fraud in the process.
The news first broke from Aragua state at approximately 2:30 PM local time. There, governor Tarek El Aissami tweeted that a penal court in the state had ruled in favour of the PSUV, which had argued in court that the opposition had committed fraud when it collected signatures from 1% of residents there back in May. The decision means that the collection of signatures has been nullified in the state.
The ruling in Aragua comes despite the fact that the opposition only needed to collect 12,000 signatures (corresponding to 1% of registered voters in the state), it managed to collect over 99,000. The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) – the government body in charge of overseeing electoral processes in the country – checked each signature and verified its authenticity. It is not clear what the court in Aragua found to result in its ruling today.
Carabobo, Bolivar Rulings Come Within 35 Minutes of Aragua Decision
Shortly after the decision out of Aragua became public, a similar ruling nullified the signatures collected in neighbouring Carabobo state.
In Carabobo, news of the decision came from governor Francisco Ameliach, who tweeted at approximately 2:45 PM local time that a penal court in the state had found that the opposition had committed “fraud” in its collection of signatures in that state. As a result of the ruling, Ameliach said that the electoral event had been left “without effect”.
At 3:01 PM local time, Bolivar state governor Francisco Rangel Gomez tweeted that a penal court in that state had also annulled the 1% of signatures collected in that state. Gomez said that the court had found evidence of what he called “megafraud”, and stated that the recall referendum process would no longer go ahead.
Lawyers, Legal Experts Perplexed by Decisions
Lawyers and legal experts have begun to speak out on some of the irregularities of the decisions from the five states mentioned above.
All five decisions came out of what are called penal courts. In Venezuela, penal courts do not have the ability to rule on matters that are not directly before them. In other words, a penal court cannot issue a blanket ruling – as they did today – nullifying, banning or otherwise outlawing a particular process or event.
Constitutional lawyer and former Supreme Court magistrate Blanca Rosa Marmol de Leon explained:
Penal tribunals are not capable [of doing this]. The can only deal with concrete cases that are before them, such as identity theft [for the purposes of committing electoral fraud]. Aside from that, they have no power [to do what they have done].
Marmol de Leon explained that only the TSJ has the ability to nullify the process, as these penal courts are attempting to do.
Lawyer and university professor Jesus Ollarves agrees with Marmol de Leon, saying that the penal courts do not have the legal power to do what the five courts did today.
Maduro Orders Military to Lock Down Caracas-La Guaira Highway
Earlier in the afternoon, Maduro ordered the military to takeover the main highway connecting La Guaira and Caracas. The country’s main international airport is located in La Guaira, which makes the city – located some 30 minutes away from Caracas – an important link for the capital.
Speaking in a televised speech, Maduro ordered Major General Antonio Benavides Torres to deploy soldiers on the highway for reasons that are not entirely clear at this moment.
Maduro Leaves on “Lightning Tour”; Does Not Announce Return Date
Maduro left Venezuela late this evening on a “lightning tour” of OPEC and non-OPEC countries as part of an attempt to convince the nations to implement policies that will help drive oil prices up.
Maduro did not reveal any details of his trip. At this moment it is not known which countries exactly he is headed to or in which order, or when he plans to return. He did say, however, that he would return “very soon”.
Rising Food Prices Put Basic Staples Out of Reach
Noticiero Digital published an article today in which it points out that harina pan (corn flour) – arguably the most basic of all Venezuelan food staples – is appearing on supermarket shelves across the country at increasingly inaccessible prices.
One bag of corn flour now costs Bs. 975, whereas its old price was Bs. 290. Since a Venezuelan worker’s minimum monthly salary is Bs. 22,576.50, someone earning that wage would see their entire month’s earnings disappear after buying 23 bags.
Corn flour is the primary ingredient in the ubiquitous arepa.
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