The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) called off a highly-anticipated march to the Miraflores Palace for Thursday, sending shockwaves through the opposition ranks and signalling a de-escalation in the tension between the opposition bloc and the governing PSUV party.
The announcement of the cancellation occurred at approximately 4:00 PM local time, and appears to have been taken by three of the MUD’s “Big Four” parties: Accion Democratica (AD), Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), and Primero Justicia (PJ), leaving Voluntad Popular (VP) and its called for continued pressure on the Maduro government in the minority.
The announcement follows a roller coaster ride of expectations that began last Thursday, when Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles told a crowd of thousands of protesters in Caracas that the opposition would march on Miraflores Palace on November 3. The announcement set off alarms of a possible violent confrontation between the two sides, since the last opposition march on Miraflores left 19 people dead and saw Chavez temporarily removed from power.
National Assembly President and AD chief Henry Ramos Allup said that the Vatican requested that the march to Miraflores be cancelled in order to minimize the risk of bloodshed. Allup also explained that the Vatican had also requested that the two sides start a dialogue process. Allup said:
If the Vatican asked us to set down and talk, well, then we have to do it. We cannot deny this [request].
Allup also said that the opposition would wait at least 10-12 days to see if the dialogue showed promise, but he did not explain what they might do if it did not.
Cancellation Appears to Follow Liberation of Four Political Prisoners
While Allup did say that the reason for the cancellation of the march lies with the Vatican’s request to do so, there is reason to believe that the decision was at least partially influenced by agreements arrived at between the PSUV and the MUD in behind-closed-doors meeting(s).
Earlier this morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that the Maduro government had order the release of five of the country’s 114 political prisoners. Rodriguez made the announcement before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying:
We [the PSUV], who have maintained in a permanent wait for the opposition to agree to a dialogue, welcome the fact that they have finally decided to do so.
Rodriguez was asked by reports if the liberation of the five political prisoners today was a token of goodwill by the government in order to help the dialogue along, Rodriguez replied by saying “yes”.
The five released men are:
- Carlos Melo
- Andres Moreno
- Marco Trejo
- Coromoto Rodriguez
- Andres Leon
Decision Splits Opposition; VP, VV At Odds with MUD
The decision to cancel Thursday’s march appears to have split Venezuelans between those who support the dialogue and those who support street protests. The same split is visible inside the MUD, as Voluntad Popular – one of the bloc’s largest and most important parties – decried the decision to cancel the march. At the same time, the part expressed its desire to remain united with the rest of the opposition against Maduro.
The party issued a press release, part of which reads:
Voluntad Popular expresses its disagreement during today’s National Assembly session [during which the announcement was made], at which time we made our compromise [with the MUD] for the sake of the Venezuelan people clear.
VP’s head is Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently serving a 14 year prison sentence for his alleged role in instigating the 2014 anti-government protests.
The same press release also sets a deadline for the Maduro government to make lasting and meaningful changes to its conduct lest it face renewed calls for a march on Miraflores:
Voluntad Popular will do everything that it has to do in order to maintain this new promise that the [MUD] has made: if by November 12 Nicolas Maduro has not returned to the constitutional path and our people remain without an election [date] to change the president, we should declare his office vacant and mobilize towards Miraflores.
The release also argues that democracy in Venezuela has been “trampled”, as has the right of Venezuelans to elect their leaders. As a result, VP considers it absolutely vital to “continue civil and constitutional protests”.
Maria Corina Machado, the head of the Vente Venezuela party, reacted to today’s news on Twitter, saying:
There will be NO march on Miraflores. There will be NO trial for Maduro. NO recall referendum. THIS MEANS NO change in government in 2016. This is cause for indignation. The MUD has made a mistake.
Maduro: VP is a “Terrorist Group”
Maduro reacted to VP’s continued calls for peaceful protests against his government as indicative of the fact that, according to him, VP is a “terrorist group”. Maduro made the comment during his weekly television show, which aired tonight.
Maduro singled out National Assembly deputy Freddy Guevara as a “terrorist”, saying:
I hope that the courts take notice of the matter of these terrorists from this group that is trying to use the law in Venezuela [sic]. As head of state I will support any decision so that this terrorist group can pay its debt to justice. That’s what I’m saying.
Maduro also said that “anyone who calls for a march on Miraflores is a criminal”. Article 68 of the Constitution establishes the right to peaceful protest without any restriction on location. In fact, the PSUV frequently stages rallies outside of the Miraflores Palace.
Maduro continued by saying:
I’m not afraid. I won’t hesitate to apply justice. I’m calling on all public powers to take action in the face of the threats from this terrorist group called Voluntad Popular.
Speaking on Freddy Guevara specifically, Maduro described the speech that he gave to opposition supporters in Caracas last week. Maduro said:
Then this coward stood up. He’s a coward. He thinks that parliamentary immunity can save him from a jail cell. No. There’s no immunity here when we’re talking about attacks or announcements against the life of the Republic. That’s what I’m saying. And when I say something, I carry it out. I won’t hesitate [to make VP face justice]. Terrorists!
Iglesias: Students Don’t Need Formal Calls for Protests
Hasler Iglesias, the leader of the country’s student movement, reacted to news of the cancellation of Thursday’s march by saying that Venezuela’s students did not need a formal call from a political party in order to organize themselves and protest. Iglesias said:
We don’t need any politician to call on us [to protest] (…) we students believe that the struggle has to continue on the streets in a peaceful and organized manner.
The student groups that Iglesias represents are expected to make a formal announcement on the cancellation of the march on Miraflores in the coming hours.
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