The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) issued a ruling yesterday prohibiting the organization and holding of protests in the country. The ruling partially reads:
[The ruling] prohibits calling for and carrying out acts that alter the public order, instigaciones [roughly, “harassing” or “attacking”] authorities and Public Powers [essentially, “institutions”], as well as other acts that violate constitutional rights and judicial order in general.
By “acts that alter the public order”, the ruling is universally understood to mean protests, particularly large ones.
Commentators, opposition leaders and independent media outlets have taken the purpose of the ruling to act as a kind of warning against opposition leaders from attemtping to organize protests in the country. Just two days ago, the head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), Jesus Torrealba, said that the “truce” between the PSUV and the opposition was over, and that MUD would re-start its campaign of street protests.
The ruling appears to stand in direct contradiction to article 68 of the constitution, which grants Venezuelans “the right to protest peacefully and without weapons”.
OAS Head Issues Statement on Dialogue
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, issued a statement today as the organization’s permanent council met to talk about the Venezuelan dialogue process. The meeting ended with a statement from the council expressing support for the dialogue.
Below, my translation of Almagro’s statement:
As Secretary General of the OAS, I want to send my regards to the delegations for the negotating efforts that has concluded in the adoption of the “Declaration of Support for the National Dialogue in Venezuela”.
As a man of law and principles, I beleive that the path of negotiation and dialogue is the main tool for building solutions for problems in the region.
Within that framework, and as I have said numerous times before, we hope that the Vatican’s mediation efforts in Venezuela will restore the separation of powers, the people’s electoral power, and respect for the constitution.
I reiterate [my belief that] it is imperative that all political prisoners be released soon, that electoral processes be hastened for the sake of the people’s right to vote, and for a humanitarian corridor to be implemented.
Al confiar en que los demostrados esfuerzos del Consejo Permanente resulten fructíferos en dicho sentido, reitero a la señora Presidenta las consideraciones de mi más alta consideración. [This is a fairly convoluted sign-off that is essentially a way of thanking the permanent council and its president for its continued efforts on this matter].
Venezuela walked out of the council chamber early in the morning as the permanent council meeting began. The reason for the walk-out was that Venezuela had not been informed beforehand that the council would meet today to discuss the dialogue in the country, something to which Venezuela took offence.
Before leaving the council chamber, the Venezuelan representative spoke, saying:
Venezuela does not trust the OAS because of its media campaign. The OAS has always sought to diminish the government of Venezuela.
Nicaragua and Bolivia also left the council chamber in solidarity with Venezuela.
Amazonas Opposition Deputies Resign
Opposition deputies for Amazonas state Nirma Guarulla, Julio Ygarza and Romel Guzamana formally resigned from the National Assembly yesterday, nearly a year after winning their respective races in the 2015 parliamentary elections on December 6 only to be banned from joining the parliament on December 30 by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ). The TSJ argued that the deputies could not formally join the National Assembly because there had allegedly been irregularities in their election. The TSJ never clarified its position on the case, instead letting it languish without any kind of update for the rest of the year.
The deputies decided to join parliament in late July given that the TSJ’s strategy of delaying dealing with the case for as long as possible had become apparent. By joining the National Assembly, the three deputies gave the opposition a super-majority in parliament.
The deputies’ resignation comes only days after the PSUV and the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) released a statement saying that there would be new parliamentary elections in Amazonas state. The announcement caught the deputies by surprise, since it meant that their seats were technically vacant again. El Nacional cites a source inside the MUD as saying that the opposition bloc suffers from “terrible communication”, and that no one informed the deputies that their seats had essentially been negotiated away.
A date for the Amazonas parliamentary elections has not yet been set.
Scuffle Breaks Out at National Assembly
A scuffle broke out at yesterday’s National Assembly session as opposition deputy Rafael Guzman called PSUV deputy Tania Diaz “vampire”. The comment triggered an “emptying of the benches” reminiscent of the beginning of a baseball brawl, although no punches were actually thrown.
Below, a video showing PSUV deputy Hector Rodriguez (on the left wearing blue) facing off against Guzman shortly after he made his comment toward Diaz:
Guzman was at the podium speaking on Maduro’s unilateral extension of the state of emergency earlier this week while Diaz yelled at him from her seat in an apparent attempt to disrupt his speech. In response to the yelling, Guzman replied to Diaz by saying, “calm down, you vampire”.
Guzman explained this morning that the term “vampire” is grounded on a well-publicized event that took place while Diaz was the Minister of Communication and Information in 2013, and that it was not intended to target Diaz personally either because of her appearance or her gender.
Back in 2013, an audio recording featuring Mario Silva – a pro-PSUV television personality and party insider – surfaced in which Silva refereed to Diaz along with two other people as “vampires”. During the recording, Silva also said:
The commander [Hugo Chavez] got rid of them for being thieves. That’s because the minister – Minister Tania Diaz- didn’t even last one month as Minister of Communication and Iinformation, because they stole all the money that they could take from Venezolana de Television [a state-owned network].
Narco-nephew’s Admissions Heard in Court
As the trial against Efrain and Francisco Flores winds down, the jury heard more secretly-recorded admissions from the accused in a New York City courtroom today. The two men are the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife. The two men stand accused for allegedly attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States last November.
During today’s proceedings, the jury heard a secret recording in which Francisco boasted of his ability to export drugs out of Venezuela due to his family connections. During the recording, Francisco said that he had already exported drugs out of Venezuela successfully in the past using runway #4 at the Maiquetia International Airport. On paper, runway #4 exists solely for accommodating inbound and outbound flights carrying high-level government officials, including FAV-1, the presidential airplane.
The court also heard another recorded conversation in which Flores said that his aunt, first lady Cilia Flores, wanted to one day become the governor of a state. Francisco did not specify which state specifically his aunt would like to govern. Earlier in the trial, the jury heard another recording in which Francisco said that his reason for getting involved in the drug trade was to raise money to fund Cilia Flores’ campaign for a seat at the National Assembly during the 2015 parliamentary elections.
In another recorded conversation heard today in court, Francisco referred to National Assembly deputy and PSUV vice-president Diosdado Cabello as “the most powerful man in Venezuela”, and that he controls the military in the country and is more powerful than Maduro.
El Nacional reports that during another section of the recording, Francisco’s words are harder to discern, but that he mentions Cabello again, saying:
Everything is guaranteed here. There are many [unintelligible], Diosdado Cabello, [unintelligible], and others…
A verdict in the trial could come as early as tomorrow.
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