A chaotic afternoon in Caracas ended today with the offices of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) in the Chacao neighbourhood of the city on fire, as protesters clashed with regime supporters near the supreme court’s main headquarters in the western part of the city earlier in the day.
The fighting on the streets shadowed another struggle that dominated the day’s news: that between attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz and the TSJ. Early in the day, the TSJ denied a request by the attorney general requesting an annulment of the ongoing Constituent Assembly process. Ortega Diaz reacted to the denial by filing a motion seeking to remove the magistrates sitting on the TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber, the court’s most powerful body.
Opposition, Regime Supporters Clash Outside TSJ Building
Early in the day, opposition supporters managed to reach the western part of Caracas for the first time since protests began in the country on April 1. Their goal was the building housing the offices of the TSJ. While the protesters were unable to make it to the front of the building given the heavy police presence in the area, some of them managed to get within one block of the installations.
Below, images of National Guard mobile walls deployed around the TSJ building this morning:
At around noon, a group of regime supporters confronted the opposition demonstrators and attacked them. Scuffles between the two sides broke out as National Guard soldiers looked on mere feet away:
The videos below shows more of the chaos around the TSJ office earlier today:
Shortly after the attack by the regime supporters began, the opposition demonstrators left the scene.
At around 5:00 PM local time, the offices of the TSJ in the Chacao neighbourhood were consumed by flames, set on fire by opposition demonstrators. Below, two videos showing the fire:
AG Diaz Calls for Removal of TSJ Magistrates “For the Health of the Country”
Early in the morning, the TSJ issued a decision on a request made earlier this week by attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz to annul the ongoing Constituent Assembly process. The TSJ denied the request, calling it “inept” and without grounds.
Ortega Diaz reacted to the denial later in the day by filing another motion with the TSJ: this one calling for the removal of the magistrates sitting on the court’s Constitutional Chamber, the most powerful panel in the TSJ. The motion seeks to achieve the magistrates’ removal by nullifying the National Assembly session that appointed them to their seats in December of 2015.
After filing the request, Ortega Diaz explained why she thinks that it is necessary to remove the magistrates from the court:
In the name of peace in the country, the TSJ magistrates must be removed from their seats immediately (…) I think that they should be removed for the health of the country.
Ortega Diaz argued that the way in which the magistrates were appointed to their seats–with virtually no vetting on the last day of the PSUV-controlled National Assembly–has affected their ability to perform their duties as set out in the constitution. Ortega Diaz said:
I think that the lack of legitimacy from the start is what affects these magistrates’ suitability, their impartiality. This is without a doubt one of the factors that has contributed to the TSJ not providing effective solutions to the crisis, but on the contrary, accelerating the crisis.
The motion seeks to remove the 33 magistrates appointed by the outgoing PSUV legislature on December 23, 2015: 13 sitting magistrates, as well as 20 back-up magistrates.
Speaking on the authorities’ reaction to her continued break from the Maduro regime, Ortega Diaz said that agents from the country’s political police–the SEBIN–had threatened her and her family. Ortega Diaz explained that SEBIN vehicles will routinely follow her and her family members around, and that agents from the police organization had called her directly. She said:
The [president] is responsible for what might happen to my family. They cannot be the object of threats. This is a matter that [the regime] has to resolve with me, not with my family.
Leopoldo Lopez Calls on Soldiers to Reject Orders to Repress Protests
The jailed leader of the Voluntad Popular (VP) opposition party, Leopoldo Lopez, released a secretly-recorded video from inside the Ramo Verde military prison which he addressed to the country’s military. In the video, Lopez calls on the country’s soldiers to refuse to carry out orders to violently repress the protests that have been taking place in the country since April 1 and that have left approximately 67 people dead.
Lopez is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for his role in leading the anti-regime protests in 2014. His arrest, trial and subsequent imprisonment have been universally condemned by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Lopez: I’ve spent more than 3 years imprisoned in a military facility. I’ve spent time with soldiers from all units and ranks: privates, sergeants, and lower and superior officers, and I can tell you that soldiers also want change, democracy, and freedom. They also want to be able to exercise their duties within the framework of the rule of law. But they, too, are victims of persecution and repression. A very clear example of this is the fact that more than half of those currently imprisoned here in Ramo Verde are soldiers who have been persecuted for thinking differently. They are also political prisoners.
I want to send a very clear, calm message that is couched inside our constitution to the soldiers that are out on the streets today: you have the right and the duty to rebel against orders to repress the Venezuelan people, and to rebel in order to adhere to the constitution. Do not continue to do this. Rebel. Say “No”. Say that it’s not your duty [to repress], and that these are orders that you should not obey.
Transit Strike in Caracas Over Arbitrary Detention of Driver
The president of the Federacion Nacional de Transporte (National Transport Federation) (NTF), Erick Zuleta, confirmed late yesterday that there would be a transit strike in Caracas today over the alleged arbitrary detention of a bus driver in the city.
According to Zuleta, a bus driver by the name of Santos Quevedo Moron was arrested recently for being a “terrorist”, and that he was scheduled to appear before a military tribunal to answer for the charges. While it is not clear at this time what the source of the charges is, it is likely that Quevedo Moron was arrested for protest-related activity.
Zuleta also explained that today’s strike is also partially motivated by the fact that there continues to be a chronic shortage of repair parts, motor oil and tires, making the work of the bus driver nearly impossible to conduct. Moreover, Zuleta said that the regime is forcing drivers to to move passengers essentially for free in order to help ensure a continuation of transport services despite the crisis in the sector:
They pay us only to move from 5 to 10 students, and they want us to drive them around for free the whole month (…) they want to bankrupt us.
Scuffles Break Out at FIFA U-20 Final
Yesterday, Venezuela played England in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in Suwon, South Korea. The match was arguably one of the most anticipated sporting events in recent history in Venezuela. Given the highly charged political climate, many identified the Venezuelan team’s energetic teenagers and their struggle to become the best U-20 soccer team in the world with the struggle against adversity back at home.
A scuffle broke out yesterday during the match between stadium authorities and a group of Venezuelan fans. In a clip posted on Twitter, stadium officials are seen attempting to block a group of Venezuelan supporters from displaying flags and signs. Below, the video:
Venezuela lost the match 1-0.
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