National Assembly president Julio Borges announced today that Venezuelans will vote on a national referendum on July 16 to “determine the future of the country”. While logistical details on the referendum are not yet clear, the announced of the referendum is likely to set the two sides of Venezuela’s political divide further apart.
Borges made the announcement by saying:
We are calling for a national process of sovereign decision-making for this coming July 16 to determine the future of the country.
While details on the referendum are scarce, Borges suggested that Venezuelans will be asked to vote on whether or not they want the Constituent Assembly that the regime has imposed to take place at all, and whether or not they want a change in government via general elections.
Based on Borges’ announcement today, the referendum will seek input from Venezuelans on these three points:
- Do you accept/agree with the National Constituent Assembly?
- What role do you want public officials to play in the Venezuelan government?
- Do you agree with the creation of a “national unity government” and for the calling of general elections?
Borges also hinted at an intensification of the conflict between the Venezuelan opposition and the Maduro regime, saying:
Starting right now [and] depending on what happens, we’ll be moving towards a superior stage of the struggle.
The head of the Vente Venezuela party, Maria Corina Machado, said that the referendum was taking place within the framework of Article 350 of the Constitution, which calls on Venezuelans to disown any tyrannical law or government.
Speaking on the referendum, Machado said:
It’s an act of civil disobedience, of rebellion…
Details on the Referendum Murky
Aside from the date and the general topic of the referendum, details on the electoral process are murky and complicated by the official stance of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), Venezuela’s electoral authority.
As the only electoral authority in the country, the CNE would presumably be involved in the organization and carrying out of any electoral process in Venezuela. However, given the CNE’s decidedly pro-regime stance, it is virtually guaranteed that the body will simply refuse to help with the referendum.
In her statements to the media today, Maria Corina Machado said that the referendum vote would take place in 108 cities across the country, but it is not at all clear how exactly the process will play out.
AG Ortega Diaz Records Video for Venezuelans
The attorney general also recorded a video posted on YouTube which she addressed to all Venezuelans.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Luisa Ortega Diaz: At this moment, when democracy, institutions and human rights in the country are being seriously threatened, I have the duty to speak to all Venezuelans as attorney general and express my firm commitment to defend the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and to ensure its compliance.
From the Public Ministry, we have been tirelessly fighting to guarantee the integrity of the Constitution. Our compromise and commitment adhere to judicial principles, as evidenced by the daily actions of our sheriffs, directors and other officials from this honourable and democratic institution.
My role as attorney general demands that I mount our republic’s first line of defense, and set a path for our people. Institutions should work, and they should be respected. This is why the Public Ministry–perhaps one of the last few democratic windows available to us– will not be intimidated by the attacks and threats against the country, nor will it give up the rights and liberties of Venezuelans without a fight.
Article 333 of the Constitution says that citizens, whether or not they have been granted authority, have the duty to work together to re-establish that same document. This is why I am calling on everyone who love this land who feel her in our hearts, who want a certain quality of life and who want their families to be reunited, and who want their children to return to the country with opportunities for the future, to defend our rights peacefully and without violence.
Our struggle is not political. It is our nationality and idiosyncrasy where we find the great common values that motivate us to rescue Venezuela. Let us defend the Constitution together, that document which garners the greatest amount of understanding among Venezuelans in recent times. Now more than ever we must be united and join forces to restore the rule of law, the independence of public institutions, our quality of life and the peace that we deserve.
Liberty and the future are at stake. We cannot lose Venezuela. I assure that I will not rest until Venezuela once again walks on the path of freedom. Surrender is not an option. Let us not lose hope. That is what those who want the country for themselves and to rule over ruins would want.
Let us join forces now, convinced that the moment to defend this beautiful land has come.
Opposition Calls for “National Lock-Down” Tomorrow
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) called for a “Great National Lock-Down” tomorrow, a form of protest that involves protesters blocking intersections with the intention of temporarily paralyzing activity in the country.
The MUD is asking protesters to participate in the event from noon until 6:00 PM.
Supreme Court Annuls Charges Against Former National Guard Chief
The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), Venezuela’s Supreme Court, released a ruling this afternoon annulling the charges laid by the Public Ministry against Antonio Benavides Torres, the former head of the National Guard. The charges were laid on June 29, citing the systematic human rights violations committed by National Guard soldiers during the repression of the protests that have been taking place throughout the country since April 1.
Benavides Torres was scheduled to appear in court on July 6 to answer to the charges.
Two days ago, Maduro gave Benavides Torres a medal during a televised speech in which he characterized the soldier in the following way:
[Benavides Torres has had] an impeccable military career, [one marked by] work, sacrifice and discipline, but above all else, loyalty (…) true loyalty as demonstrated on the streets, the towns and the cities, to our supreme commander Hugo Chavez.
During his tenure as commander, National Guard soldiers killed and otherwise abused opposition protesters in the most brutal repression that Venezuela has seen in decades.
Regime Takes Aim at Public Ministry Via Comptroller General
The Comptroller General of the Republic announced today that the Public Ministry was being place under the microscope in order to determine if any budgetary irregularities have been taking place at the institution.
Manuel Galindo, the comptroller general, announced the measure today by saying:
I have decided to [conduct] an audit in order to evaluate the administrative, budgetary and financial activities (…) conducted by the [Public Ministry] between January 2008 until July 30 2017.
The bureaucratic assault on the Public Ministry, which is headed by attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz, is the latest salvo against the once-loyal chavista. In recent months, Ortega Diaz has spoken out in public against the Maduro regime and its ongoing abuses against human rights and the rule of law.
Aside from being the target of this audit, Ortega Diaz is also facing an impeachment hearing, and has also had all of her assets frozen and been banned from leaving the country by a Supreme Court order.
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