This afternoon, the National Assembly was scheduled to hold a legislative session to vote on the appointment of 33 new magistrates to the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), Venezuela’s top court. The highly-anticipated session would likely have intensified the country’s political divide, given that the current PSUV-aligned TSJ would most likely have ignored the new appointments.
However, the session did not take place because the ranking National Guard officer tasked with providing security to the legislature, Colonel Bladimir Lugo, refused to let journalists, deputies and other workers onto the National Assembly’s grounds.
News of Colonel Lugo’s move first broke from National Assembly deputy Mariela Magallanes, who tweeted the following message shortly after the noon hour:
Due to direct orders from Colonel Lugo, journalists and National Assembly employees are denied entry [to the building] for today’s parliamentary session.
It is not clear why Colonel Lugo would not allow journalists to enter the premises. Journalists have traditionally been granted access to the National Assembly in the name of democratic transparency and accountability.
National Assembly deputy Luis Florido later explained that the gates to the National Assembly lines were physically blocked by rows of National Guard soldiers.
As a result of the National Guard’s actions, today’s parliamentary session had to be postponed to next week.
National Assembly to Appoint Magistrates Next Week
Despite today’s National Guard disruption of the parliamentary session, deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia said that the legislature would nevertheless push with the appointment of 33 new magistrates to the TSJ next week.
We will continue next week with our schedule to name the magistrates. The Venezuelan people, after that great popular demonstration that will happen on Sunday [the plebiscite], will have 20 [new] magistrates and 13 back-up magistrates…
The new magistrates are being appointed in response to the events of December 23, 2015. That day–the last session of the PSUV-controlled National Assembly–the ruling party appointed 33 magistrates to the TSJ with virtually no vetting in a desperate attempt to stack the supreme court with pro-PSUV magistrates.
Of the 33 magistrates appointed by the PSUV in 2015, only three actually meet the requirements to hold their position.
Colonel Lugo’s Not New to Infamy
Colonel Lugo’s conduct at the National Assembly today did not take many by surprise, given some of his history.
Most recently, Colonel Lugo was criminally charged for failing to respond to a vicious attack on the National Assembly by pro-regime militias that left over a dozen people injured, including several legislators. As the head of the National Assembly’s security detail, Lugo is responsible for ensuring that no such attacks take place.
On June 28, Colonel Lugo got into a heated exchange with National Assembly president Julio Borges in which he assaulted the parliamentarian.
In 2004, Lugo was accused of kidnapping the daughter of Eligio Cedeño, a prominent businessman.
17-year-old Protester Killed in Ciudad Bolivar
17-year-old Oswaldo Rafael Britt was killed this afternoon during an anti-government protest in the Paseo Meneses street of Ciudad Bolivar in Bolivar state. Britt was run over by a vehicle that was registered to a state-owned oil company.
Protesters caught up to the vehicle that ran Britt over and burned it:
Britt was a nursing student at the Universidad de Oriente (UDO). He becomes the 92nd person killed during the anti-government protests that began on April 1.
Video Captured Moments After Ruben Gonzalez Fell
A video has surfaced on YouTube showing the moments after 16-year-old protester Ruben Gonzalez was shot dead yesterday during an anti-government protest in the La Isabelica neighbourhood of Valencia, in Carabobo state.
At the start of the video, a gunshot can be heard, along with a “whizz!” that is characteristic of a bullet travelling through the air close by. As the camera pans to the right following the gunshot, Ruben’s body can be seen on the ground.
Below, the video:
While it is not yet clear who shot Gonzalez, the fact that a firearm appears to have been used in the killing suggests that it might have been a colectivo armado, which is the local name for pro-government paramilitary groups.
S&P Lowers Venezuela’s Credit Rating to CCC-
Standard & Poor’s lowered the credit rating of Venezuela’s sovereign debt to CCC- from CCC, signalling to investors that the country might default on its debts within the next 6 months.
The rating’s agency defines the CCC standing (which in this case has been modified by a “-” sign) in the following way:
[Venezuela is] currently vulnerable and is dependent upon favorable business, financial, and economic conditions to meet its financial commitments.
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