The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) announced a bold series of protest actions for this coming week, as dozens of protesters were injured in clashes with security forces in Caracas and other cities around the country. The announcements come as the country heads into the final week before the July 30 Constituent Assembly election, a date that is increasingly being seen as a do-or-die moment for Venezuelan democratic forces.
Wednesday’s national strike will be the second such event in as many weeks. On July 20, a national strike lasting 24 hours paralyzed the country as Venezuelans closed businesses and stayed home, and left six people dead in violence around the country.
National Assembly deputy Simon Calzadilla announced Wednesday’s national strike during a MUD press conference today, and outlined the opposition’s hope for the event:
We hope that the government will listen. Venezuela is at a standstill. We are marching. We are demonstrating that we do not want the Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly, which was announced by Maduro in early May, is a mechanism that will result in the creation of a new national constitution. Regime critics fear that Maduro and the PSUV will take advantage of the Constituent Assembly to cement dictatorial rule in the country for the ruling party, to jail dissidents and/or to outlaw political opposition in the country.
Dozens Injured in Violence Throughout the Country
Protesters and security forces squared off in cities and towns all around the country today, leaving dozens of injured. While exact figures are difficult to come by, Salud Chacao (the Chacao health authority) reported 17 injured in the day’s fighting in that neighbourhood of Caracas, while at least 40 protesters were injured in fighting in Santa Cruz de Mora, in Merida state.
The video below shows an injured protesters receiving medical care i Bello Campo, Caracas. As the man writhes in pain on the floor, a crowd of escuderos [literally “shield-bearers”, typically young protesters who carry shields] looks on:
Wuilly Arteaga, a famous protester, was also injured. Arteaga, who rose to fame for playing his violin at protests, appears to have received facial trauma:
SEBIN Arrests Newly-Appointed TSJ Magistrate
Officers from the SEBIN–the regime’s political police–arrested magistrate Angel Zerpa Aponte this afternoon while he was driving with his wife in the Caracas neighbourhood of Los Corjitos. It is not yet clear why Zerpa was arrested, or where he is.
Just yesterday, Zerpa was appointed to the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) along with 32 other magistrates by the National Assembly. Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, the sitting TSJ–which is controlled by the PSUV–issued a thinly-veiled threat to the new magistrates, and called on the military and civilian authorities to “take coercive actions” against the new magistrates.
National Assembly deputy Winston Flores told the media that Zerpa was detained at approximately 6:00 PM, and that the SEBIN agents who took him away shot at his sister’s vehicle.
National Assembly deputy Luis Florido reacted to news of Zerpa’s arrest by calling on the international community to take notice of the ongoing abuses in Venezuela, saying:
… we ask for the support of all the supreme courts in America, from Mercosur, from the OAS, Unasur and the European Union, because we think that [Zerpa’s detention] is very important in light of our attempts to restore constitutional order in Venezuela.
Diplomat Defects at UN
Isaias Medina, a member of the Venezuelan delegation at the United Nations, resigned from his position two days ago and called on the Maduro regime to end the repression and human rights violations. In a video recorded at the United Nations shortly after his defection, Medina said:
I would like to call on this government to stop the killings, to stop the violation of human rights, to reconsider and reflect on their position and think about the importance of the country as a whole
Today, BBC Mundo published an interview with Medina in which the diplomat spoke on the authoritarian nature of the Maduro regime. Speaking directly on Maduro’s near-universal unpopularity, Medina said:
Nicolas Maduro is no longer president of Venezuela. He must hand himself over to justice so that he may be judged in accordance to due process.
Below, my translation of excerpts from the BBC Mundo interview:
BBC Mundo: Why did you resign?
Medina: It all began with the start of the protests that have been taking place over the last 100 days. More than 100 people have been killed, there are 440 political prisoners, more than 15,000 people have been injured, and Nicolas Maduro has shown himself to be a dictator. He is violation every human right that the people have, and is comitting crimes against humanity. These are the fundamental elements that led me to this decision.
BBC Mundo: How did you feel working for a government that you accuse of violating human rights?
Medina: With all due respect, I don’t work for any government. I work for my country. However, over these past 100 days, after serving as vice-president of the Ocean Conference which I wanted to see to the end, that’s when I wanted to resign.
But I didn’t have a passport. And, taking into account the fact that Nicolas Maduro is overseeing a system of political apartheid where if you disagree with the government you can’t get a passport or they take it away from you at the airport, I chose to have my passport in order to express myself.
BBC Mundo: How do you see Venezuela getting out of this [crisis]?
Medina: Venezuela has already started to get out of this, [starting with] the 100 heroic days and the students from the resistance movement that are on the streets, as well as through the July 16 plebiscite. More than seven million Venezuelans expressed their will to stop the Constituent Assembly, which usurps the people’s power.
Medina also shared an interesting piece of information regarding Maria Gabriela Chavez, one of Chavez’s daughters and by far the most famous and influential. Maria Gabriela was appointed back-up ambassador to the United Nations in 2014, making her a member of the country’s diplomatic mission in New York City at least on paper.
However, Medina revealed today that Maria Gabriela has been virtually absent from the mission since her appointment, and that “it’d be too much to say that she has been [at the office] three times”.
Due to her close connection to the Hugo Chavez, Maria Gabriela is by most accounts the richest woman in Venezuela. with a 2015 estimated net worth of $4.1 billion.
At the time of her appointment to the United Nations, Maria Gabriela’s move was widely seen by regime critics as a way for Maduro to move an influential chavista out of Venezuela.
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