The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) issued a ruling yesterday removing David Smolansky from his position as mayor of El Hatillo and sentencing him to 15 months in prison after finding him in contempt of an order to stop protests in the municipality. The TSJ’s decision against Smolansky is identical to that it issued against another popular opposition mayor, Ramon Muchacho of Caracas, this past Tuesday.
In late May, the TSJ ordered eleven mayors to stop anti-government protests in their respective municipalities. Every single one of the eleven are members of the opposition.
In light of Smolansky’s removal from the post, the opposition named El Hatillo council member Reinaldo Diaz the new mayor of the municipality.
The order to stop protests is both illegal and impossible to abide. The right to protest is entrenched in Article 68 of the Constitution, and municipal police forces do not have the training, resources or legal ability to police protests, as the task falls on the National Guard, National Bolivarian Police, and sometimes state police.
Maduro does not believe in municipalities. We must understand that. Mayors have been persecuted since 2013. Whatever happens tomorrow, you must defend the municipality with blood, sweat and tears.
Smolansky joins the Ramon Muchacho (Chacao, Caracas), Gustavo Marcano (Lecheria, Anzoategui), Alfredo Ramos (Iribarren, Lara), and Carlos Garcia (Merida, Merida) as the latest opposition mayor to be removed from his post in the past two weeks.
Smolansky Appears in Video Calling for Protests
In a video posted on Twitter shortly after the TSJ’s ruling was made public, Smolansky called on residents of El Hatillo to take to the streets in protest starting today at 7:00 AM.
Below, the video along with my translation:
David Smolansky: To my neighbours in El Hatillo, and the Venezuelan people: we’ve just heard the [regime’s] decision. I am the 12th mayor to be removed and banned from office, and to [become the target of] an arrest warrant. At this pace, there will no opposition mayors in any municipality in Venezuela because we’ve all been given a number [as in, a lottery number to the sent to prison].
I want to tell you that I will continue to be a a committed, hard-working civil servant, and that my commitment to bring back rights to Venezuela is intact, and that my wish for a safe, just and democratic Venezuela grows each day.
I call on the residents of El Hatillo to defend the municipality and [I think he says “decentralization”, as in, the principle of having mayors]. This is not about David Smolansky, or a position. It is about you who elected me more than three years ago. I am making a call for us to go out onto every one of the streets of the municipality tomorrow at 7:00 AM to protest [the decision] and to defend El Hatillo.
Strength and faith!
La Patilla has pictures of some of the protests that took place in El Hatillo today in response to Smolansky’s call here.
Earlier today, Smolansky issued another defiant statement in which he vowed to keep up the fight against the Maduro regime to the end, saying:
I call on every El Hatillo resident and on every Venezuelan to [join me in] going out to the streets to protest [and] to defend democracy, because I would rather die standing than live kneeling before this dictatorship.
Cabello: Regional Election Candidates Should Have “Good Conduct” Card To Run
PSUV vice president and Constituent Assembly member Diosdado Cabello said on his television show last night that anyone running for the regional elections scheduled for December of this year should have a “good conduct” card given to them by the Constituent Assembly in order to be a candidate.
While Cabello did not explain the details of what this supposed card would look like, the fact that the opposition boycotted the Constituent Assembly means that Cabello’s suggestion is essentially one to only allow candidates who have been pre-approved by the PSUV.
During the same show, Cabello reminded viewers that the Constituent Assembly is “very sovereign” [sic], and that while it is only supposed to convene for two years, “it could decide to meet for four or six years”.
According to the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly is the most powerful body in the country and its decisions cannot be overruled by any individual or institution.
MUD Splits Over Regional Election Question
Yesterday, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) announced that it would post candidates for the regional elections that are scheduled to take place in December. The announcement sent shockwaves through opposition circles, as many questions the wisdom of participating in an election that is very likely to be rigged in the regime’s favour.
Today, Maria Corina Machado–a prominent opposition leader and head of the Vente Venezuela (VV) party–held a press conference to announce that her party was formally splitting from the MUD over its decision to participate in the elections, a move she considers futile.
For Machado, the only purpose of the regional elections is to buy the Maduro regime time to consolidate its power in order to cement the Maduro dictatorship. Machado said:
What the government wants is to buy time to erase all of its crimes and corruption. They want more time, but their time is up. There are two routes: dictatorship, or freedom.
Calling the regional elections “a trap”, Machado said that participating in the election did not make any logical sense, since Maduro’s Constituent Assembly is free to run the country regardless of how many electoral wins the opposition scores in December. She explained:
Participating in the regional elections is to hand over all of the strength that we have accumulated during these days [of protest since April 1] over crumbs of ephemeral and fictitious power. We are talking about a few governorships, when we have a National Constituent Assembly that is dissolving the Republic. We are handing over everything in exchange for nothing. We cannot fall into this trap. We cannot turn out back on the people. We cannot abandon the fight that we started more than 100 days ago.
The MUD responded to Machado’s press conference in a series of tweets in which it explained that it considers voting “an act of rebellion against fraud, repression and the Maduro regime”, and as a peaceful and legal tool for achieving change in Venezuela.
At the same time, Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles defended the MUD’s decision to participate in the elections by saying that while the elections might not fix the Venezuelan crisis, the opposition had an obligation to participate in the process. He said:
I’m not telling people that the regional elections will solve problems. No. But those elections are [guaranteed] in the Constitution, and if we’re defending the Constitution then we should go.
Leopoldo Lopez Banned from Communication
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been banned from communicating by a court four days after returning to house arrest. The ban, the existence of which was made public today, prohibits the head of the Voluntad Popular (VP) opposition party from communicating in any way with anyone outside of his home.
Juan Carlos Gutierrez, one of Lopez’s lawyers, said that the communication ban covers “conventional and unconventional media”, including audio and video recordings, as well as any type of protest. Gutierrez also said that he, along with the rest of Lopez’s legal team, had advised him to abide by the order throughout the appeal process.
Lopez, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2015 over his alleged role in the 2014 anti-government protests, has been living under house arrest since early July. He was dragged out of his home in the overnight hours on August 1 and briefly returned to the Ramo Verde military prison, where he had spent most of the last two years.
Gutierrez also pointed out that the fact that Lopez is in his home does not mean that he is free, since he is still serving a sentence. Gutierrez said:
Everyone knows that Lopez is in his home. The fact that he is home does not mean that he is free. It simply means that he is a prisoner, in his home, just as he was in the Ramo Verde military prison.
Opposition Calls for More Protests on Saturday
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) issued a renewed call for street action today, calling on all Venezuelans to take to the streets of their towns and cities on Saturday in defense of the judicial attack on opposition mayors.
The protest was announced by National Assembly vice president Freddy Guevara, who said that the he expected the highest protester turnouts in Caracas given the fact that the city and its surroundings has had two mayors–Ramon Muchacho and David Smolansky–removed in recent days by the country’s Supreme Court.
Saturday’s protest is likely to act as a weather vane for what is increasingly looking to a demoralized opposition, as the daily protests against the Maduro regime that marked most of the year appear to have come to an end on the successful installation of the Constituent Assembly.
Almagro Calls for More Pressure on Maduro
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, made a call for more international pressure on the Maduro regime today during a press conference on an official visit to Israel.
Calling the Venezuelan crisis “a special situation”, Almagro said that he agreed with targeted sanctions against regime officials, and that he believes that suspending the country from the OAS would be useful as a way to mount “additional pressure” on the dictatorship.
This is a special situation in which we need to continue to mount pressure on the Venezuelan regime as an international community, and to try to continue to come up with democratic solutions within the country.
Almagro also outlined a vision for Maduro’s future in which he is held accountable for his regime’s systemic human rights violations, saying:
Everyone must face justice and answer for what they have done, be they crimes against humanity, human rights violations, corruption or street crimes like drug trafficking.
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