Yesterday, the Lima Group met in the Peruvian capital to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, and in particular the upcoming April 22 presidential election. The Group–which is now made up of 14 regional nations–released a statement outlining its updated position on developments in the country, hardening its stance against the Maduro regime’s continued drive towards authoritarianism.
In its statement, the Group ratified its assertion that the April 22 presidential election “cannot take place” in a “free and fair” manner given the conditions in the country. Part of the statement reads:
We underscore that free and fair elections cannot take place with the existence of political prisoners, without the full participation of political parties and with political leaders imprisoned or arbitrarily disqualified, with an electoral authority under government control, without the participation of millions of Venezuelan citizens who live abroad and are unable to vote, originally called for by the Constituent Assembly, which lacks the legitimacy or the legal power to do so and whose existence and decisions we do not recognize.
At the same time, the statement recognizes the continued “deterioration of respect for human rights and the grave political, economic, and social crisis”, and stresses the Group’s “concern for the growing deterioration of the humanitarian situation” in the country.
Arguably the most concrete result of yesterday’s meeting was that the government of Peru officially rescinded its invitation for Maduro to participate in the Summit of the Americas, which is scheduled to take place in Lima in mid-April. The news came via Peruvian foreign affairs minister Cayetana Aljovin, who said the following during a press conference:
The government of Peru has decided to reconsider the participation of the government of Venezuela in the VIII Summit of the Americas in Lima. The members of the Lima Group respect that decision.
The Lima Group is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia. The group was formed at the end of last year with the goal of “working intensively with like-minded countries… to advocate for the restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights for the Venezuelan people.”
Political Prisoners Held Hostage in Prison Mutiny
This afternoon, prisoners in the Tocuyito prison in Carabobo state staged a mutiny to demand that they be transferred out of the facility. The inmates appear to have taken a trio of political prisoners who were also being held in the facility hostage, and have threatened to kill them if their demands are not met.
The mutinous inmates shared images from inside the prison with media outlets. In the images, the political prisoners are seen with their hands up surrounded by signs and their apparent captors. Some of the innmates have weapons, and at least one appears to be holding a fragmentation grenade.
In the image below, the three hostages can be seen in the middle holding their hands up. The green letters on the sheet behind them reads “We want answers”, while the black and red words on the sheet in front of them reads “We want a peaceful dialogue”: Note that the inmmated wearing the yellow hood is holding a knife, while the one wearing the black hood is holding what appears to be some kind of makeshift pistol. In the third image, another inmate in a yellow hood points what looks like a shotgun at the hostages:
The image below shows one of the captors holding a grenade:
The names of the hostages are Juan Poletti, Antonio Garbi, Jesus Albi, and Alexander Tirado. It is not clear where the fourth political prisoner is not pictured in the images above.
National Bank Network Collapses, Leaving Users Without Cash, Cards
The Banco de Venezuela network spent all of today collapsed, leaving users without access to the money in their accounts as well as their debit and credit cards. The bank is the third largest in Venezuela.
Javier Morales, the president of the bank, said in an update at approximately 2:00 PM this afternoon that its system’s collapse was the result of a power failure earlier in the morning hours. At the same time, Morales assured costumers that the bank’s databases had not been affected by the shutdown:
The Banco de Venezuela data is intact, complete and backed-up in the server hall. We are now proceeding…to re-establishing electrical service to the bank’s main sever hall. In the next few hours, service will be restored…
Despite Morales’ assurance, El Nacional reports that the bank’s network was still offline as of 10:00 PM local time.
Maduro Speaks on Upcoming Election
Maduro precised today over the opening act signaling the beginning of the 2018 judicial year at the country’s top court, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ). During his remarks, Venezuela spoke on the upcoming April 22 presidential election, and what he thinks it means for the history of the country.
Calling democracy in Venezuela “thriving and active”, Maduro said that the presidential election would take place on April 22 “even if there is rain, thunder or lightning” [in Spanish, llueva, truene o relampaguee], and expression that roughly means “no matter what happens”.
Maduro also said that the date was chosen in consensus with the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) bloc, a claim that the MUD vehemently denies.
“Man Burning” Up For World Press Photo Award
Venezuelan photographer Ronaldo Schemidt’s harrowing image of a protester engulfed in flames has been named as one of the finalists for the World Press Photo of the Year award. The award is given out each year to journalists who managed to capture exceptional events on film.
Schmeidt’s picture is of Jose Victor Salazar Balta, a 28-year-old protester who was set ablaze during an anti-government protest in Caracas on May 3 of last year. Media reports at the time indicated that Balta mishandled an incendiary device–likely a Molotov cocktail–during the protest.
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