Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly is Sworn in Despite Allegations of Fraud and Authoritarian Acts

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Sunday July 30th, 2017, Venezuela changed dramatically. As some protested, other Venezuelans voted in an election to create a Constituent Assembly, with the power to rewrite their country’s constitution, and perhaps most importantly, to oust the current opposition-led National Assembly. The election has since been deemed a fraud, and in the days since the new constituent assembly, the government of Nicolas Maduro have increasingly been engaging in increased unapologetically authoritarian acts.

Former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega is prevented from entering the Public Prosecutor’s office in Caracas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

According to the Venezuelan government, over 8 million people voted in the election, however an independent exit poll puts the turnout at half that number. Additionally, the company that makes the machines which were used in the election has publicly stated that the results were off by at least 1 million people. Two weeks prior, according to opposition leaders, around 7 million people voted in an unofficial referendum to keep the current constitution. Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela’s now former attorney general, was fired by the Assembly in its first session on August 5th, 2017 after promising that she would investigate accusations of voter fraud surrounding the election.

The Venezuelan government has also jailed two critics of Maduro, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma. The two men have been accused of planning to flee the country and of violating their house arrests by making political statements and speaking to media. They were abducted from their homes in nighttime raids by security forces. Ledezma was released on August 4th, and placed back on house arrest. Additionally, two of the judges appointed by the National Assembly to an alternative Supreme Court have taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy and may seek asylum.

Protests and violence raged rampant in the streets during the election, with estimates of those killed in clashes with authorities ranging from 7 to 12 people. One of the candidates in the election was also killed in his home.

As of writing this article the Constituent Assembly has not yet dissolved the current National Assembly. Among the new leaders in the Constituent Assembly are Maduro’s wife and son. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly however, have pledged to remain in power regardless of what actions the Constituent Assembly takes, setting up the possibility of two governing bodies, each not recognizing the other.

For more information, please see:

NBC – Venezuela’s New Constituent Assembly Ousts Anti-Maduro Prosecutor Luisa Ortega – 5 August, 2017

New York Times – Venezuela’s New Leaders Begin Their March Towards Total Control – 4 August, 2017

CNN – Controversial Venezuelan vote to be investigated, attorney general says – 3 August, 2017

Time – Venezuela Heads Toward a Showdown As New Assembly Prepares to Convene – 3 August, 2017 

CBS – Voting machine firm: Venezuela vote rigged “without any doubt” – 2 August, 2017

Reuters – Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents –  1 August, 2017

ABC (Aus) – Venezuela election: Deadly protests mar ballot as voters snub Maduro constituent assembly – 31 July, 2017

CNN – Deadly election day in Venezuela as protestors clash with troops – 30 July, 2017

 

 

Face of Venezuela’s Protests Injured as Opposition Resists Maduro’s Planned Rewrite of Constitution

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Protests continue across Venezuela, with more on the way, as citizens attempt to stop President Maduro from rewriting the nation’s constitution. According to opposition members, millions voted against such a thing in an unofficial vote held last week, and millions more participated in a nationwide strike which paralyzed the country, protesting the rewrite. Meanwhile, the Maduro administration has continued to respond to the protests with violent means.

Venezuelan protestor Wuilly Arteaga, playing his violin during protests against President Nicolas Maduro. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The opposition controlled National Assembly also attempted to replace the nation’s Supreme Court with 33 appointees of their own, however the already existing Court has since declared the move to be void, and inferred that it could result in charges of treason. One of these appointees has already been detained by the Maduro government, and authorities have threatened others with arrest and trial before military courts as well. Since the National Assembly had sworn in lawmakers whose elections were suspended for supposed voting irregularities, the Court maintains that any action the legislature takes is illegal.

A protest held on July 22nd, had a few thousand protestors trying to reach the Supreme Court, however it’s unclear whether this was connected specifically to the Court’s action, or just a general protest of Maduro’s attempt to rewrite the constitution. Several protestors were injured, including violinist Wuilly Arteaga, who has become a symbol of the protests for playing the national anthem and other tunes on his instrument as hectic protests occur around him. Authorities in the country have routinely used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protestors for the past four months, causing the deaths of 97 people and injuring thousands.

Meanwhile, a Venezuelan diplomat, Isaias Medina, has resigned from his post at the UN in protest of the actions taken by the Maduro government, urging Maduro to step down in the process. The opposition party is also currently boycotting the elections for the Constitutional Assembly, which would be charged with rewriting the constitution, proclaiming the votes as a sham since the rules are apparently designed to give Maduro’s government a majority. Maduro plans to put 232,000 soldiers on the streets to assure that the Constitutional Assembly goes ahead.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Venezuelans protest Maduro’s plan to rewrite constitution -22 July, 2017

The Guardian – ‘I will be back’: Violin-playing face of Venezuela’s protests injured in clash – 22 July, 2017

teleSUR – Supreme Court Declares Opposition’s Naming of Judges Invalid – 21 July, 2017

New Jersey Herald – Venezuela diplomat says he resigned to protest Maduro acts – 20 July, 2017

Venezuela’s Attorney General Banned From Leaving Country

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – On June 28th the Venezuelan Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro loyalists, froze the assets of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and have banned her from leaving the country. The United Nations expressed concern over this act, and urged the Venezuelan government to abide by the rule of law and allow for peaceful protests. Attorney General Diaz stood against Maduro’s government in March when the Supreme Court attempted to strip the opposition controlled Congress of its powers. She has also recently accused Maduro’s government of committing “state terrorism” based on the response of authorities to antigovernment protests. Her court hearing is currently scheduled for July 4th. Attorney General Diaz has also asked the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights for protection.

Luisa Ortega Diaz who has recently become a critic of the Maduro government, and was barred from travel by the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of BBC.

The Supreme Court of Venezuela has also attempted to strip Attorney General Diaz’s powers by giving Tarek William Saab, a Maduro loyalist and ombudsman, the ability to conduct criminal investigations. Diaz has rejected the ruling, claiming that it gives the power to investigate human rights abuses to the abusers themselves.

A day after this, Attorney General Diaz’s office officially charged Antonio Benavides, the former head of Venezuela’s National Guard, with human rights abuses after months of protests have left approximately 80 people dead. Ortega’s office has claimed that abuses by police are responsible for 23 of those deaths. Benavides was removed from his post last week, but since then he has been reassigned as head of Venezuela’s Capital District government. He was also one of seven individuals sanctioned in 2015 by then US President Barack Obama for human rights abuses.

Approximately one year ago, an American named Josh Holt was arrested in Venezuela on weapons charges. Although, because he hasn’t been given any preliminary hearings makes US officials doubt the reasons behind his detention. Holt had traveled to Venezuela to marry Thamara Candelo, a woman he had met online while practicing his Spanish. Currently, all that’s known is that he’s being held in a prison run by Venezuela’s intelligence police. Maduro has blamed the United States for the protests within his country, although whether this is the reasoning remains to be seen.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph – Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asks Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for protection – 1 July, 2017

Santa Fe New Mexican – Utah man stuck in Venezuela jail – 30 June, 2017

The Atlantic – Venezuela’s Ex-Security Chief Charged With Human Rights Violations – 30 June, 2017

UN News Centre – Venezuela bans Attorney General from leaving country; UN rights office voices concern – 30 June, 2017

BBC – Venezuela crisis: Attorney general banned from leaving country – 29 June, 2017

Venezuelan Protestors Tried in Military Courts

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Earlier this year, during a huge economic crisis, protests began against the ruling government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. In April, the protests escalated after the country’s Supreme Court, controlled by Maduro loyalists, attempted to dissolve the country’s legislative National Assembly. Now Maduro has taken another apparent attempt to silence the critics of his government by prosecuting civilian protestors before military courts.

Opposition supporters in Venezuela rally against the Maduro government as the military takes position in the background. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

According to the BBC, at least 50 have been detained thus far, while the New York Times estimates that the minimum number of actual detentions reaches as high as 120. If the protests continue, it is likely that number will rise.

The trial of civilians in military courts is traditionally forbidden, both by international law and Venezuela’s own constitution except in crimes, “of a military nature.” However, the prosecution of these protestors in military, rather than civilian courts, is claimed to be justified by the Venezuelan government’s Zamora Plan. On its official blog, Human Rights Watch describes it as an initiative meant to address, “internal and external attacks that threaten the country’s peace and sovereignty.” However, critics of this action claim it is nothing more than an attempt by Maduro’s government to crack down on and silence the protests.

A researcher from Human Rights Watch claimed that the shift is because the government can control the results in said courts. Although, it should be noted that even in civilian courts, liberal judges and prosecutors have caused hundreds to be jailed in the past. Rights groups point to the fact that there is a different standard of evidence in military courts, as well as the lack of due process protections for defendants as proof that the system is rigged against them. However, at least for now it does not appear that this move has dissuaded protestors from taking to the streets.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Venezuela Tries Protestors in Military Court ‘Like We Are in a War’ – 12 May 2017

BBC – Venezuela military courts ‘used against protesters’ – 9 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Civilians Tried by Military Courts – 8 May 2017

NBC News  – Venezuela Protests and Economic Crisis: What Is Going On? – 8 May 2017

New York Times – At Least 3 Die in Venezuela Protests Against Nicolás Maduro – 19 April 2017

Venezuela Withdraws from the OAS

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Caracas, Venezuela—President Nicolás Maduro announced last week that he is withdrawing Venezuela out of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has been critical of President Maduro’s accumulation of power at the cost of democratic institutions.

Demonstrators, including the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, have taken to the streets against president Maduro’s government. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

On Wednesday the representative of Venezuela to the OAS, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez announced that President Maduro instructed her to sever ties with the OAS because “of what she described as intrusive, arbitrary, illegal, deviant and crude actions.” She also stated that “A faction of governments from the region had eyes on our sovereignty and tried to intervene and lecture our country, but this, fortunately, will not happen.” Venezuela submitted a letter of complaint which will initiate the process to withdraw. The decision to leave the organization comes after the OAS voted to hold a meeting to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. As a result of leaving the OAS and in accordance to its rules, Venezuela will need to pay a debt of 8.7 million and will need to wait two years to withdraw.

Many experts claimed that the decision to leave the OAS is unprecedented—no country has left the OAS since its initiation.  A professor of International Relations at the Central University of Venezuela stated, “It is evidence of an authoritarian character o the government, especially in the case of the OAS, whose pillars are to defend democracy and human rights.”

The OAS promotes democracy among its member states in the Western Hemisphere. Neighboring countries have used the OAS to exert pressure on Venezuela due to a rise in instability. Additionally, the OAS invoked the Democratic Charter against Venezuela for “stifling opponents, holding political prisoners and ruling by decree.” President Maduro has accused the OAS as being a pawn of Washington in order to undermine the country by establishing alternative regional bodies.

Venezuela is experiencing continued unrest as protests against the government have turned violent and deadly. Nearly 30 people have been killed in the wave of protests.

For more information, please see:

BBC—Venezuela to Withdraw From OAS as Deadly Protests Continue—27 April 2017.

Telesur—Venezuela Formally Begins Process to Exit ‘Interventionist’ OAS—27 April 2017.

New York Times—Venezuela Says It Will Leave Pro-Democracy Organization—26 April 2017.

NPR—Venezuela to Leave OAS, Death Toll Climbs After Dueling Rallies—26 April 2017.

 

Venezuela’s Protests Turn Deadly

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 Caracas, Venezuela—Venezuela has had over three weeks of anti-government protests and it is turning deadly. Last week, a fifth person has died from their injuries sustained at the protests. Among the dead is a thirteen-year old boy who was shot and killed.

Demonstrators in Venezuela have been met with tear gas. (Photo Courtesy of NBC News)

Venezuelan officials have confirmed the death of Miguel Colmenares, 36, who was shot during a protest in the city of Barquisimeto. Mr. Colmenares is the fifth person to die that week. The public prosecutor’s office has announced it will investigate his death. At the same protest in Barquisimeto, thirty-two-year-old protester, Gruseny Calderon, was killed when he was injured by rubber bullets that pierced his lung and liver. Additionally, two college students were shot and killed. One was killed on April 6th and the other on April 11th. Lastly, the thirteen-year-old boy that was killed, was identified as Brayan Principal—he was shot in the abdomen.

In addition to the deaths, Jose Manuel Olivares, an opposition legislator, stated that “police fired tear gas ‘point-blank’ at demonstrators in the state of Vargas.” Olivares continued his statement, “If they think they will scare us that way they are wrong. We will stay in the street!” Because of the use of tear gas, many protesters have prepared themselves with goggles, rags, and gas masks.

Thousands of opposition protesters have poured into the streets of Venezuela. As a result, dozens of protesters have been injured and over 100 have been arrested this past week. The opposition has planned all of the protests with the aim of diluting the power of government security forces. Although most of the protests have occurred in middle class neighborhoods, slums that have historically supported former president Hugo Chavez have held and joined the protests.

Venezuela is currently undergoing a food and medicine shortage, as well as, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera—Fifth Person Dies in Protests Against Nicolas Maduro—14 April 2017.

NBC News—Venezuela: 5 Dead as Anti-Government Protests Intensify—14 April 2017.

BBC—Venezuela Protests: Teenage Protester in Barquisimeto killed—13 April 2017.

Telesur—What Everybody Needs to Know About Venezuela Protest Deaths—13 April 2017.

Venezuelan Government Releases Political Prisoners

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 CARACAS, VENEZUELA—The Venezuelan government released several political prisoners from the Helicoide prison. Among the political prisoners released included former opposition presidential candidate. The release of the prisoners comes as talks mediated by the Vatican continue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

Francisco Marquez shares his experience as a Venezuelan political prisoner.
Francisco Marquez shares his experience as a Venezuelan political prisoner. (Photo Courtesy of NBC News)

The political prisoners released included former 2006 opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales who was detained and imprisoned in October 2015 for illicit enrichment upon his return from exile in Peru. He is the leader of the Venezuelan political party “A New Era.” Mr. Rosales will continue in house arrest until trial. In addition to his release five other activists belonging to the opposition were released. The prisoners included, Nixón Leal, Yeimi Varela, Skarlyn Duarte, Gerardo Carrero and Ángel Contrera who were all detained during a violent barricade protest in 2014. The released prisoners will not be able to leave Venezuela and will report to a parole officer. Furthermore, opposition journalist and owner of Venezuelan media outlet “6 to Poder”, Leocenis García was released after being detained in 2013 for tax fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Their release comes after the opposition demanded the Venezuelan government to release political prisoners. The opposition claimed that they will not attend the following mediation talks on January 13 until 100 political prisoners are released and a new board to the government-controlled electoral council is put in place. Alfredo Romero, executive director of Foro Penal, a group that defends jailed activist stated, “Without a doubt, Venezuela is living a deep social crisis and these releases in some way are an escape valve that takes some pressure, especially international, off Maduro. But it is important to remember that in 2016 there 55 people jailed and only 43 released.”

Most recently, ex- Venezuelan Prisoner, Francisco Marquez, was released in October 2016 after being detained on his way to obtain signatures for the recall referendum against president Maduro. He stated that “people need to know that Venezuela is a country that systematically tortures its political and common prisoners.” He recounted his time in prison, although he was never tortured, he recounted the torture of other prisoners.

For more information, please see:

NBC News—Ex-Venezuela Political Prisoner Still Raining Voice for Others’ Freedom—06 January 2017.

Venezuela Analysis—Former Opposition Presidential Candidate Freed in Venezuela—02 January 2017.

USA Today—Venezuela Frees Jailed Activists, Ex-Presidential Candidate—31 December 2016.

Venezuelans Cross the Border for Food

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela—The Venezuelan government opened the border between Colombia and Venezuela for 12 hours on Sunday after a group of women broke through the border the previous Tuesday to purchase food. Government officials have also announced the possibility of reopening the border between both nations again in the near future. Colombia and Venezuela are currently in negotiations and are planning to hold a summit.

Thousands line up to enter Colombia to buy basic needs. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Since August 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shut 100 kilometers of the border between San Antonio del Tachira Venezuela and Cucuta Colombia. President Maduro’s reasoning for the border closure was to prevent crime—he claimed the area had been overtaken by gangs and Colombian paramilitaries. Since the closure, in addition to a severe economic downturn in Venezuela, many have been going hungry because there is no food to buy on market shelves.

The situation led 500 women on Tuesday to storm the border connected by the Simon Bolivar Bridge and enter Colombia. The women had organized through social media to gather at the border and cross into Colombia dressed in white. The women pushed past the national guard, bought basic supplies, asked the Colombian guards to let them back through and reentered Venezuela singing the national anthem.

The act by the women prompted the Venezuelan government to open the border on Sunday for 12 hours. Approximately 35,000 people crossed into Colombia crowding the markets to buy rice, oil, toilet paper, medicine and any other basic necessity.

Venezuela’s food scarcity continues to grow causing families, especially children, to go hungry. Venezuela relies largely on imports to feed the nation since it does not produce other goods to fabricate products. Venezuela’s main production and revenue stems from oil. A drop in oil prices globally has caused an economic crisis in the country. A shortage in revenue means that Venezuela cannot import the goods needed to keep markets stocked to feed its citizens. Some critics believe that this is partially the result of government mismanagement. The Venezuelan government says a war is being waged against it for its socialist policies.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Venezuelans Storm Colombia Border City in Search of Food and Basic Goods—5 July 2016

BBC—Venezuelan Women Push Past Border Controls for Food—6 July 2016

BBC—Venezuelans Cross into Colombia to buy Food—10 July 2016

TeleSur—Venezuela and Colombia Open Common Border for 12 hours—10 July 2016

Maduro Vows to Strike Down Amnesty Law

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — The Opposition-controlled National Assembly of Venezuela has passed an amnesty law which would free a number of imprisoned opposition activists and end the legal cases being brought against others. President Nicolas Maduro, who heads the government-supported Socialist Party, has promised to strike down the law.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Venezuela’s constitution does not give the president veto powers. However, following the passing of a law by the National Assembly, Maduro has 10 days to sign the law into effect, or it is deferred to the Supreme Court. The Court then has 15 days to make a ruling on the law.

The Court is notorious for siding with the Executive, and has shot down most of what the National Assembly has tried to do since taking office in January, including allowing Maduro to rule by decree on issues related to the economy.

In order to declare the amnesty constitutional, the court must find that the beneficiaries of the law have committed crimes against humanity, or otherwise violated human rights.

Over 70 political prisoners would be freed by the bill, including Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is considered by many to be Venezuela’s highest profile political prisoner. He was jailed in 2014 for allegedly spurring protests which resulted in the deaths of 40 people. He was convicted of “public incitement to violence and criminal association” last year, in a trial which has been called a “complete travesty of justice” by Human Rights Watch.

Maduro and his supporters deny that Lopez and others like him are political prisoners, instead calling them, “imprisoned politicians.”  Speaking on television hours before the bill was passed, Maduro said: “Laws to protect terrorists and criminals will not get past me, no matter what they do.”

Opposition politicians have stated that no one who would be released by the law has been accused of homicide.

 

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Venezuela Opposition Passes Bill to Free Imprisoned Activist – 29 March 2016

Financial Times – Venezuelan congress passes amnesty law – 30 March 2016

Media with Conscience – Venezuela congresses passes bill to free jailed activists – 30 March 2016

Reuters – Venezuela parliament approves amnesty law, Maduro vows to veto – 30 March 2016 

UPI – Venezuela’s Maduro vows to veto amnesty bill passed by National Assembly – 30 March 2016

Wall Street Journal – Venezuelan President Nicolas Mauro Vows That Amnesty Law Won’t Stand – 30 March 2016

Venezuela Security Forces Search for Missing Miners

CARACAS, Venezuela — Security forces in Venezuela are searching for a group of miners in the state of Bolívar who have gone missing. Family members of those missing from the Atenas gold mine are alleging that sometime between Thursday and Friday, 28 miners were rounded up by gunmen and killed execution style. The mine is unlicensed “wildcat” mine, and is located near to the town of Tumeremo.

State Governor Francisco Rangel first denied that “any person [was] killed or missing,” saying that reports referred to clashes between gangs fighting over control of the mines.  He accused the opposition of spreading “FALSE information about murdered miners.” Governor Rangel is an ally of President Maduro.

Family members of the missing miners block the road between Venezuela and Brazil. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

In response to Governor Rangel’s claim, about 300 relatives of the miners engaged in demonstrations over the weekend, shutting down a road running through Tumeremo that serves as an important link between Venezuela and Brazil.

“I’m not asking for justice,” said Juan Jose Coello, the father of a missing miner. “Right now, I’m just asking that they return the body of my son, so I can give him a Christian burial.”

The protests led Venezuela’s Attorney General to designate both a national and regional prosecutor to investigate the matter. Governor Rangel finally acknowledged on Monday that there was an official search for the miners. Family members continued to block the road through Tumeremo.

Some claiming to have witnessed the massacre and family members of the missing have accused law enforcement agents of playing a role in the alleged killings. Opposition lawmaker Americo de Grazia has also accused the state government of complicity.

1,000 soldiers were ordered to the area to search for the missing miners. There are conflicting reports from those who claim to have witnessed the attack as to what the gunmen did with the remains of the miners. Some locals allege that the gunmen drove the bodies of the miners deeper into the mine, while others say they were dismembered and removed from the area.

 

For more information, please see:

Agence France-Presse – Missing Venezuelan miners families protest – 7 March 2016

Associated Press –Venezuela Opens Investigation Into Possible Killing of Miners – 7 March 2016

Reuters – Venezuela says investigating alleged killing of miners – 7 March 2016

Voice of America – Venezuela Investigates Possible Slaying of 28 Missing Miners – 7 March 2016

BBC – Venezuela probes gold miners’ disappearance in Bolivar – 8 March 2016

Latin America News Dispatch – Venezuela Investigates Disappearance of 28 Gold Miners – 8 March 2016

Latin American Herald Tribune – Security Forces Search for Miners Reported Killed in Venezuela – 8 March 2016

Washington Post – Venezuela Congress takes up case of missing miners – 8 March 2016

Venezuela High Court Ruling Sparks Protest

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

 SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela – Students in San Cristobal engaged in protests and clashed with police on Wednesday. The movement followed Tuesday’s Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling that the opposition-controlled National Assembly could not review Court appointments.

The ruling specified that the National Assembly’s power of review was limited to the executive and does not extend to the judiciary. The Court said that any attempt by the Assembly to remove Supreme Court justices or review the appointments would be “overstepping [their] authority.”

13 Supreme Court nominations and 21 alternates were pushed through by outgoing lawmakers following the historical December 7th elections, where the socialist party lost for the first time in 17 years. The appointments were meant to fill spots created by judges that retired early. The current opposition-controlled National Assembly have cited the openings as evidence that judges were forced to retire.

Police and students clash in San Cristobal, Venezuela following Supreme Court ruling. (Photo courtesy of the BBC).

The Supreme Court is known for ruling in support of Maduro and his government’s policies, frustrating the National Assembly’s attempts to curb Maduro’s power. The Court has not ruled against Venezuela’s executive branch since Hugo Chavez won the presidency in 1999. Last month, the Court overturned the National Assembly’s decision to veto Maduro’s declaration of emergency powers in response to the worsening economic environment.

In response to the ruling, students from Catholic University took to the streets in San Cristobal, allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs. Demonstrators wearing masks painted in the colors of the Venezuelan flag set up roadblocks in the city. San Cristobal was the site of the start of a series of anti-government protests in 2014 which left 43 people on both sides dead.

The National Asssembly has devised a three-part plan to oust Maduro and his supporters from power in the executive branch. Simultaneously, the Assembly will pursue a presidential recall referendum, a constitutional amendment to shorten presidential terms, and a campaign for Maduro’s resignation. Observers expect the opposition to formally announce the plan soon.

 

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Venezuela’s Supreme Court bars congress from investigating judicial appointments – 2 March 2016

Agence France-Presse – Venezuelan opposition delays announcing plan to oust Maduro – 3 March 2016

Agence France-Presse – Venezuelan students clash with police over court ruling – 3 March 2016

Associated Press – Venezuela Opposition Picks Strategy to Oust President – 3 March 2016

BBC – Venezuela students protest against Supreme Court ruling – 3 March 2016 

Reuters – Venezuelan opposition hones in on strategy to end Maduro’s rule – 3 March 2016

Supreme Court Approves Maduro’s State of Emergency

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of economic emergency on January 14th. The declaration would give him oversight of the national budget, public and private production and the distribution of essential goods. The Opposition controlled National Assembly attempted to block the move on January 22nd, rejecting the declaration and arguing in favor of structural reform.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

The Supreme Court of Justice, the highest court in Venezuela voted in affirmation of Maduro’s declaration, as many had expected it would. The court is known to “blindly” support the government.

The court was able to overrule the National Assembly because the Assembly did not call a special session to review the decree within 48 or make a declaration within eight days. Waiting, according to the court, “violated the legal process, juridic security and due process consecrated in article 49 of the Constitution.”   The court’s ruling called the measures outlined by the decree “proportional, pertinent, useful and necessary.”

The move has prompted reiteration of calls by members of the National Assembly for Maduro’s ouster. National Assembly president Henry Ramos Allup described the Maduro-led government as “terminal.” Allup has called for “peaceful and constitutional” change.

Dropping oil prices has contributed to Venezuela’s recession, increasing inflation (the highest triple digit inflation in the world, according to Bloomberg) and the shortage of basic goods. Reportedly over 70 percent of grocery stores lack basic staples, like cooking oil and toilet paper. Most store shelves are empty.

Maduro’s emergency decree will allow him to assign more resources to public services, create a streamlined process for imports and “oblige individuals” to contribute to the transportation, storage and distribution needs related to increasing production.

 

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg Business – Venezuela Supreme Court Upholds Maduro’s Emergency Decree – 11 February 2016 

Agence France-Presse – Venezuela opposition calls talks on ousting president – 13 February 2016 

Buenos Aires Herald – Top court Oks Maduro emergency decree – 13 February 2016

Global Research – Coup Threatened in Venezuela Amidst Deepening Economic Crisis – 15 Feb. 2016

PanAm Post – Open Letter to Venezuelan President Maduro: Please Resign – 15 February 2016 

Venezuela Analysis – Economic Emergency in Effect in Venezuela, as Supreme Court Rules in Favour of Executive – 15 February 2016

Venezuela’s new National Assembly to Pursue Amnesty

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s National Assembly has proposed an Amnesty Law which would provide reprieve and release political prisoners. The move is the Assembly’s first following the swearing-in of Venezuela’s first non-Socialist majority Assembly in fifteen years. The prioritization of pursuing amnesty for Venezuela’s political prisoners was one of the democratic coalition’s main campaigning points.

Lilian Tintori, Mitzi Capriles and Patricia Ceballos call for amnesty. Each woman’s husband is an Opposition figure arrested and imprisoned by the Maduro government.

The proposed legislation has been met with both praise and skepticism. While the National Assembly is eager to free a number of Opposition prisoners, there is concern that the drafted Amnesty Law will not be effective.

The Venezuelan Penal Forum (FPV) has introduced two alternatives for the Assembly to choose from. First, the Assembly can enact and Amnesty Law, which would require approval from Socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The second option is the issuance of a Legislative Decree, which does not need the go-ahead from Maduro.

A further issue is the role of the judiciary – under Venezuelan law, only a court may ultimately order the releases. Some fear that a judge may refuse to comply, as there has long been concerns regarding governmental influence in the judiciary in Venezuela.

Maduro’s government has staunchly opposed the proposed legislation, calling it “absurd.” Former National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello (who lost his position in the last election cycle) expressed concern that the law could provide amnesty for gang leaders and other criminals. The executive director of the FPV, Alfredo Romero, says that such fears are unfounded, as the proposed legislation includes safeguards against such events.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Venezuela: Opposition-controlled National Assembly sworn in – 5 January 2016

Vice News – There was a Lot of Yelling During the First Session of Venezuela’s New Congress – 5 January 2016

PanAm Post – Experts Warn Amnesty Law May Fail to Free Venezuela’s Political Prisoners – 11 January 2016 

TeleSur – Venezuelan Right Discusses Amnesty for Coup, Violence Plotters – 11 January 2016

Presna Latina – Opposition Project on Amnesty Condemned in Venezuela – 12 January 2016

Opposition Leader Killed in Election Lead Up

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is facing intense scrutiny in the days leading up to the national election following the murder of an opposition leader last Wednesday. Luis Diaz, the Guarico States leader of the Democratic Action party of Guarico State was shot and killed during a public meeting.

Mr. Diaz was on stage with Lilian Tintori, a campaigner and activist. Ms. Tintori is married to opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez whose trial garnered worldwide criticism. It is unknown whether Ms. Tintori was also an intended target of the attack.

Other opposition figures have faced violence in the lead up to the election. Ms. Tintori alleged that she was the victim of at least two attacks, including the dismantling of brakes on a plane used by her team. Henrique Capriles, who lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro has also been the victim of aggression.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo courtesy of BBC).

President Maduro’s government has faced international criticisms in the aftermath of the killing, with statements of concern coming from a number of NGO and the United States. In a statement released the day after Diaz’s death, the Director of Amnesty International Venezuela, Marcos Gomez, said that the killing gave a “terrifying view of the state of human rights in Venezuela.”

The Democratic Action party is part of the Democratic Unity coalition, a bloc of opposition parties looking to unseat the Maduro’s Socialist Party. Democratic Action national leader Henry Ramos blames the Socialist party for Diaz’s death.

The Venezuelan government has denounced any connection between the ruling party and the killing, and has said that it would sue opposition leaders blaming the Socialist Party. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a tweet that trying to establish such links was in “bad faith.”

Venezuela has opened an investigation into the killing through the Public Prosecutor’s office. Government officials claim that Mr. Diaz was involve with a violent gang in Guarico, and that the killing was carried out on behest of a rival gang member.

The upcoming elections may be historical – there is a significant chance for the first time in 16 years that the Socialist Party may lose the legislature. In the past year alone, 43 people have died and hundreds have been injured during violence sparked by opposition protests..

 

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Venezuela: Killing of opposition politician sparks fears of spiraling violence – 26 November 2015

The Guardian – US condemns murder of opposition politician before Venezuela election – 26 November 2015

Reuters – Opposition activist’s murder shakes Venezuela before election – 26 November 2015

Business Insider – Venezuela lashes U.S., opposition amid blame over activist’s slaying – 27 November 2015

Global News – Calls for Venezuela to protect politicians after opposition leader killed – 27 November 2015

UN News Centre – Top UN human rights official calls for more safety after political opponent killing in Venezuela – 27 November 2015

Fox News – Slaying of Venezuelan opposition leader has become flashpoint ahead of elections – 28 November 2015

 

UN Commissioner’s Statement Angers Venezuela’s Maduro

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to respect and defend human rights in Venezuela, even of those who oppose state policies. He also questioned the impartiality of the Venezuelan judicial system in political trials, such as that of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in September.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. (Photo courtesy of UNPhoto)

“The Human Rights Committee also recently expressed concerns, which I share, about intimidation, threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers,” said the Commissioner. He also expressed concern regarding the declared state of emergency lingering in 24 municipalities.

The commentary came at the start of a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the human rights situation in Venezuela.

President Maduro called the Commissioner’s comments “audacious accusations and imperialist attacks … taken from the agenda of global harassment.” He accused the Commissioner’s statement as a break in internal procedure, describing it as “absolutely biased conduct.” Commissioner Zeid’s comments were delivered via a pre-recorded video statement, which was screened prior to Maduro’s speech.

Venezuela, along with member states Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Algeria and Saudi Arabia have announced their intention to lodge a formal complaint.

Maduro also accused the United States of using human rights as a “political weapon” against Venezuela. “The West,” according to Maduro, seeks to “isolate our country.”

Paul Patin, U.S. Mission Geneva spokesperson, responded to Maduro’s accusations, calling the address an attempt to draw attention away from his government’s repressive policies before the national election.

Venezuela was recently re-elected to the Council despite criticism from around the globe. International activists had encouraged U.N. ambassadors to boycott the special session.

 

For more information, please see:

TeleSur – Maduro Slams US Misuse of Human Rights Discourse at United Nations – 12 November 2015

UN News Centre – Venezuela must uphold rights of ‘even those who disagree with state policies’ – UN human rights chief – 12 November 2015

Voice of America – UN Rights Council Criticized for Welcoming Venezuelan President – 12 November 2015

Venezuela Analysis – Venezuela’s Maduro Highlights Human Rights Advances at UNHRC, Slams Western Bias – 15 November 2015