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