The political polarization in Venezuela has reached new levels of intensity and could easily drag the nation into a veritable civil war. The problems the nation is facing have no easy solutions. While the government of Nicolás Maduro has committed its share of errors, the opposition has also assumed positions that do not reflect popular sentiment, which is in favor of national reconciliation and a focus on concrete economic solutions rather than political confrontation.
Unfortunately, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, among other foreign actors in the hemisphere, has failed to place himself above the nation’s internal politics and to facilitate a peaceful and constructive resolution of the conflict. Instead, his statements without exception have been explicitly in line with the opposition’s narrative and the demands it has formulated. Nevertheless, what is happening on the ground in Venezuela is not black and white and the true facts are hard to determine.
The opposition accuses the government of violent repression. The government, for its part, accuses the opposition of organizing protests that lead into actions carried out by small combat units involving barricades, fires, destruction of public property and attacks on security forces. Given this complexity, the OAS should have promoted a national dialogue and named a nonpartisan committee to investigate disputed events. Venezuela’s decision to withdraw from the OAS must be seen in the context of the organization’s partisanship, which has only exacerbated, rather than eased, polarization.
Originally published in the “Latin America Advisor” (publication of the Inter-American Dialogue).
Caracas, May 8, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A respected labour activist at the nationalized worker-controlled factory Industrias Diana has been reportedly shot and killed by opposition protesters in Carabobo, Venezuela.
Rexol Acevedo, 32, was a leading voice of the workers’ control movement at the company, which produces products such as oil and margarine. He also served as the president of the ALBA-MERCOSUR Workers’ Commission.
According to press reports, Acevedo was driving to visit family members on May 2 when he came into contact with an opposition roadblock. The activist was subsequently shot dead when he resisted demonstrators’ alleged attempts to steal his car.
His body was found dumped on a nearby freeway next to his scorched car.
“Murdered by the irrationality of fascists our friend and worker comrade from Industrias Diana Rexol Acevedo. Honour and Glory. We will keep struggling,” tweeted Juan Barreto, the national spokesperson for the REDES leftist political party.
The murder of Acevedo comes as the country enters its sixth week of violent anti-government protests that have claimed 42 lives to date. Among the victims are fifteen people killed by opposition violence and five confirmed dead at the hands of authorities.
On May 4, Chavista student leader and Anzoategui Student Federation President Juan Lopez, 28, was gunned down during a student assembly in what appears to be a politically-motivated and targeted killing. According to eye witness reports, Lopez was approched by a participant in the assembly who opened fire on the student leader before fleeing on a motorbike. Another student was killed and another two injured in the incident.
Caracas, May 8, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – United States National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster released an official statement Saturday expressing the need for a “quick and peaceful solution” to Venezuela’s “ongoing crisis”.
The press release was made public after McMaster met with Venezuelan opposition leader and current National Assembly President Julio Borges at the White House earlier that day.
It reads: “They [Borges and McMaster] discussed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and the need for the government to adhere to the Venezuelan Constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections.”
The statement has sparked alarm in Venezuela and amongst international movements in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. They have likened Saturday’s meeting to a series of similar encounters that took place between US officials and opposition figures just before a short-lived coup against former President Hugo Chavez Frias in 2002.
The meeting comes as Washington hardens its stance vis-a-vis the Maduro government. Last week, a bipartisan group of US senators presented a bill to Congress asking for sanctions on more Venezuelan officials in a bid to further isolate Caracas in the region.
Despite the deadly unrest, opposition leaders have said that they will boycott a constituent assembly called by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a way out of the impasse and have continued to call for their supporters to take to the streets.
Anonymous sources have told Venezuelanalysis that the US is quietly pushing to table Venezuela as a discussion point at the UN Security Council but the move has so far been met with resistance from other nations.
The move to turn up the pressure on Venezuela comes as the United States escalates its military involvement in the region.
Over the weekend, the head of the Brazilian the armed forces, Theofilo de Oliveira, revealed that the US will also lead multinational military drilling exercises between Brazil, Colombia and Peru later this year as part of a 2015 NATO project.
A temporary military base will also be set up in the Brazilian town of Tabatinga on the Amazonian frontier between the three countries as part of the programme, confirmed the armed forces chief.
Since April 4, 2017, violent anti-government protests have rocked Venezuela. Characterised by deadly clashes between state security forces and opposition demonstrators, vandalism and destruction of public institutions, and the assassination of Chavista supporters, the unrest has left 42 people dead to date (May 8). Hundreds more have been injured.
Despite the heavy press coverage, there is significant confusion over how these deaths occurred and at the hands of whom. In a bid for clarity, Venezuelanalysis provides readers with an in-depth and a complete account of the deaths so far below.
This table will be updated on a daily basis in accordance with the results of ongoing investigations as well as new incidents.
Readers will note that a number of deaths have still not been accounted for given that substantive criminal allegations have yet to surface regarding the circumstances and alleged party responsible for the killings.
To view the latest version of the table visit Venezuela Analysis by clicking here
Any analysis of Venezuela’s violent protests which doesn’t highlight the April 2002 coup which briefly installed a dictator, Pedro Carmona, who abolished its democratic institutions entirely, facilitates a repeat of that coup. Human Rights Watch failed to denounce the 2002 coup. Washington was obviously pleased with the coup and funded groups involved in it before and after it took place. The New York Times editors were especially delighted with it and gushed over the “respected“ Pedro Carmona who they claimed had rescued democracy. Today the Venezuelan opposition is led by people who supported or even participated in the coup (Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Henry Ramos, Julio Borges, Maria Corina Machado among others). There is no reason to suppose the US government, establishment-friendly NGOs like Human Rights Watch, and the international media have undergone any reform since 2002 either. The unprecedented defeat of a US-backed military coup in 2002 simply meant that the vilification campaign against the Venezuelan government continued for the next fifteen years.
So there is a really grave problem with emphasis in Gabriel Hetland’s piece entitled “Why is Venezuela Spiraling Out of Control? Opposition violence and the government’s increasing authoritarianism are both to blame.” Any measure of a government’s “authoritarian” tendencies that doesn’t properly factor in and emphasize the threat that it could be violently overthrown is seriously out to lunch.
Hetland made some remarks which I will quote at length below then respond to.
Yet, while previous claims of Venezuela’s authoritarianism have had little merit, this is no longer the case. A series of government actions since early 2016 has made it increasingly difficult to challenge claims that Venezuela is moving in an authoritarian direction. First, throughout 2016 the Supreme Court, which is clearly and even openly subordinate to the executive branch, blocked the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which won the legislative majority in December 2015, from passing any major legislation. In some cases, the legislature was attempting to act beyond its authority, for example, in seeking to grant amnesty to prisoners like Leopoldo López. Yet the Supreme Court’s systematic blockage of the National Assembly effectively rendered the opposition’s newly-captured legislative majority—and thus the December 2015 election results—null.
Problems with judicial independence are not at all unique to Venezuela. If Republicans dominate all major elections in the United States for the next eighteen years, as Chavistas have done in Venezuela in free and fair elections, then the Supreme Court would be lopsidedly Republican. An elected Supreme Court (in Venezuela, United States and many other countries) with fixed terms would be a major improvement. One could seriously debate whether elected Supreme Court judges should have terms that are both longer and harder to cut short through recall than other elected officials, but if it is “authoritarian” to not have such a system in place then most countries around the word are also “authoritarian”. However, under no system will judges ever drop out of the sky to deliver politically neutral judgements.
Moreover, the opposition victory has absolutely not been rendered null. Its victory has allowed it to threaten foreign governments and businesses with whom Maduro’s government has attempted to negotiate economic deals. Henry Ramos, former head of the National Assembly, has openly boasted of having had a lot of success with this approach. It’s also a total contradiction to opposition demands for “humanitarian aid” which the international media has, quite predictably, failed to highlight at all.
Second, after months of dragging its feet, the government cancelled a constitutionally allowed recall referendum process in October 2016.
The CNE (the electoral authority) did drag its feet. However the opposition also delayed for over three months before initiating the recall process because of internal divisions over how to use their majority in the National Assembly to oust the government. In 2004, the recall process took over eight months and the recall referendum was held just days before the deadline for it to trigger a presidential election had Hugo Chavez lost it. Opposition leaders (Borges and Capriles for example) have been blatantly dishonest about the 2004 recall process to deny the significance of their delay.
The United States does not have a recall process at the presidential level but it does have them for some of its state governors. The recall process in California’s 2003 recall election took 7-8 months depending on how you define the start of the petition drive. Wisconsin’s in 2012 took 6-7 months. Can anyone imagine an international campaign demanding that the United States speed up its recall process?
Third, the government indefinitely postponed municipal and regional elections that should have occurred in 2016, according to the constitution (although Maduro recently moved to set a date for the elections).
It is the regional, not municipal, elections that were due in 2016. The CNE – which, remember, was accused with some justification of not going fast enough on the recall process – also postponed local elections for about a year due to the 2004 recall process. The CNE should have done all it could to set a clear date for regional elections even if it went over the constitutional limit. There should be a way to have a simplified and expedited recall process that does not result in other elections being delayed. However, as noted above, the delay in the recall process, and therefore in the holding of regional elections, was also due in part to the opposition’s tactical divisions.
Fourth, as noted, the Supreme Court issued a ruling dissolving the National Assembly in March, before partially reversing itself days later, after Maduro asked the Supreme Court to review its decision. Maduro was spurred to action when his own attorney general, Luisa Ortega, took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning the Supreme Court decision as “a rupture in the constitutional order.”
Ortega’s dissent and the reversal of the decision make thin gruel out of this example of “authoritarianism”. Additionally, the National Assembly was not dissolved.
Fifth, in April 2017 Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure and two-time former presidential candidate (in 2012 and 2013), was banned from participating in politics for fifteen years, on highly dubious grounds.
In the United States or Canada, Capriles would still be in prison (or more likely dead) had he participated in the violent ouster of the government, the kidnapping of an official, and attacks on a foreign embassy. Capriles served months in prison and then went on to run and win the governorship of the state of Miranda. The really valid and important criticism is that Capriles and others have enjoyed an outrageous amount of impunity thanks to their powerful cheerleaders abroad and access to sympathetic media coverage at home. That is where those of us who live in rich imperial countries like the Unites States and Canada need to be focussing.
Lopez was killed a day after publicly backing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal for a national constituent assembly.
Venezuelan student leader Juan Bautista Lopez Manjarrez was shot and killed on Thursday at the Territorial Polytechnic University in Anzoategui by an unknown shooter. Three others were left injured, Venezuela’s Public Ministry reported.
Lopez, leader of the Federation of University Centers and member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, was shot after leaving an assembly held on the university’s campus. The attacker fired several shots and fled on a motorcycle.
Lopez was killed a day after publicly backing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal for a national constituent assembly during a press conference. The assembly aims to bring together organizations from broad sectors of society to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution in an attempt to ease ongoing political tensions.
Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, however, slammed the proposal as a “coup” and called for protesters to rebel against the move, leading many to believe they were behind Lopez’s murder. Local newspaper El Vistazo reported that at least 23 rounds were fired.
Since April, up to 39 people have been killed in Venezuela amid ongoing right-wing opposition protests.
Opposition leaders have attempted to portray the deaths as examples of state repression and evidence of the “dictatorship” that they are aiming to topple. Mainstream media have by and large echoed this version of events, ignoring the deaths of leftist activists like Lopez by suspected right-wing protesters.
In addition to the more than three dozen killed, over 437 people have been injured in the protests, according to Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega.
At least three dozen people have died since opposition-led protests aimed at toppling the government began.
Headlines about ongoing violence in Venezuela are practically inescapable, with over three dozen people dead since opposition-led protests aimed at toppling the government began in early April.
Right-wing opposition leaders have attempted to portray the deaths as examples of state repression and evidence of the “dictatorship” that they are aiming to topple. Mainstream media have by and large echoed this version of events, using titles like “Venezuelan Regime Has Blood On Its Hands” and “Venezuela’s Tiananmen Moment.”
Some outlets have even gone as far as claiming the elected government of Nicolas Maduro as engaging in “a campaign of state genocide.”
The reality of the situation on the ground, however, demonstrates something very different.
Of those killed thus far, three are attributed to state security forces, while two of the dead are members of police themselves. The total number of dead is significantly bolstered by the eight who were electrocuted as they attempted to loot a bakery, while five of those killed were expressly connected to opposition protests. On the other hand, 12 of the deceased are attributed to right-wing violence.
In addition to the more than three dozen killed, over 437 people have been injured in the protests, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega said.
Here’s a breakdown of those killed since the opposition protests began.
Jairo Ortiz: the 19-year-old student, was shot by transit police Officer Rohenluis Leonel Mata in the state of Miranda. Venezuelan police immediately detained Mata, who is set to face criminal charges.
Daniel Queliz: the 19-year-old college student from Carabobo was shot by police while participating in an opposition protest.
Ricarda de Lourdes: the 83-year-old woman died at her home in Caracas on April 10 from hydrocephalus. When her symptoms began flaring earlier that day, she was unable to be transported to a nearby hospital because opposition protesters blocked all of the neighborhood’s roads, preventing ambulances from picking her up.
Yey Amaro: 37-year-old police officer in the state of Lara, was hit by a vehicle driven by opposition protesters on April 11 after trying to mediate protests in his home state.
Miguel Colmenares: the 36-year-old opposition supporter from Lara died from multiple wounds received after the detonation of explosive devices in Barquisimeto, Lara state.
GrusenyCanelon: the 32-year-old opposition supporter from Lara died of organ failure after being shot during an anti-government demonstration. Fifteen members of the National Guard have been placed under arrest in the incident.
Oliver Villa: the 29-year-old digital marketing entrepreneur was shot by unidentified assailants on motorbikes in Caracas after evading an opposition barricade in the El Paraiso sector of Caracas.
Brayan Principal: the 14-year-old resident of the Ali Primera Socialist City was shot by opposition protesters after they toppled the main gate of the commune.
Carlos Moreno: the 17-year-old student was shot in the head while in Caracas. Family members say he was not involved in the protest, and it is suspected his murder was perpetrated by armed robbers who stole his motorcycle.
NiumarSanclemente: the 28-year-old sergeant with the National Guard was apparently killed by sniper fire in Los Teques, the capital of the state of Merida.
Paola Ramirez: the 23-year-old college student from Tachira was shot while in the vicinity of a demonstration. A member of the right-wing Vente Venezuela opposition group is under arrest for the murder.
Ramon Martinez: the 28-year-old cook who worked in the same bakery as Kevin Leon in the El Valle district of Caracas was shot by opposition protesters as he tried to protect the store.
Francisco Gonzalez: the 34-year-old died during the vandalization of the El Valle bakery.
Elio Manuel Pacheco Perez: the 20-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Jairo Ramírez: the 47-years-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Robert Joel Centeno Briceño: the 29-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
William Heriberto Marrero Rebolledo: the 33-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Jonathan Meneses: the 27-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Stivenson Zamora: the 21-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Kenyer Alexander Aranguren Pérez: the 20-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Yorgeiber Rafael Barrena Bolívar: the 15-year-old was electrocuted while attempting to loot a bakery in El Valle, Caracas.
Mervin Guitan: the 26-year-old who worked for a mayor’s office in Sucre was shot by unidentified gunmen during a protest.
Alberto Rodriguez: the 16-year-old died from suffocation from tear gas used in El Valle, Caracas.
Almelina Carrillo: the 47-year-old was struck in the head with a frozen water bottle thrown from a building while walking near a pro-government march in Caracas on April 19 and died a few days later.
Jesus Sulbaran: the 41-year-old criminology student and an official in the governor’s office in Merida was killed while participating in a pro-government demonstration, according to Venezuela’s ombudsman.
Renzo Rodriguez: the 54-year-old was killed in the state of Barinas from a gunshot wound to his chest when he was in the vicinity of the mayor’s office of the municipality of Barinas.
Orlando Jhosep: the 23-year-old died of a gunshot wound during a protest in the city of El Tocuyo, Lara state.
Daniel Infante: the 25-year-old transportation worker was killed while participating in a pro-government demonstration, according to Venezuela’s ombudsman.
Luis Marquez: the 52-year-old was shot and killed in the capital of the state of Merida while taking part in a pro-government demonstration.
Efrain Sierra: the 27-year-old lost his life after receiving a bullet in the stomach on April 24 as he resisted the theft of his motorcycle while passing through an opposition barricade.
Disturbingly, there are also other people whose murders during these dates raise concerns about targeted assassinations and possible paramilitary activity.
Juan Pablo Pernalete Llovera: the 20-year-old was killed Wednesday in Chacao after being hit by a gas cannister.
Angel Enrique Moreira Gonzalez: the 28-year-old died after trying to dodge a barricade placed by an opposition march blocking a highway in the state of Miranda, as his motorcycle crashed into another car.
Ana Rodriguez: the 42-year-old died in the state of Carabobo when the bus she was traveling in crashed trying to dodge a street barricade. Police have yet to confirm the identity of another person that would have been killed in the same accident.
On this same date, the opposition had called for communities across Venezuela to block all access to their towns by building barricades.
Yonathan Quintero: the 21-year-old was killed by a store owner when a group of people tried to loot his store in the state of Carabobo.
Armando Cañizales: the 18-year-old died due to a gunshot wound on his neck during an opposition march blocking one of the main highways in Caracas.
Gerardo Barrera: the 38-year-old police officer was shot during an opposition demonstration in the town of La Pradera, in the state of Carabobo, around 100 miles west of Caracas.
Hecder Lugo: the 20-year-old died after being shot in the head during a protest held in Valencia the day before.———–
The next two cases were not directly related to the marches, but the political nature of their work has raised concern that their deaths could be part of a broader trend.
Esmin Ramirez: the Venezuelan trade unionist was killed in the southeastern state of Bolivar after being kidnapped in an act that people close to him claim was politically motivated. Ramirez, who was a member of the Movement 21 labor syndicate in the state-run iron ore producer Ferrominera and part of the PSUV political party in Cachamay, was killed in El Rinconcito sector in Guayana City, a city along the bank of the Orinoco River in Bolivar state.
Jackeline Ortega: murdered in the greater Caracas area in Santa Lucia del Tuy. Ortega was also a member of the PSUV as well as a leader in the Local Committee on Supply and Production, known as CLAP, a government-created alternative food distribution program.
Kevin Leon: the 19-year-old bakery worker in the El Valle district of Caracas, was shot by opposition protesters who were vandalizing his workplace.
From El Salvador, where the meeting of Chancellors of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is being held, the Minister of Education and leader of the Presidential Commission of the Constituent National Assembly affirmed that one of his goals is to restore the principle of cooperation of the powers, because that’s the only way to preserve peace in the country given the opposition’s lack of will to dialogue.
“It will open a window of peace in this context where the Venezuelan counter-revolution, in cooperation with the US, has been mudding the water to promote the outbreak of a civil war in the country, which is the same strategy that has been applied in Libya and Syria,’ Jaua said in an interview with TeleSUR.
He remarked that the government has been trying to block attempts to install a civil war by beginning a democratic and revolutionary process by which the President of the Republic puts power in the hands of the people. ‘Let the people decide on the model of country we want to build, on the organization of the state and on the broadening and perfecting of our Constitution, which we approved in 1999.’
The first task on the list of the Constituent National Assembly’s Presidential Commission is to set meetings with representatives of society.
Meetings will also be held Tuesday in the Congress of the Motherland, which is an event that reunites a broad variety of social movements. On Wednesday, May 3, they will meet with representatives of the public powers and representatives of the main religious groups of the country.
The calling will be extended to the ‘Motherland’ Bloc and to the Opposition Bloc in the Parliament, as well as principals of public and private universities, constituents who wrote the 1999 Constitution, indigenous associations, chiefs of all indigenous communities, legalized union confederations, corporation unions, owners of media outlets, the national communal bloc, the peoples’ government in territories and sectors of the national students’ movement.
The MUD’s reaction to the proposal
The opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) called Venezuelans to ‘rebel against the Constituent process’, to protest every day on the streets against what they consider ‘a dissolution of democracy and of the Republic’.
In what is a serious threat to democracy, the opposition also called the Venezuelan Armed Forces to rebel against the government. On May 1st, the President of the National Assembly, opposition member Julio Borges, said: ‘The Venezuelan Armed Forces are against this madness’ (…) ‘I call the Armed forces’(…) ‘The Armed Forces cannot remain quiet’.
They also call the voting mechanism ‘fraudulent’ because the people will choose 500 representatives, who will vote on the final version of the text.
The Constituent National Assembly: the only option for peace
Regarding the reactions of the Venezuelan opposition, Jaua pointed out that all they do is confirm the diagnostic that led President Maduro to call to this Constituent assembly, which is a situation of scarce possibilities for dialogue, even with the support of Pope Francis. ‘There’s no other way to preserve peace in the country to call to a national Constituent dialogue in all areas of the country, considering that the leadership of the MUD in Venezuela has chosen the way of violence—they have abandoned the way of politics and chosen armed, terrorist actions. They have abandoned the way of democracy.’
Jaua called all supporters of peace to join the debate and bring reason to it, since the reasons the opposition has expressed to resist the process ‘are absolutely baseless. The Constituent will be voted on through universal, secret and direct vote, in sectorial and territorial districts’.
‘What they have said about it being a mechanism designed by the President, Nicolás Maduro, is completely false and what we ask is that they come and listen to the proposal, the goal, the programmatic lines and the ideas we have on the creation of the voting structure that will be used to choose the constituents,’ the Minister explained.
Lastly, he emphasized that one of the goals of the Constituent assembly is to restitute the principle of cooperation between powers. This cooperation has been broken since the National Assembly, led by the opposition, was declared in contempt for violating legal procedures and trying to destitute the President. The Supreme Justice Court had to intervene to block a coup attempt.
Jaua remarked that there are governors that are in contempt against the National State, like the governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, who has been defying public security organisms.
‘Let’s imagine for a moment what it would look like if the US governor of Florida went to Washington with his police force to try to enter the White House by means of force. We also have a National Assembly that is disobeying the sentence of the Supreme Justice Court, in confrontation with the Ombudsman. Without a doubt, right now, conditions aren’t normalized enough from the institutional point of view for us to be able to say that we can go to an electoral process that’s acknowledged by both parts,’ Jaua concluded.
Caracas, May 2, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro officially called for a National Constituent Assembly to be convened this May Day, in a bid to bring an end to the political crisis between the national government and the opposition-held parliament.
Speaking to the hundreds of thousands of government supporters that took to the streets of the nation’s capital for International Workers’ Day 2017, Maduro explained that he would invoke article 347 of the constitution to trigger the assembly, which will be responsible for re-drafting the 1999 Constitution.
“I convoke the original constituent power, a national constituent assembly with the people, with the working class! It is time and it is the path forward… They [the opposition] have left us with no alternatives,” he said.
“I invoke the original constituent power to achieve the peace necessary for the Republic, to defeat the fascist attempts at a coup, so that the sovereignty of the people may impose peace, harmony, and true national dialogue,” he continued.
The president explained that there are nine areas in which the assembly will work to reorient the current Constitution, such as incorporating the social programs of the Chavez and Maduro governments as well as the communal councils and communes as new expressions of local government into the Magna Carta. He also said that orientations towards building a “post-petroleum” economy in Venezuela and stopping climate change should be institutionalized. In statements to the crowd, the head of state promised that the assembly would be one of the “people, workers, feminists, communards, campesinos and young people”.
It is the first time that a constituent assembly has been convened since the 1999 Constitution was approved by referendum, and there is little information on carrying out the procedure in the Constitution.
Nonetheless, the government has confirmed that the assembly will be made up of some 500 directly elected delegates, 250 of whom will be elected from among the country’s social movements. The president has also designated a constitutional commission to organize the process, which includes veteran Chavistas such as Education Minister Elias Jaua, constitutional lawyer Herman Escarra, and indigenous Wayuu activist Noheli Pocoterra, who were all involved in drafting the previous constitution.
According to statements made to state media by Escarra, the aim of the constituent assembly is not to totally redraft the 1999 Constitution but to “transform the state”. He suggested that the priority of the assembly would be to safeguard the gains of the revolution over the past 18 years.
“We were naive when we originally drafted the 1999 constitution… We didn’t know it would be attacked the way it has been,” he said.
The convening of the national assembly has become a trending topic on Twitter under the hashtag “ConstituentForPeace,” presumably amongst government supporters.
Since December 2015, Venezuela has witnessed a stand-off between the Maduro government and the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which swore to use its mandate to remove the government from power. Since then, opposition legislators have consistently tried to pass legislation that has been thrown out by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution.
Tensions came to a head at the beginning of April over another Supreme Court ruling against the National Assembly, leading to violent opposition protests in the streets. The unrest has claimed the lives of 32 people to date and shows no signs of subsiding.
Opposition leaders have so far refused to enter into national dialogue with the government to bring about a peaceful solution to the deadlock – despite recent encouragement from the Pope. Vatican-mediated talks came to a stalemate last year after opposition leaders walked out, and the opposition is currently demanding snap general elections at least a year ahead of schedule. It is also pushing for the purging of pro-government officials from the Supreme Court and National Electoral Council.
Responding to Maduro’s message to convoke the constitutional assembly as a way out of the impasse on Monday night, opposition leaders described the move as a “coup” and a “fraud” and called on their supporters to block streets and motorways in protest.
“Attention: the great blockade was accomplished today! We call on all of Venezuela to mobilize tomorrow against the constituent fraud of Maduro. All 24 states!,” tweeted National Assembly Vice-President Freddy Guevara Tuesday afternoon.
Despite his staunch rejection of the president’s proposal, the Popular Will party leader had actually advocated for a constituent assembly “to change all of the public powers” in 2014.
The current head of the National Assembly and member of First Justice, Julio Borges, also echoed Guevara’s demands. He charged the government with using the constituent assembly as a pretext to avoid the general elections that the opposition is pushing for.
“Let it be clear to the world, let it be clear to the Venezuelan people, what was announced today is not a constituent assembly, do not be fooled. It is not a constituent assembly, but a ruse to trick the Venezuelan people through a mechanism that will do nothing more than aggravate the state coup in Venezuela and seeking through the Constitution, to destroy the very Constitution, democracy and the vote,” he said in a press conference on Monday night.
“What has happened today, and I say this without exaggerations… is the most serious coup d’etat to have taken place in the history of Venezuela… the Democratic Unity Roundtable and opposition legislators call on the people to rebel against it!” he told reporters.