June 24, 2015
“Very soon, we will have a free and democratic Venezuela!” That was the promise from opposition leader Leopoldo López as he stood in front of thousands of supporters in the Chacaíto neighborhood of Caracas on February 18, 2014. With chants of “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) echoing from the crowd and a Venezuelan flag in hand, López then turned himself over to authorities, pledging to stay in the country and carry on the fight for democracy in Venezuela.
More than a year later, López is still in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests that February. But news this week suggests he may finally be closer to seeing his promise fulfilled. López ended a month-long hunger strike on Tuesday after the government met one of his demands by setting a date for congressional elections. According to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, official campaigning to choose all 167 members of the National Assembly will take place from November 13 to December 4, with elections set for December 6.
As the country continues to suffer from high rates of inflation, widespread violence and chronic shortages of basic goods under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties, may be sensing an opportunity. Maduro's approval ratings fell to 25 percent in May, and some, like Venezuelan human rights activist Tamara Suju, think it's likely that the opposition will win a majority of the vote when elections are held.
"The upcoming parliamentary elections are the last chance Venezuelans have to preserve the democratic spaces from which to fight in order to restore the state of law in [their] country,” Suju told AQ.
Still, despite the prospect of change, the democratic Venezuela that López and many like him envision is not yet in hand. For one, Maduro remains confident about his chances in the elections. (On his Twitter account, he implored Venezuelans to "...unite all the forces of the people of Bolívar and Chávez to guarantee a battle and an admirable victory.”) Many fear the government may decide to postpone or cancel the elections to spare themselves an embarrassing defeat.
Even if the elections go ahead as planned, some believe that an opposition majority in the assembly may not be enough to bring about significant change. “The elections won’t necessarily do much in terms of changing the regime or the policies,” Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst from the Washington-based consultancy Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg Business. “If the opposition does well, I think the government will either tweak the results or shift power away from the National Assembly,” which would further destabilize the country, according to Grais-Targow.
Despite these concerns, the possibility of elections represents a critical opportunity for Venezuela's democracy. That's precisely why López insisted on them. In a Washington Post op-ed published last month, he called for the international community to focus its attention on Venezuela. As the December 6 election date approaches, that will surely be the case.
April 9, 2015
Clashes between Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents and pro-government supporters marked the initial proceedings of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City on Wednesday, two days before the summit officially begins. Cuba’s participation in the summit for the first time has sparked encounters between pro-Castro supporters and the Cuban exile community, many members of which are critical of Cuba’s invitation to the summit and the U.S. government’s warmed ties with the country.
A civil society forum, attended by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, began an hour late after Cuban officials and supporters staged a protest against the presence of Cuban dissidents, whom they referred to as “mercenaries” and “terrorists,” as reported by EFE and AP. Venezuelan representatives also left the event in a show of support for the Cuban delegation.
Also on Wednesday, police reportedly arrested 12 people after supporters of the Cuban government came to blows with dissidents outside the Cuban embassy.
Cuban activists began arriving in Panama over the weekend, when it was reported that Rosa Mariá Payá, a high-profile Cuban dissident, was detained by Panamanian authorities upon her arrival in the country. Officials later released Payá and issued an apology.
Meanwhile, a protest in a Panama City park reportedly drew approximately 300 Venezuelans who demanded the release of political prisoners in their country.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo López, arrived in Panama Wednesday alongside Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, the wife of imprisoned Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma. On Tuesday, prosecutors in Venezuela formally charged Ledezma with attempting to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. The two women have decried what they describe as a deteriorating respect for human rights Venezuela and have called for the release of their husbands and more than opposition 30 mayors detained by the government. Tintori is reportedly expected to meet with President Bill Clinton while in Panama City.
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March 5, 2015
Luisa Ortega, the Venezuelan Attorney General, declared Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López ineligible to run for parliament as a candidate for the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) until 2017. Ortega’s announcement followed a Uníon Radio interview with Jesús “Chúo” Torrealaba, executive secretary of MUD, who had received a letter from three imprisoned opposition leaders—López, former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos—on Tuesday night requesting consideration of López’ candidacy for the election.
“It’s not that it’s a null candidacy, rather that he cannot run,” said Ortega, alluding to an earlier court ruling against López. As mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas in 2005, López was banned from running for any public office, after he was accused of receiving money from the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA). Despite a hearing held by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that overturned the ruling in 2011, the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the original decision.
López has been imprisoned since February 18, 2014, accused of acts against the government, including damage to public property, public incitement and unlawful assembly. An investigation is still underway for Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, who has been imprisoned since last month for his connection to two young people accused of conspiracy against the government. In both the case of Ledezma as well as Ceballos, Ortega was unable to say whether the two would be eligible for the MUD elections.
February 20, 2015
Luego de superar el único intento de golpe de Estado registrado en los últimos 15 años, el entonces presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, ordenó la detención de Henrique Capriles Radonski—un joven alcalde opositor—quien debía manejar la seguridad de la Embajada de Cuba en medio de la crisis política nacional.
El confuso incidente—Capriles afirma que intentaba mediar entre opositores y los diplomáticos de La Habana, mientras que el gobierno lo acusaba de poner en peligro a la delegación—nunca fue esclarecido. Capriles, siendo alcalde electo del municipio Baruta, permaneció cuatro meses detenido en la sede de la dirección de inteligencia sin un proceso judicial. Los cargos fueron descartados en 2006.
En 2014, Nicolás Maduro, heredero político de Chávez, y Leopoldo López, el exalcalde de Chacao, repitieron el capítulo de 2002. López, un joven economista egresado de Harvard, fue compañero de partido de Capriles durante algunos años y se convirtieron en la nueva cara de la política venezolana. Jóvenes, exitosos y con aparente ambición política, han sido blancos constantes de la “revolución bolivariana.” El año pasado el gobierno ordenó la detención de López, quien el 12 de febrero había liderado una protesta estudiantil demandando la renuncia de Maduro. Después de entregarse voluntariamente, López ha permanecido recluido en una cárcel militar, sin derecho a visitas, por un año. ¿La acusación? Golpismo.
Este jueves 19 de febrero, el jefe de Estado pidió cárcel para el alcalde mayor de Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, quien luego fue detenido por la policía política en un operativo poco claro. Doce horas después del arresto, ninguna información oficial ha sido divulgada, excepto el “Ledezma va a ser procesado” que Maduro esbozó la misma noche del jueves.
February 3, 2015
Since before the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has remained paralyzed to enact reforms needed to escape the economic dysfunction Chávez left behind.
In his latest national address on the economy on January 21, Maduro finally acknowledged the recession and shortages faced by Venezuelan citizens. Yet, he failed again to clearly implement any of the pragmatic economic reforms advocated by Rafael Ramírez, the former minister of energy and former president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA)— such as a de facto bolívar-to-dollar devaluation via unification of Venezuela’s multi-tier foreign exchange (FX) system, measures to attract more foreign financing for oil production, and removing internal price controls, especially for gasoline. Meanwhile, in September 2014, Ramírez was demoted to foreign minister, and then to UN ambassador several months later.
According to insiders, Maduro’s failure to implement pragmatic reforms stems principally from two sources. First, within the raging confrontation over economic policy between “pragmatic” and “ideological” factions of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), Maduro has found himself both dependent on militant chavista “colectivos,” and simultaneously at risk of these groups turning against him. These often-armed, barrio-based gangs are aligned with the PSUV’s ideological faction and have no patience for pragmatic economic reforms.
Second, Maduro faces low voter approval ratings due to the continued collapse of the Venezuelan economy. As a result, he clearly fears triggering a popular backlash against the pain that reforms would bring in the near-to-medium term—and the danger that the ideological wing of his party would seize upon any such opportunity to denounce him as a “neoliberal” and push him from power.
January 22, 2015
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made his annual address to the legislature on Wednesday, defending his government’s socialist economic model and accusing the Venezuelan political opposition of waging an “economic war” that has led to the country’s current financial crisis.
That crisis has worsened in recent weeks as global oil prices have plummeted and the price of Venezuelan crude, the country's chief export, fell from $98 per barrel in 2013 to just $39 per barrel this week. Venezuela’s inflation rate, which Maduro estimated at more than 64 percent last year, is currently the highest in the Americas. The IMF’s Alejandro Werner predicted on Wednesday that Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent in 2015, and Maduro said in his speech that the economy had contracted 2.8 percent in 2014.
Maduro was expected to announce possible cuts to social spending and a devaluation of the bolivar during his speech. However, while Maduro said he was willing to consider raising the price of gasoline and restructuring the country’s three-tiered exchange rate system, he rejected the idea of a currency devaluation and instead announced that social spending would continue, promising to wage raises and pensions by 15 percent and build more low-income housing.
Supporters of Maduro’s government are expected to rally on Friday, prior to a planned opposition protest march on Saturday.
December 10, 2014
The U.S. Senate approved a bill on Monday that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found responsible for violating demonstrators’ rights during anti-government protests that left more than 40 dead and 800 injured since February. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act authorizes sanctions that would freeze assets and ban visas of individuals that authorized, directed or otherwise assisted the government in infringing on “the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly” of protesters.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill, which was passed by a voice vote. “For too long, Venezuelans have faced state-sponsored violence at the hands of government security forces and watched their country’s judiciary become a tool of political repression,” said Menendez. The House passed a similar bill in May with a broader number of targets, but the Obama administration insisted sanctions would interfere with negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Earlier this month, White House officials signaled they would be willing to move forward with additional sanctions.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blasted the “insolent imperialist sanctions” and accused the U.S. of meddling in his country’s affairs. The Maduro government has already faced international criticism for its heavy-handed response to the mostly peaceful demonstrations. In May, the United Nations condemned the violence and called for the government to adhere to its human rights obligations.
The new U.S. Senate bill comes as Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez continues to be held in prison, while Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado was recently accused of plotting to overthrow the Maduro administration. The Senate’s version of the bill must now be passed in the House, and signed by President Obama for it to become law.
December 4, 2014
The Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office formally charged former Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado with treason and conspiracy for allegedly plotting to kill President Nicolas Maduro this Wednesday.
The indictment comes after a chain of emails plotting to start a coup to overthrow the Maduro administration surfaced in May, allegedly between U.S. officials and Machado, an opposition leader who was kicked out of the National Assembly in March after she publically supported the protests against the government earlier this year. In one email Machado reportedly wrote, “I believe the time has come to join forces, make the necessary calls, and obtain the financing to annihilate Maduro […] and the rest will come falling down.”
Venezuela’s most publically known opposition leader, Leopoldo López, has been in jail since February, despite pleas for his release from international organizations, including The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), who declared his detention illegal and ordered his immediate release. Arrest orders for conspiracy against the government were also ordered for opposition figures Henrique Salas Romer, Diego Arria, Ricardo Emilio Koesling, Gustavo Tarre Briceño, Pedro Mario Burelli, and Robert Alonso.
The public prosecutor’s office released a statement threatening to punish anyone “from inside or outside national territory” with jail time should they seek to “conspire to destroy the nation’s republican political style.” If Machado is found guilty, she could face eight to 16 years in jail.
October 17, 2014
Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat
Venezuela secured a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the first round of voting yesterday, earning 181 votes in support of its candidacy—52 over the 129 vote threshold it needed to clinch the seat. The win was trumpeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a sign that the broader international community holds the country—which is caught in dire economic straits and has been roundly criticized for its record on human rights—in high esteem. “We are a country beloved and admired by the whole world,” Maduro is reported to have said upon receiving news of the ballot results.
Venezuela’s last bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, in 2006, was strongly opposed by the U.S. and ultimately foundered. This year the country ran unopposed to fill the one available seat on the council from Latin America, and received unanimous support from a caucus of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Significantly, the Obama administration did not mount a diplomatic campaign against the country’s bid, despite calls by U.S. lawmakers for such an effort.
However, Venezuela’s win has provoked some criticism. After the vote, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement that “Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” According to the UN Director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, “The security council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records.” Venezuela’s election to the Security Council comes just weeks after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the country to release opposition political leader, Leopoldo López.
October 8, 2014
Jesus Torrealba, the new chief of Venezuela’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition, has targeted Venezuela’s 2015 parliamentary elections as the opposition’s next strategic opportunity to end chavista rule. After narrowly losing the presidential election to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, the opposition coalition is now looking to win a majority in the National Assembly next year in order to put pressure on the president and potentially force a recall referendum in 2016.
Although the ruling Partido Socialist Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) maintains control over the executive and legislative branches, Maduro’s administration has been beleaguered by a rapidly declining economy, 63 percent inflation, high crime rates, and shortages of basic goods.
In addition to the months-long protests against the Maduro government that engulfed several major cities in Venezuela earlier this year, the administration has also come under fire from a dissident faction on the Left critical of what it sees as a departure from the Bolivarian Revolution’s ideals. "What we have now is deterioration ...This is chavismo's worst moment ever," Gonzalo Gomez Frieire, leader of the dissident Marea Socialista (socialist tide) told Reuters.
While the MUD has historically been known as a fractured party—most notably when former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López responded differently to the popular protests in February—many see an equally fractured PSUV as the primary explanation for Maduro’s lack of an adequate response to Venezuela’s recession.
President Maduro’s approval rate dropped to 35 percent in September in light of the continued economic crisis.
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