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Start of tentative “National Dialogue” between govt and parts of opposition, facilitated by Vatican and UNASUR, reduced immediate threat of violence, however govt failed to give clear signs it intends to honour commitments. Dialogue set up four working groups on conflict of powers; human rights and political prisoners; economy; and electoral timetable and confidence-building measures. Also agreed on release of some political prisoners. MUD negotiators claimed to have achieved some initial goals at second dialogue meeting 11-12 Nov, including: govt pledge to release more political prisoners (described in official communiqué as “detained persons”); commitment to fresh elections and recognition of rights of National Assembly (NA) in exchange for three opposition legislators from Amazonas state, who govt claims were elected fraudulently, standing down; and two members of National Electoral Council (CNE) board whose terms expire in Dec being replaced by mutual agreement, in move intended to restore balance to body which is currently dominated by govt. Measures greeted with widespread hostility even on part of many opposition moderates, who also criticised absence of reference in communiqué to recall referendum or any form of early presidential election. MUD’s ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said next meeting should only deal with this issue and talks should end if no agreement. Although the three Amazonas legislators stood down 15 Nov, govt yet to fulfil any commitments except for release of six prisoners; Supreme Court continued to act on basis that NA was “in contempt” and all its actions null and void, and produced rulings further restricting parliament’s rights. Opposition 13-14 Nov said it would return to street protests and resume debate in parliament over measures against president. Dialogue process received blessing of U.S. State Dept, and of OAS Permanent Council. Black market value of Venezuelan currency plunged 60% during second half of Nov. Ten military officers arrested for their suspected part in massacre of twelve civilians seized in state of Miranda 15 Oct, whose mutilated bodies were found 25-26 Nov.
National Electoral Council (CNE) 20 Oct indefinitely suspended process of signature-gathering by opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance trying to trigger recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro, exacerbating political conflict and blocking electoral solution. CNE decision cited rulings of five lower courts from different regions, all run by pro-regime governors, based on alleged fraud in initial opposition petition for recall referendum. Shortly after CNE announcement, court Valencia ruled eight opposition leaders no longer allowed to leave country. Govt-controlled Supreme Court (TSJ) 11 Oct abolished constitutional requirement that national budget be approved by parliament, leaving opposition-controlled National Assembly effectively powerless. Govt reportedly refusing to pay salaries, expenses of assembly members. Opposition decried what it called establishment of dictatorial rule in Venezuela, launched so-called “political trial” of Maduro by parliament. Nationwide protest 26 Oct ended with decision to march on presidential palace 3 Nov to demand Maduro’s resignation. Maduro 20 Oct left for tour of oil-producing nations in Central Asia and Middle East. Following suspension of referendum, twelve members of Organization of American States (OAS) including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and U.S. issued joint statement declaring “deep concern”. After intervention by Vatican, MUD and govt representatives 31 Oct agreed agenda for talks jointly facilitated by Vatican and Union of South American Nations (UNASUR); however MUD split over issue, threatened to walk away if substantive progress not made in short term. Govt later same day released five opposition politicians.
Opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance staged largely peaceful mass demonstration in central Caracas 1 Sept demanding recall referendum against President Maduro before end of 2016. Hundreds of thousands joined rally; police and national guard units deployed in partly successful attempt to prevent demonstrators from provincial cities reaching Caracas. Month also saw wave of arrests of MUD activists, mostly leaders of Popular Will (VP) party of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López; over 170 reportedly arrested in period from 1 Sept according to NGO Penal Forum. Supreme Court (TSJ) 5 Sept ruled all decisions by opposition-controlled National Assembly null and void since 28 July, when three MUD legislators from Amazonas state took seats in defiance of TSJ’s 30 Dec 2015 ruling that they be suspended pending investigation into alleged electoral fraud; TSJ suggested it may launch criminal proceedings against the three legislators. Delegations from MUD and ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) 9-10 Sept met for another attempt at confidential “pre-dialogue” talks, however talks collapsed after confidentiality agreement was broken. According to MUD, talks were to discuss conditions for recall referendum signature-gathering process, while other reports suggest PSUV was pushing for abandonment of referendum and deal to bring forward elections and partially restore institutional rule. CNE 22 Sept stated MUD will be allowed in late Oct to gather signatures needed to force recall referendum. MUD 26 Sept said it rejected conditions imposed by CNE, including no referendum in 2016, but would combine gathering signatures with protests. Mercosur members 14 Sept agreed Venezuela should not be allowed to exercise organisation’s rotating presidency, threatened suspension from bloc in Dec over its failing to adapt legislation to Mercosur rules four years after joining.
National Electoral Council (CNE) 9 Aug presented timetable for recall referendum against President Maduro, specifying that signature gathering for referendum will take place late Oct. Timetable would likely push potential poll (to be held only if 20% of electorate sign petition) to no earlier than Feb 2017 – too late to trigger new elections, instead allowing ruling party to replace Maduro until his term ends in 2019. Opposition alliance MUD immediately called for major protest march in Caracas 1 Sept. Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro backed opposition, 22 Aug made public letter to imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López declaring recent events “end of democracy” and “termination of rule of law” in Venezuela. Maduro 18 Aug warned of harsh response to any “attempted coup”. Ahead of 1 Sept planned protest interior ministry 28 Aug returned opposition leader Daniel Ceballos to jail. As economic crisis continued to intensify, IMF late July predicted Venezuela will be world’s worst performing country of 2016, with economy likely to shrink up to 10%, inflation to reach 700% by year’s end. UNSG Ban early Aug called situation in Venezuela “humanitarian crisis”; Venezuela’s ambassador to UN denied. Colombia and Venezuela 13 Aug officially reopened five pedestrian border crossings, sealed for over a year, for 15 hours a day; over 150,000 Venezuelans reportedly crossed border first weekend, stocking up on food, medicines.
President Maduro 11 July gave Defence Minister Gen Vladimir Padrino López, Operational Commander of Armed Forces, overall control of govt’s efforts to resolve supply crisis of basic goods, ordered all cabinet ministers to report to him. Deadlock between govt and opposition intensified as opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) 14 July voted to annul Dec 2015 appointments of thirteen Supreme Court (TSJ) justices and 21 deputies. AN 28 July reinstated three opposition legislators from Amazonas state suspended by TSJ in Jan after allegations of vote-buying, restoring opposition’s two-thirds majority in AN; former AN president and deputy leader of ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) Diosdado Cabello previously threatened the three with imprisonment if they take up their seats. Govt 9 July opened Colombian border crossing for twelve hours; Colombian authorities said 35,000 people crossed, mainly seeking food and medical supplies; some 130,000 crossed during longer opening the following weekend, some travelling hundreds of kilometres to do so. Most Organization of American States (OAS) members continued to back attempt by former Spanish Premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, along with two former Latin American presidents, to foster dialogue between govt and opposition, however opposition conditioned talks on scheduling of next phase of recall referendum. Electoral authority (CNE) postponed answer until August. Maduro late July accepted suggestion that Vatican help facilitate dialogue, but Vatican 26 July said no request yet received. Row broke out within Mercosur after Venezuela assumed rotating presidency of bloc 30 July despite opposition from some member countries and absence of formal handover.
Standoff between govt and opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance continued amid worsening humanitarian and economic situation. National Electoral Council (CNE) 7 June invalidated almost one third of signatures presented by MUD in May in support of presidential recall referendum; some 1.3mn signatures remained, almost seven times number required to trigger next step of process. In further attempt to reduce number of valid signatures, CNE 8 June passed resolution allowing signatories to exclude themselves from list, amid reports of public employees being pressured to sign exclusion form. Ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) 13 June filed petition with Supreme Court (TSJ) asking for investigation into alleged fraud in signature collection process, in apparent bid to halt process altogether. Small number (300) of fingerprinting machines, many in remote locations, available for petition signatories to personally “validate” signatures 20-24 June meant most unable to do so. Tensions on the streets continued to rise with daily protests over food shortages and incidents of looting, including protests 13-14 June in eastern coastal city of Cumaná in which scores of businesses looted, three reportedly killed and over 400 arrested before order was restored. Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council 23 June held meeting to debate applicability of Inter-American Democratic Charter following late-May publication by OAS head Luis Almagro of 132-page report on deteriorating situation in Venezuela, though no decision was taken. However, Venezuela’s attempt to prevent debate was defeated. Earlier OAS Permanent Council 7 June, and General Assembly 15 June, reiterated support for UNASUR dialogue process launched late-May, but stressed it must be inclusive and effective; and emphasised need for Venezuela to observe “fair and timely implementation of constitutional mechanisms”, with fifteen countries joining even more forceful call to respond to Venezuela’s humanitarian and political crisis.
Standoff between govt and opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance over attempted presidential recall referendum intensified, amid worsening economic and humanitarian crisis and increasing international concern over deteriorating situation and possible spread of violent protests over food and other basic goods. President Maduro 16 May decreed a wide-ranging State of Exception and Economic Emergency suspending constitutional guarantees for initial period of 60 days in order to combat what he called attempt by opposition and foreign allies to overthrow govt. Decree empowers president to do anything he considers necessary to combat alleged threat and suspends certain constitutional prerogatives of opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance-dominated National Assembly (AN), including control of govt spending and right to censure ministers. Powers of armed forces and other civilian bodies loyal to ruling party also expanded. Though decree acknowledges constitutional requirement for parliamentary approval, govt-run Supreme Court (TSJ) had already ruled late-Jan that AN rejection of such decrees is not binding. AN 17 May rejected decree and MUD leaders called it unconstitutional. Former MUD presidential candidate and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles mid-May called on Venezuelans not to obey it, told Maduro to “bring out the tanks” if he intended to enforce it and warned army to choose between allegiance to Maduro or constitution. Public anger over lack of food and other basic goods grew, with increased incidents of looting including wholesale market looted 11 May in Maracay 100km west of Caracas. Electoral authority (CNE) continued to delay and obstruct recall referendum process. MUD 2 May reportedly delivered 1.85 million signatures, ten times number required to trigger second signature drive for 20% of electorate needed to force referendum; though votes should have been ratified within five days according to regulations, CNE said process would take a month because of added stages including submission of fingerprints for forensic examination. Special presidential commission has also been permitted to challenge signatures at each stage. Amid growing international concern, Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro 31 May invoked Inter-American Democratic Charter; Permanent Council meeting called for 1 June to hear his report and debate deteriorating situation in Venezuela. Govt and opposition 28 May met with group of mediators, comprising three former presidents, led by former Spanish President Zapatero and sponsored by Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), in Dominican Republic, for first discussion on how to de-escalate crisis; face to face talks between govt and opposition did not occur and no next steps were established.
Opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance 27 April began collecting signatures to trigger recall referendum against President Maduro; almost 200,000 are required for electoral authority (CNE) to authorise main signature drive, which in turn must gather almost 4 million. Responding to MUD’s plan for constitutional amendment to reduce presidential term by two years, pro-govt constitutional lawyer Hermann Escarrá said Maduro could use same means to cut parliament’s term to six months. Supreme Court (TSJ) 11 April declared 29 March amnesty law unconstitutional; UNHCHR 12 April expressed disappointment over govt’s move to block law; FM Delcy Rodríguez accused UNHCHR of “undermining Venezuelan law” to “please opposition”. Maduro 12 April set up “truth commission” focused on violence associated with Feb-March 2013 street protests; commission composed of members of govt and its allies, with four seats reportedly reserved for opposition. Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Sec Gen Ernesto Samper 12 April announced former leaders of Dominican Republic, Panama and Spain will accompany commission, which he said offered Venezuelans chance to find “sincere path to dialogue”. MUD rejected proposal, saying they had learned about it through the media; FM 17 April attacked Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro and Spanish leader for demanding release of political prisoners. Maduro 26 April cut working week to just two half days for most public employees amid severe power shortages, which have prompted angry demonstrations in many cities.
Opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance 7 March unveiled plan for “peaceful, democratic” removal of President Maduro: will seek recall referendum against Maduro, while simultaneously approving constitutional amendment to cut presidential term from six to four years. MUD began campaign of street demonstrations 12 March, with address from National Assembly President Henry Ramos, in bid to force Maduro to resign. MUD added if all attempts fail it would trigger process for electing constituent assembly to rewrite 1999 constitution. Economic and social crisis continued to worsen, with increased shortages of food, medicines and acute shortages of power and water. Electricity Minister Gen Luis Motta Domínguez 12 March blamed El Niño phenomenon for possible collapse of country’s power supply by end-April. Amid escalating violent crime, two dozen illegal miners reportedly killed in Tumeremo, Bolívar state 5 March, allegedly over control of recently discovered gold deposit. Police and prosecutors 14 March discovered victims’ remains as state governor and other prominent regime figures attempted to discredit story; authorities attributed massacre to fugitive crime boss “El Topo”, but President Maduro blamed paramilitaries allegedly linked to opposition. Court 11 March sentenced editor of independent newspaper El Correo del Caroní to four years’ jail for allegedly defaming wealthy businessman linked to Bolívar state governor accused of corruption. Provincial paper El Carabobeño closed 17 March when supply of newsprint ran out. Opposition-controlled National Assembly 29 March passed political amnesty law but President Maduro reiterated he would not sign it.
Major confrontation threatened to exacerbate crisis as govt continues to act in defiance of National Assembly’s (NA) prerogatives, arguing acts of legislature are subject to approval by govt-controlled Supreme Court (TSJ). Opposition majority reject govt interpretation, reiterated intention to remove TSJ justices whose late-Dec appointment it regards as unconstitutional. TSJ 12 Feb ruled National Assembly’s 22 Jan rejection of President Maduro’s mid-Jan economic emergency decree – which gave president sweeping powers to evade congressional oversight – had no legal weight and that decree remained in force. Compounding crisis, ministers and other govt officials summoned to appear before parliament have failed to show up to hearings. Opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance began examining constitutional options for Maduro’s removal: former MUD presidential candidate and leader of Justice First (PJ) party Henrique Capriles 11 Feb announced preference to activate both recall referendum and constitutional amendment simultaneously, given near-certainty govt would seek to block referendum move. Assembly 17 Feb passed second reading of amnesty law for political prisoners and those in exile subjected to judicial harassment for their political views. Govt prosecutors 15 Feb demanded sixteen-year sentence for Caracas mayor and opposition leader Antonio Ledezma, accused of plotting to overthrow govt. Maduro early-Feb told rally of supporters he was “in rebellion” against opposition plans to pass law granting property rights to beneficiaries of govt housing schemes. Maduro 17 Feb announced series of long-awaited economic measures, including substantial increase in price of petrol and reform of exchange controls including currency devaluation. Humanitarian crisis persisted as Pharmaceutical Federation early-Feb reported 80% of medicines now unobtainable and country owes US$6bn to overseas suppliers; Health Minister Luisana Mela attributed shortages to “irrational use of medicines”. Medical associations and NGOs report country may be facing several hundred thousand Zika cases; govt reports only 5,000.
New opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance-dominated National Assembly (AN) sworn in 5 Jan amid protests and tight security. Leader of Democratic Action Henry Ramos Allup elected to chair parliament for twelve months; Julio Borges of Justice First (PJ) named head of MUD’s parliamentary fraction. Supreme Court (TSJ) 4 Jan ruled four MPs representing Amazonas state, including three MUD MPs, could not be sworn in due to legal challenge over alleged vote-buying, mounted late-Dec by ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV). MUD’s lawyers said injunction unenforceable; swearing-in of the three MUD MPs went ahead 6 Jan. In response, TSJ declared all AN’s decisions null and void until move reversed; former parliamentary chairman and PSUV VP Diosdado Cabello argued TSJ could assume legislative functions. Organization of American States (OAS) Sec Gen Luis Almagro 12 Jan published open letter criticising use of TSJ to curb parliament. In face of looming constitutional clash, Ramos and newly-appointed VP Aristóbulo Isturiz reached agreement 13 Jan with three MPs, who agreed to not take seats pending resolution of case. President Maduro 10 Jan presented “state of the union” address to parliament following 7 Jan cabinet reshuffle in which Isturiz replaced VP Jorge Arreaza, and two ministers with close ties to Cabello were removed, including his brother, industry minister José David Cabello. Maduro 15 Jan issued economic emergency decree, giving president broad powers to evade budget scrutiny, seize private sector assets and amend regulations; AN rejected decree 22 Jan. Economic crisis continued to worsen: Venezuelan crude oil reached lowest value in twelve years mid-Jan at US$24 a barrel; central bank released economic figures for first time in two years, revealing 7.1% drop in GDP annual inflation rate by Sept of over 140%.