The recall vote is a no-go. We’ll make sure Maduro won’t suffer the same fate as Rousseff
Monday, May 16, 2016
Venezuela: no matter how large the obvious disaster Communists hang on to line their pockets in the name of social justice.
The protesters dress appears more the bureaucrat, apparatchik then that of the downtrodden.
Diego Hernández was among about 2,000 protesters who marched last week to Venezuela’s electoral council in Caracas to demand a referendum to remove the president. “We want elections to avoid bloodshed,” he told journalists, holding a placard that read “Recall vote now”.
The student was swiftly arrested by the national guard, who used tear gas to break up the protest, held for 10 hours and questioned. “The government is desperate, they want to intimidate us, stop us from trying to save this country from the disaster it’s in now,” he told the FT a few days after his release.
Wednesday’s protest against President Nicolás Maduro — followed since by further demonstrations — comes as Venezuela faces one of its worst ever crises, with the country beset by ravaging shortages, spiralling violence and an inflation rate predicted to reach 481 per cent this year.
The harsh treatment meted out to the protesters has left many fearful that Mr Maduro’s socialist government will cling to power by any means and defy opposition efforts to remove him from office via a so-called recall referendum.
The president did little to dispel that notion when on Friday he declared a state of emergency to “stabilise our country and confront all the international and national threats”. At an opposition rally on Saturday, Rosibel Torres, a Caracas lawyer, said the move was “meant to silence popular protest”.
Opec member Venezuela, which has larger crude reserves than Saudi Arabia, has been hard hit by years of economic mismanagement and now the fall in oil prices. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy will shrink 8 per cent this year after a 5.7 per cent contraction in 2015. Galloping inflation is forecast to exceed 1,642 per cent next year.
Support for the recall referendum now has 1.8m signatures — more than the 200,000 needed to initiate the process, but short of the 4m required for the referendum to actually go ahead. Polls by Datanálisis reveal almost 70 per cent of Venezuelans want Mr Maduro to go.
The latest protests were aimed at forcing, some say, the “servile” electoral council to begin preparation for the process, and another big demonstration is planned for Wednesday.
If the referendum is authorised by the electoral authorities, held this year and the president’s opponents secure more than 7.6m votes, he must leave office and a new election will be called. But many fear the authorities are trying to block or push the process into 2017, when the vacated presidency would instead fall to the deputy president — currently the socialist Aristóbulo Isturiz.
Whatever the process, Mr Maduro has vowed to finish his term, criticising his foes as Washington lackeys and buttressing his position among his followers by calling impeachment proceedings against fellow leftwinger Dilma Rousseff of Brazil as a “coup”.
Analysts, however, believe the process in Caracas is unlikely to go the same way as in Brasília. The key difference is that Chavismo — the movement created by Mr Maduro’s late predecessor Hugo Chávez — has after almost two decades in power been able to take control of key institutions, including the military, the electoral council and the Supreme Court.
In Dragon in the Tropics: Venezuela and The Legacy of Hugo Chávez, Javier Corrales and Michael Penfold outline how the former president, who died in 2013, “took no chances [and] left behind a legacy of laws that favour the executive branch to the detriment of any other political actor”.
The Supreme Court has, for example, sought to undermine the legislature since the opposition took control of it earlier this year. Indeed, a referendum against Mr Maduro must not only receive a green light from the electoral council but a newly created revision body headed by a presidential ally must also approve the signatures.
“Taking the streets is the only way now,” says Freddy Guevara, an opposition lawmaker.
Yet under a state of emergency that could be a risky move, Venezuelans have not forgotten how dozens — in opposing camps — were killed during anti-Maduro demonstrations two years ago.
- José Graterol, Venezuelan socialist
Alfredo Romero of Foro Penal, a local rights group, fears the state of emergency could be used as a “pretext to suspend constitutional rights and freedoms”, while Luis Vicente León, a political analyst, says it effectively gives the government free rein “to act upon those who consider enemies”.
The US, which Mr Maduro blames for many of Venezuela’s woes, is worried. “You can hear the ice cracking, you know there’s a crisis coming,” said one intelligence official in Washington recently.
But such comments are grist to the mill of Mr Maduro and his supporters.
At an official government rally in Caracas on Saturday, which some red-clad public workers admitted they were arm-wrestled to attend, socialist loyalist José Graterol blamed the crisis on “imperialist” interference. “The recall vote is a no-go. We’ll make sure Maduro won’t suffer the same fate as Rousseff,” he said.
At the same time across town at an opposition rally, large numbers of security forces were out in force. Two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles repeated calls for people to take to the streets to press for change.
“If you block this democratic path we don’t know what might happen in this country,” he warned Mr Maduro. “Venezuela is a time bomb that can explode at any moment.”