Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Venezuela: Opposition Legislator Machado Arrives in Caracas

A Venezuelan opposition activist arrived in Caracas today amidst weeks of unrest and days after she was stripped of her legislative status.

“I have landed in my country.  Emotional for the care and confidence from the citizens who are an honor to represent in the National Assembly,” María Corina Machado mentioned via her Twitter account this afternoon.  

Later she urged her followers including those who greeted her upon her arrival to Caracas to meet her at the Brion Plaza where she would “bring support from the democrats across the continent.”

The forty-six-year-old flew in from Lima, Peru following several days of travel abroad where she did not cease from her harsh criticism of the Venezuelan government.

“This government is weaker than ever… The violence only helps the government and it’s the fault of (Venezuelan president Nicolás) Maduro, not the (opposition) protests,” said Machado in an interview published yesterday. 

“Maduro has crossed a red line,” she added.

The most controversial part of her foreign trip occurred last Friday when she was invited by Panama’s delegation to the Organization of American States (OAS) to speak at a meeting focusing on the chaos in Venezuela.  OAS representatives made the event that would normally be open to the press and accessed online into a closed session following a 22-11 vote. Some of the countries that voted for a closed session like Nicaragua and Bolivia are staunch allies of the Maduro regime while others like Brazil decried that her presence change the “objective” of the meeting “into a circus for an outside audience.”

Her participation at the meeting led the head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, on Monday to declare that Machado was stripped of her parliamentary immunity.  He also warned that she could be prosecuted for “inciting violence” relating to the past six weeks of turmoil that have claimed the lives of at least thirty-one people.

Panama’s representative to the OAS criticized the actions against Machado as “proof of arbitrary decisions” carried out by Cabello on behalf of the Maduro regime.  (Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Panama earlier this month after the Central American country’s president called for dialogue through the OAS.)

Machado hasn’t been the only opposition figure targeted by Venezuelan authorities in recent days. Enzo Scarano, municipal mayor of San Diego in Carabobo state, was sentenced last week to ten months of prison for not complying with a judicial order to remove barricades erected by anti-government protesters.  The Venezuelan Supreme Court yesterday sentenced Daniel Ceballos to one year in prison on similar charges to those brought up against Scarano. (The arrests of the two mayors was criticized by human rights organization Amnesty International as “setting the scene for a witch hunt against opposition leaders.”)

The weeks of unrest in Venezuela have highlighted the numerous economic and political problems that anti-government demonstrators claim have been caused over the past fifteen years under Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez.  But some in the opposition appear to disagree with the “the exit” movement encouraged by Machado and jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to force Maduro's resignation under pressure of street protests. This may have been alluded to in comments made by Henry Ramos Allup, the general secretary of the Democratic Action political party:
“Polls have shown that 80% of Venezuelans want dialogue and transparency.  But there are sectors of the opposition that say, ‘If we talk to the government we are traitors’ and those on the government’s side that claim that meeting with us (in the opposition) would be like staining the memory of Chávez.  These radical factions are affecting any plans for negotiations,” said Allup in a televised interview on Venevision this Wednesday…

Allup was also asked about the Machado affair and the removal of her parliamentary duties.  “I was a legislator for 26 years and I’ve never seen a case like that because…procedure dictates that we must listen to the other person’s arguments.”   
Video Source– AFP via YouTube (“Venezuelan security forces fire tear gas and make several arrests (over the weekend) as 20,000 people march in the capital Caracas against what they see as President Nicolas Maduro's heavy-handed repression of dissent”).

Online Sources – BBC Mundo; Twitter account of María Corina Machado; Ultimas Noticias; The Guardian; Reuters; BBC News; Bloomberg; GlobalPost; Amnesty International

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