Fear and Trembling in Venezuela

Capital District, Venezuela (Procsilas Moscas/Flickr)

Capital District, Venezuela (Procsilas Moscas/Flickr)

After more than 48 hours of doubt, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has made official what few thought possible, conceding a supermajority of seats in the National Assembly to the opposition MUD coalition. The opposition’s hold on the legislature is a precarious one, however, as the 112 seats now in its possession barely passes the two-thirds threshold, and there are plenty of legal yet shady tricks up the chavista regime’s sleeve. The deputies-elect won’t be sworn in until January 5, giving the National Assembly president and PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello enough time to preemptively dismiss one or more of the incoming legislators — kind of like he did with María Corina Machado, a former deputy from Miranda who was removed from office in the spring of 2014 after she spoke at the Organization of American States about state repression in Venezuela as an alternate envoy of the Panamanian government.

Still, unless the chavista regime feels suicidal, the opposition will have enough seats in the National Assembly to do damage, good and bad. Geoff Ramsey over at the Washington Office on Latin America’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog provides a rundown of what will come under the opposition’s purview, including but not limited to: “issu[ing] a vote of no confidence in the Vice President and cabinet Ministers … and subsequently dismiss[ing[ them”; “conven[ing] a National Constituent Assembly” to rewrite the 1999 Bolivarian constitution, “as well as a recall referendum for President Maduro”; “appoint[ing and] … remov[ing] members of the National Electoral Council … provided it is backed by a ruling by the Supreme Court”; “remov[ing] Supreme Court justices in cases of gross misconduct”; and “pass[ing] and modify[ing] any draft organic law (laws which determine the fundamental political principles of a government).” Basically the MUD now has a whole bag of wrenches at its disposal with which to muck up President Nicolás Maduro’s and the PSUV’s agenda.

One of the first moves taken by the opposition will most likely be a push for an amnesty law, which would free political prisoners currently held by the state — men like Leopoldo López, the leader of the right-wing Voluntad Popular party serving a 13-year prison sentence for his role in last year’s anti-government protests. For his part, President Maduro has vowed to veto any legislative attempt to free López and others, saying: “They can send me a thousand laws but the murderers have to be prosecuted and have to pay.”

WOLA senior fellow David Smilde believes the MUD will be eager to initiate a recall referendum to remove Maduro from office in 2016, opening the door for the opposition to take control of the executive branch, as well. Smile hopes moderate factions in the chavista and opposition camps can come together to reach some kind of consensus, avoiding any slides to the extreme right or left. Personally I don’t think Venezuela’s problem is that the chavista regime has been too leftist, merely too inefficient and focused on preserving its mandate. The Bolivarian government needs to be more democratic, transparent and smarter, but certainly not less Bolivarian.

It’s not all fear and trembling in Venezuela, though. There’s a bit of good news: Tamara Adrián became the first transgender person elected to the National Assembly. A member of VP, her candidacy was approved by the chavista-dominated National Electoral Council, which suggests that both sides of the political divide are open to advancing LGBT rights. “It has been widely understood that [Adrián’s] sexual orientation and her gender definition has nothing to do with her professional skills,” explained Gerardo Bello, co-director of a Venezuelan NGO pushing for marriage equality, in an interview with Smilde before Sunday’s election. “This is an important step because the [National Electoral Council] accepted that Tamara Adrián could fit into the requirements of the an obligatory percentage of women candidates, even if her ID card says she is man. There you have a tacit recognition of gender diversity.”


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.