Venezuela: Chronicle of a Parliamentary Coup

In recent years, parliamentary coups have become the mechanism of choice when removing elected governments in Latin America. In 2009, Honduras’ Supreme Court ousted then-president José Manuel Zelaya through a military action. In 2012, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was impeached. Eight weeks ago, the Brazilian senate voted to oust President Dilma Rousseff, and this past Sunday the same strategy was tried in Venezuela, with the peculiar difference that political actors on both sides of the spectrum are now accusing each other of staging a coup.

Last Sunday, pro-government supporters interrupted a special session held by the opposition-controlled National Assembly (known by its Spanish acronym AN) which was scheduled to discuss “a rupture of the constitutional order.

Opposition leaders claimed that President Nicolás Maduro abandoned his duties while touring oil-producing countries and then said Maduro was leading a coup. The president’s tour preceded OPEC’s 171st Ordinary Meeting, scheduled for late November of this year. Maduro asserted the importance of his trip as an effort to stabilize fair oil prices. He also confirmed that he would still tend to his duties while on the tour. Nonetheless, falling crude oil prices have had a devastating effect on Venezuela’s economy. Sunday’s session came after Venezuela’s Chavista-controlled electoral commission (known by its Spanish acronym CNE) decided to postpone the signature drive necessary for a recall referendum against Maduro, citing allegations of irregularities in the validation of signatures.

Government officials argue that the National Assembly’s actions lack any judicial legitimacy due to its current status of being in contempt of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (known by its Spanish acronym TSJ). Chavista leaders also claim that the opposition disregards the Constitution by intending to carry out a political trial, although the Constitution does not authorize it with the power to do so. In addition, the case of the appointment of three opposition legislators to Parliament (despite the fact that the TSJ issued their suspension) has resurfaced once again, further echoing the government’s belief that the opposition-controlled National Assembly disregards Venezuela’s Constitution.

During Sunday’s ordinary session, several claims were formulated by both opposition and Chavista legislators. It is important to note that both political factions (left and right) have experienced division within their own factions, with Venezuela’s opposition becoming more deeply divided than the Chavista faction.

What Transpired This Week

On Sunday, lawmakers opposed to the Maduro government drafted a resolution, introduced via the National Assembly, that makes the following allegations and declarations: Rupture of the constitutional order and ongoing coup d’état led by current President Nicolás Maduro and his government; a call for foreign intervention; file official complaint to the International Criminal Court against government officials deemed responsible for the suspension of the recall referendum; follow through with the appointment of new CNE deputy rectors; follow through with the appointment of new Supreme Court Justices; assessment of the current constitutional state of affairs by convening an ordinary session on October 25; establish a task force composed of high-ranking Parliament members responsible for leading the restoration of the constitutional order; demand insubordination of the National Arm Forces by undermining any orders issue by the Executive, Judicial, Citizen and Electoral Branch/Commission; summon the Venezuelan people to defend the constitution, democracy and the rule of law in order to re-establish constitutional order, calling activation of Article 333 of the Venezuelan Constitution-“Guarantee of the Constitution.”

During the AN ordinary session on October 25, opposition lawmakers voted to proceed with a trial to impeach Maduro, charging him of absence and constitutional neglect, as well as accusing him of the previously stated claims. This week, the opposition summoned the masses to a national takeover of power, asking them to take their protest to their streets, using the hashtag #TomaDeVenezuela.

It is important to mention that Articles 233-235 of Venezuela’s Carta Magna establishes in detail the constitutional process to follow in case of neglect and/or absence of the president. The constitutional mechanism could be activated in the case of the President’s resignation, removal, physical or mental disability, abandonment of office or death. Absolute absence of the president must be voted upon and declared by consensual agreement between the AN, TSJ and the CNE. In addition, before any action can be agreed upon, the president of Venezuela may be absent for five days.

As expected, Venezuela’s government rejected the National Assembly’s actions, denouncing them as unconstitutional. It reminded the opposition that the Carta Magna is clear about which legislative mechanisms may be activated during the current circumstances.

President Maduro responded by acting on Article 323 of the Constitution, convening a meeting of the Nation’s Security Council –including the National Assembly- in order to evaluate the parliamentary coup and develop a plan for peace talks.

He also repeated his invitation to opposition leaders to engage in peaceful conflict resolution, calling directly upon Henry Ramos Allup (current Speaker of the National Assembly) to be present at the meeting.

In another ordinary session this past Tuesday, Héctor Rodríguez, Deputy and Head of the Chavista-led PSUV Caucus in the National Assembly, spoke to opposition legislators asserting that they are seeking to seize control by means of an illegitimate parliamentary assault. Rodríguez also reflected upon differences, “We (Chavistas) are a historical and political force; we are also cognizant that you (opposition) are a political force as well.” Rodriguez also reminded opposition leaders of their failure to provide any concrete alternative solutions to the nation’s current situation.

Amidst deepening polarization and tense socio-political atmosphere, Vladimir Padrino López, Defense Minister and Commander in Chief of the National Armed Forces (known by its Spanish acronym FANB) issued an official statement asserting the FANB’s commitment to peace within a constitutional framework. Minister Padrino López also reprimanded the opposition’s aggressive language in inciting military mutiny, demanding respect for the Constitution. He also called on political factions to exercise prudence and engage in peace talks, finally requesting that the FANB not be included in political altercations of the various factions. (To read the full official statement, click here.)

Via his Twitter account, Maduro stated his dissatisfaction with Ramos Allup for not attending the Security Council meeting aimed at developing an agenda for peace talks. Chavistas also rallied #MarchaYGiraVictoriosas and took their protests to the streets as well.

Alicia Bárcena, the United Nations Executive Secretary for ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), stated that Venezuela is not undergoing a humanitarian crisis but confirmed there was political tension as well as food shortages. Hermánn Escarrá, co-author of the Venezuelan Constitution (as well as the Inter-American Democratic Charter), declared via Twitter that Luis Almagro (Secretary General of the Organization of American States) possesses no true knowledge regarding the Inter-American Democratic Charter in relation to Venezuela. Finally, peace talks are scheduled to start on October 30 between both political factions and will be mediated by a Vatican representative.

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Dariana Arias graduated from The George Washington University with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy. She is currently chronicling unfolding events in Venezuela, her homeland.

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