Lima Group Denounces New Attack on Democratic Order in Venezuela
November 7, 2017
On 4 November, the ‘Lima Group’ of 12 Western Hemisphere countries which repudiated the decision by the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro to unilaterally convene a national constituent assembly (ANC) issued a statement denouncing a new “affront against the separation of powers” by Venezuela’s supreme court (TSJ)
On 3 October the TSJ requested that the ANC lift the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by the vice president of the opposition-controlled national assembly, Freddy Guevara, of the opposition Voluntad Popular (VP) party, so that he could be prosecuted for the charges of instigation to violence and illicit association. The move against Guevara, who has become one of the loudest critics of the ANC and the Maduro government, has been denounced as an arbitrary and illegal attempt by the government-aligned TSJ to silence opposition leaders and “destroy” the national assembly (AN). The move has heightened concerns about the deepening political crisis in Venezuela and the Maduro government’s apparently growing authoritarian bent.
- The TSJ asked the ANC to lift Guevara’s immunity so that he could be prosecuted for a series of criminal charges including “continuous public instigation to violence, illicit association, and the use of a teenager to commit a crime”. The request came after Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, said that his office would open investigations into all political opposition leaders who refuse to recognise the authority of state institutions such as the ANC. It also came after Venezuela’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) main opposition coalition, which does not recognise the ANC, warned that after consolidating its grip on power in the questioned 15 October regional elections, the Maduro government would now seek to once again move against opposition leaders.
- Immediately after the TSJ’s request became public, Vice President Tareck El Aissami called for the ANC to debate the request and to ban Guevara from leaving the country. But all this was rejected by the MUD, which described the move as “another absolutely political and arbitrary move that seeks to undermine the national assembly”. The MUD used its majority in the AN to issue a statement in which it condemned the moves against Guevara as another example of the “violation of the constitutional and democratic order, as well as the serious political persecution on the part of the Maduro regime”, noting that under the constitution, only the AN has the power to lift the immunity of its members. Some MUD deputies accused the Maduro government of “totalitarianism” and of seeking to criminalise all forms of political dissident.
- The complaints made by the MUD against the move by the TSJ were echoed by the Lima Group. In a statement, the group said that “the decision by the TSJ constitutes a new affront against the rule of law and division of powers in Venezuela and impedes the normal functioning of the legitimately elected national assembly”. The statement goes on to express full support for Guevara and the AN, to reiterate that the Lima Group does not recognise the ANC, and to call on the Maduro government to “respect the constitution and the integrity of the legislative power”.
- Meanwhile, also on 4 October, the government of Chile, a Lima Group member, issued a statement saying that Guevara had entered its embassy in Caracas and requested political asylum. The Chilean government statement said that Guevara’s request is based on the “imminent threats against his personal safety and integrity” and that Guevara had been accepted as a ‘guest’ in the embassy while his request is considered.
The ostensible persecution of Guevara could push the Lima Group, which has already called for the United Nations to intervene in Venezuela and mediate in the deep political crisis, to redouble its efforts to pressure the Maduro government into negotiating a way out of the crisis with the political opposition. This may now include a move towards adopting region-wide economic sanctions against the Maduro government.
This feature was provided to EMIA by our editorial partner LatinNews.