Despite Police Brutality, Venezuelans March for Recall Referendum
EspañolOn Wednesday, May 11, the Venezuelan opposition marched to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to demand the continuation of a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro, but was ultimately held back by the army and the police. Another march is already being organized for Saturday, May 14.
Security forces used tear gas and pellets to prevent the opposition from reaching the building. A line of armed officers wearing anti-riot gear blocked the crowd from walking to the center of Caracas, where the CNE is located.
The Justice First Party accused the police of excessive violence, as leader and Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles had to be assisted by his colleagues after receiving pepper spray to the face.
The police were able to suppress the protesters, who retreated to their starting point near Bello Monte by Plaza Venezuela.
“They’re firing pellets and throwing tear gas bombs,” Henry Ramos Allup, the president of Venezuela’s Congress warned, standing between the officers and the opposition. “We do not want anyone wounded and we will not shed a drop of blood.”
At least 11 stations of the Caracas Metro were closed, which hindered the transfer of many people participating in the march.
While the opposition protested, ruling party sympathizers marched in support of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down laws passed by the Venezuelan Congress, especially one that ordered the government to give beneficiaries of a housing project their respective property titles.
Opposition lawmakers argue that the government withholds the documents as a way to coerce the mostly poor residents to vote for the ruling party.
“It’s amazing that the Maduro administration is organizing a march to celebrate that it will no long give property titles to the beneficiaries of the housing project,” Capriles said in an interview for the local radio station Circuito Éxitos.
Police also cracked down on marches in other parts of the country, most notably in Carabobo, Bolívar, and Barinas.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition had delivered on May 3 many times the amount of signatures required for the first phase of the referendum, but CNE officials stalled the verification process.
Tibisay Lucena, CNE’s director, announced on Thursday that the documents will only be ready on May 26. However, she did not say when Venezuelans must go to electoral centers to ratify their own signatures as required by law.
While the ruling party claims that there is not enough time to prepare for a referendum in 2016, Capriles argues that the CNE calendar allows for the popular consultation as early as October.
The opposition is in a hurry because if the recall referendum is carried out after January 10, 2017, there would be no presidential elections and the vice president — the Chavista Aristóbulo Isturiz — would complete Maduro’s term.
MUD Secretary Jesús “Chúo” Torrealba has called for another march across the country on Saturday, May 14. “The Venezuelan people has taken to the streets and won’t return home until the recall referendum is held” this year, he told reporters.
It has also become the norm for the Maduro administration to organize a demonstration on the same day to counter that of the opposition.
Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz went on national television on Thursday, calling Venezuelans to come down to Caracas and march “to accompany and support our President Nicolás Maduro in the announcement of the fifth productive engine of the Bolivarian Economic Plan, namely the Socialist and Communal Economy.”
What Comes Next in the Venezuelan Recall Referendum
In Venezuela, a recall election or referendum is a complex procedure introduced in the 1999 Constitution drafted by the late President Hugo Chávez to replace impeachment.
Once the CNE verifies all 200,000 signatures, the electoral body must set up at least 200 centers where Venezuelans who signed the forms will have five calendar days to go and verify their names.
However, another process of collecting signatures and verifying them must come before the CNE finally announces the date for the actual referendum.
For the second phase, the opposition will need the support of at least 4 million Venezuelans or 20 percent of all registered voters.