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Mr Maduro's actions run counter to democracy

Thursday, August 10, 2017

If anyone had been uncertain that Venezuela was sliding towards dictatorship they would have been forced to relinquish all doubt that this was in fact happening after the installation, last week, of a Constituent Assembly and the actions of that body sanctioned by President Nicolas Maduro.

Ignoring allegations of fraud in an election marred by violence, the Constituent Assembly, which has supreme powers and is packed with people loyal to President Maduro, went to work quickly, passing a law creating what it called a 'truth commission' to basically prosecute leaders of the Opposition.

Then, over last weekend, news emerged that the assembly fired Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who had become an outspoken critic of President Maduro, accusing him of human rights abuses.

Add to that Venezuela's Supreme Court stripping prominent Opposition Mayor Ramon Muchacho of his right to hold political office and sentencing him to 15 months in prison on the most ridiculous charge of not preventing protests in his Chacao district in Caracas, the capital city.

Reuters news agency has reported that Mr Muchacho was the fourth mayor to be charged in the last 15 days and a fifth mayor was scheduled for a court hearing.

Yesterday we learnt that this Constituent Assembly, which has been established to rewrite the constitution, and the Supreme Court took actions to limit the Opposition's ability to challenge President Maduro.

Those are not actions of a Government committed to democracy. Neither do they suggest that the Maduro Administration is open to listening to the voices of governments in the region, especially in the Caribbean Community (Caricom), who are said to be anxious to promote dialogue among stakeholders in Venezuela.

According to a report from the Caribbean Media Corporation ( CMC), Grenadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, who now chairs Caricom, convened a special emergency meeting of Caricom leaders by video conferencing on Tuesday.

The CMC report said that no official statement has been issued by the Caricom Secretariat or from Prime Minister Mitchell's office. However, Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a brief statement yesterday, said that the leaders who had participated in the video conference call had engaged in “varied and robust views”.

The fact is that Caricom leaders have been down the road of offering to facilitate dialogue between the Government and the Opposition in Venezuela without success. But, as the CMC reported, while there has been no public acceptance from the Opposition of the Caricom offer, President Maduro, in letter dated July 7 to Prime Minister Mitchell, welcomed the offer and proposed a “working meeting” in Venezuela on either July 11 or 12 to discuss the matter.

However, Prime Minister Mitchell, the CMC noted, received Mr Maduro's communication on July 12. Why it took five days for a letter of such great importance to get to Prime Minister Mitchell is a mystery.

However, it is very instructive that just over two weeks later President Maduro held the Constituent Assembly 'election' — a move that has heightened political tension in the country and resulted in Venezuela being suspended from Mercosur, the South American trade bloc.

On Tuesday, he hosted a meeting of friendly governments in Caracas, saying that he was open to dialogue. He shouldn't be surprised if no one takes him seriously.