“Since 2014 the conditions of life are aggravated in Venezuela. High levels of urban violence, inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods, medicines, fuel and elementary services in the country unleash a series of protests and civil demonstrations, which were brutally repressed by the government of Nicolas Maduro. In the first months of the year, there were 4,000 arrests and 43 deaths. This would be the beginning of a systematic campaign of heinous crimes, which would include persecution, torture, and death of anyone who exercised their legitimate right to rebel against oppression and violation of human rights by a tyrannical regime, supported by paramilitary groups, terrorists and the drug trafficking.
How did we get here?
A series of protests, political demonstrations, and civil insurrection began in Venezuela due to the country’s high levels of urban violence, inflation, and chronic shortages of basic goods. The year’s early months were characterized by large demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and government forces that resulted in nearly 4,000 arrests and 43 deaths.
Maduro’s regime ignores the National Assembly’s constitutional powers
Parliamentary elections were held in Venezuela on 6 December 2015 to elect the 164 deputies and three indigenous representatives of the National Assembly. The result was a decisive defeat for the ruling party “PSUV”, which lost control of the Assembly for the first time since 1999.
After a coalition of opposition parties won, the lame duck Assembly named 13 new Justices sympathetic toward Maduro to the Supreme Court.
The opposition coalition “MUD” gained a supermajority of 112 seats against 55 won by pro-government parties. After the election, the opposition MUD coalition was accused of vote-buying in the state of Amazonas.
The newly named Supreme Court members suspended all four Amazonas delegates (one Socialist and three opposition). Since May 2019, these claims have not been proven or judicially decided.
Maduro, then president, said he would give no quarter to the Venezuelan opposition in spite of his own party’s crushing defeat in last weekend’s mid-term parliamentary elections. Maduro vowed to block “the counter-revolutionary right” from taking over the country. “We won’t let it”.
A little over a week after the elections on 15 December 2015, the outgoing National Assembly created the “National Communal Parliament” with President Maduro stating “I’m going to give all the power to the communal parliament … This parliament is going to be a legislative mechanism from the grassroots. All power to the Communal parliament”. The move was described as an attempt “to sideline and leapfrog the incoming opposition-controlled National Assembly” which led to more instability and polarization in Venezuela.
Referendum recall obstruction. The Vatican failed mediation
Protests occurred following the controversy surrounding the 2015 Venezuelan parliamentary elections as well as the incidents surrounding the 2016 recall referendum. On 1 September 2016, the largest demonstration of the protests occurred, with over 1 million Venezuelans, gathered to demand a recall election against President Maduro.
Following the suspension of the recall referendum by the government-leaning National Electoral Council (CNE) on 21 October 2016, the opposition organized another protest which was held on 26 October 2016, with over 1.2 million Venezuelans participating. After some of the largest protests occurred in a late-2016, Vatican-mediated dialoguebetween the opposition and government was attempted and ultimately failed in January 2017. Concentration on protests subsided in the first months of 2017 until the 2017 Venezuelan constitutional crisis occurred when the pro-government Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Venezuela attempted to assume the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly and removed their immunity.
On 1 February 2017, President Maduro announced that the Bolivarian Militia would be directed towards an anti-protest objective, saying that his supporters “will multiply throughout the territory, special forces of rapid action, special troops of the militias … to make our homeland impregnable”
Two days before the Mother of All Marches, President Maduro on 17 April ordered the expansion of the Bolivarian Militia to involve 500,000 loyal Venezuelans, stating that each would be armed with a rifle and demanded the prevention of another event similar to the 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt.
Diosdado Cabello, a high-level PSUV official loyal to the Bolivarian government, stated that 60,000 motorized colectivos and the Bolivarian Militia would be spread throughout Caracas on 19 April “until necessary” to deter the opposition’s “megamarch”, calling their actions “terrorism”.
On 29 March 2017, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela took over legislative powers of the National Assembly. The Tribunal, mainly supporters of President Nicolás Maduro, also restricted the immunity granted to the Assembly’s members, who mostly belonged to the opposition.
The dissolution was considered by the opposition to be a “coup” while the Organization of American States (OAS) termed the action a “self-coup”. The decision was condemned by some media outlets with analysts characterizing the move as a turn towards authoritarianism and one-man rule.
Politicians throughout the Americas, as well as leaders from the United Nations, expressed concern with the decision and demanded its reversal, though the Venezuelan government stated no coup had taken place and instead justified its decision as a reaction to “coup-like actions” allegedly performed by the opposition.
On 1 April 2017, the TSJ reversed its decision. Public dissatisfaction with the decision persisted however, with the strengthening of the protests that year “into the most combative since a wave of unrest in 2014” resulting from the crisis.
Venezuela’s then top prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz rebuked Supreme Court power grab
Venezuela’s former chief prosecutor rebuked a Supreme Court decision stripping Congress of its last vestiges of power, amid a torrent of international condemnation over what many decried as a major step toward dictatorship.
Mother of all marches
The Mother of All, was a day of protests held on April 19, 2017 in Venezuela against the Chavista government of president Nicolás Maduro. The protests began after the Supreme Tribunal of Justice dissolved the National Assembly and took over its legislative powers March 29, 2017 in what was called a self-coup.
Opposition protesters originally marched peacefully until their path was blocked by Venezuelan authorities, with some looting and clashes resulting following the confrontation. By the end of that day, three Venezuelans were killed, two protesters and one National Guardsman, and over 500 were arrested.
In the first month of protests, April 2017, 33 Venezuelans died as a result of incidents surrounding the protests. A large proportion of the deaths occurred on 20 April 2017, with 16 deaths being attributed to looting occurring in Caracas that evening consisting of thirteen electrocution deaths and three firearm deaths. Venezuelan authorities were the cause of 7 other deaths that month; five firearm deaths, one tear gas canister wound and one asphyxiation from tear gas, while pro-government paramilitary groups known as colectivos, which cooperate with government security forces to repress protesters, were responsible for another 6 deaths, all the result of firearms. Deaths perpetrated by unknown individuals accounted for 4 Venezuelans killed in April; three gunshot wounds and one head injury.
Constituent assembly proposal
On 1 May 2017, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans protested, attempting to march to various government buildings to have their demands met.
President Maduro announced later that day plans to replace the National Assembly with a communal national assembly and called for the drafting of a new constitution under a handpicked constituent assembly, the third in modern times.
The move by President Maduro would also allow him to stay in power during the interregnum, essentially nullifying the 2018 presidential elections, as the constitutional process would take at least two years.
In the month of May, a total of 47 Venezuelans died following violence occurring near protests. Unknown perpetrators were the cause of death for 24 Venezuelans; twenty gunshot wounds, one head injury, two electrocutions and one unknown cause of death. Security forces were responsible for 16 deaths; all sixteen deaths attributed to firearms, while colectivos killed 2 individuals; all two resulting from firearms.
Tortures and abuses. In a 15 June statement, Human Rights Watch stated that high levels officials of the government, such as Major General Antonio José Benavides Torres, the head of the Bolivarian National Guard; Chief General Vladimir Padrino López, the defense minister and the strategic operational commander of the Armed Forces; Major General Néstor Reverol, the interior minister, General Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Major General Gustavo González López, the national intelligence director, and Captain Siria Venero de Guerrero, the military attorney general, are responsible for the human rights violations and abuses performed by Venezuelan security forces during the protests.
The UN decried a “widespread and systematic use of excessive force” against demonstrators, saying security forces and pro-government groups were responsible for the deaths of at least 73 protesters. UN rights office described “a picture of widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela”. “Witness accounts suggest that security forces, mainly the national guard, the national police and local police forces, have systematically used disproportionate force to instill fear, crush dissent and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions,” the rights office said.
In June, a total of 25 Venezuelans were killed during the protests. Fifteen deaths were attributed to unknown individuals, three deaths were caused by colectivos.
A total of 58 Venezuelans were killed in the month of July as protests culminated into the 2017 Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election. During the election day alone on 30 July, 10 individuals died as a result of violent clashes, representing a large number of those killed in the month.
On 5 July 2017, the National Assembly announced plans of a referendum for Venezuelans to decide whether they agree with the Constituent Assembly election, demanded the military to recognize the National Assembly or demanded immediate general elections. That day, Vice President Tareck El Aissami led government supporters to the Palacio Federal Legislativo, where the National Assembly was later attacked by colectivos.
Days later, the 2017 Venezuelan referendum was held on 16 July, with the opposition stating that about 7.5 million Venezuelans participated in the process, with over 99% voting against the Constituent Assembly, voting for the recognition of the National Assembly and voting for immediate general elections.
Venezuelan Constituent Assembly fraudulent election
Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election was held on 30 July 2017. The members of the Constituent Assembly were not elected in open elections but selected from social organizations loyal to Maduro. The majority of those elected into the 2017 Constituent Assembly of Venezuela were loyal to the Bolivarian government due to the opposition boycott of the election. More than 40 countries condemned the elections and raised concerns of Venezuela turning into a dictatorship.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, announced that 8,089,230 persons voted, with a 41.53% turnout though the voting machine company Smartmatic stated that the number of votes were manipulated by at least one million while Reuters also reported that according to internal CNE documents leaked to the agency, only 3,720,465 votes were cast thirty minutes before polls were expected to close, though polls were open for an additional hour.
The ANC was sworn in on 4 August 2017, and the next day declared itself to be the government branch with supreme power in Venezuela, banning the opposition-led National Assembly from performing actions that would interfere with the assembly while continuing to pass measures in “support and solidarity” with President Maduro, effectively stripping the National Assembly of all its powers.
Election preparations . After the government overcame mass protests and won two major disputed elections, one of which installed a constitutional superbody, the government rallied behind President Maduro, with government sources stating that elections were to be moved ahead to February or March 2018 instead of the planned late-2018 date.
On 11 December 2017, President Maduro announced that many of the main opposition parties, including Justice First and Popular Will, would be banned from participating in the 2018 presidential election for abstaining to participate in the 2017 municipal elections.
Venezuelan presidential election. In February 2018, Maduro’s government announced that elections would be held on 22 April 2018, less than three months before the date. Following weeks of controversy involving international condemnation and rejection of potential election results, the CNE delayed the election for a few additional weeks pushing for a 20 May 2018 election date.
The United Nations was asked, with a formal invitation and visit by the main candidates or their representatives, to send a delegation to monitor the election. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposed UN electoral observation in Venezuela. In the end, the UN refused to send a mission.
The Carter Center turned down Maduro’s invitation to send an observation team on election day, as did other election observing institutions.
Smartmatic, the electoral product company which had participated in the majority of elections under the Bolivarian government, ceased operations in its native country in March 2018, stating that they could not guarantee the validity of election results through its machines.
The election was mainly observed by allies of the Venezuelan government after many international bodies decided that there were no democratic guarantees in the country; the United Nations declined the invitation to monitor the election after members of the opposition asked the UN not to send observers.
On 23 March 2018 a United Nations official informed that the organization would not offer electoral assistance in the elections, without explaining the motives. Spokesperson Farhan Haq stated that a letter was sent to Venezuelan authorities regarding the request of electoral experts, but did not explain the content.
Nicolas Maduro was declared the winner in May 2018 after multiple major opposition parties were banned from participating, among other irregularities; many said the elections were invalid. Politicians both internally and internationally said Maduro was not legitimately elected and considered him an ineffective dictator.
“In the months leading up to his 10 January 2019 inauguration, Maduro was pressured to step down by nations and bodies including the Lima Group (excluding Mexico), the United States, and the OAS; this pressure was increased after the new National Assembly of Venezuela was sworn in on 5 January 2019.
The 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis came to a head when the National Assembly stated that the results of the May 2018 presidential election were invalid and declared National Assembly president Juan Guaidó as the acting president, citing several clauses of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution.