Venezuela’s Supreme Court has ordered “civil and military authorities” to carry out “coercive actions” in response to the appointments, but it is unclear what that will entail.
Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has called for protest marches on July 22 from seven points in the capital Caracas to the Supreme Court headquarters.
The opposition says the current justices are illegitimate, having been rushed into their positions shortly before the governing party lost its majority in 2015.
Since the opposition took over the National Assembly last year the court has consistently blocked all bills passed by Congress.
The opposition announced last week that it would appoint new judges and that it would also take the first steps to set up a national unity government. Analysts say such proposals raise the possibility of a parallel state structure.
On July 20, millions of Venezuelans joined a general strike called by the opposition.
At least three people were killed in clashes between police and protesters and there were more than 300 arrests.
Protesters barricaded roads in Caracas and other cities with rubbish and furniture.
The opposition said that 85% of the country joined the strike but President Maduro said its effect was minimal and that its leaders would be arrested.
Meanwhile, Colombia, France, Spain, the US and the EU have urged the Venezuelan government to cancel the vote for a new constituent assembly on July 30.
However, President Nicolas Maduro has rejected the calls.
Cecilia García Arocha, the rector of the Central University of Venezuela, said 6,492,381 people voted within the country and another 693,789 at polling stations abroad. However, the vote has no legal status.
The turnout is slightly less than the 7.7 million people who voted for opposition candidates at the 2015 parliamentary elections. There are 19.5 million registered voters in Venezuela.
Voting Yes or No to three questions, 98% rejected the new assembly proposed by President Nicolas Maduro and backed a call for elections before his term of office ends in 2019.
They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.
An official vote will be held on July 30 for a new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and to dissolve state institutions. However, critics say the new assembly could herald dictatorship.
The July 16 unofficial poll was held in improvised polling stations at theaters, sports grounds and roundabouts within Venezuela and in more than 100 countries around the world.
“They have convened an internal consultation with the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms, without electoral rulebooks, without prior verification, without further verification. As if they are autonomous and decide on their own,” he said.
Nicolas Maduro argues that the constituent assembly is the only way to help Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis.
Opposition leaders fear that the process of setting up a new constituent assembly and rewriting the constitution would almost certainly delay this year’s regional elections and the 2018 presidential election.
They also fear that the constituent assembly would further weaken the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislative body.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has surprisingly praised opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez’s jail release.
Leopoldo Lopez, one of Venezuela’s main opposition leaders, has been moved to house arrest after more than three years in jail.
He left a prison near Caracas and was reunited with his family on July 8.
Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza was serving a 14-year sentence for inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014, a charge he has always denied. The Supreme Court said he was released on health grounds.
President Maduro said he “respected” and “supported” the Supreme Court’s decision but called for “a message of peace and rectification” in Venezuela.
Hours after being freed, Leopoldo Lopez urged supporters to continue protesting in the streets against Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s opposition and international powers have long pressed for Lopez’s freedom. The head of the Organization of American States regional bloc, Luis Almagro, said the court’s decision offered an opportunity for national reconciliation.
Image source Flickr
Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles stressed “he must be given his full liberty together with all political prisoners”, Reuters reported.
Giving a glimpse of his son’s life behind bars, Leopoldo Lopez’s father told Spanish radio “a few days ago they had punished him with solitary confinement without light or water for three days”.
He said his son was now wearing an electronic tag so that the authorities could keep abreast of his movements.
Leopoldo Lopez’s wife had complained that she had not been allowed to see him for more than a month, but on July 7 she tweeted she had been allowed an hour-long meeting.
In May, a government lawmaker published a video of Leopoldo Lopez in his cell following rumors that he had been poisoned and taken to hospital.
In the video, Leopoldo Lopez – a Harvard-educated former mayor who has been prevented by the government from standing for public office – said he was well and did not know why he was being asked to prove he was still alive.
Venezuela has been experiencing a wave of anti-government protests similar to those over which Leopoldo Lopez was jailed.
The opposition is calling for early elections and the release of opposition politicians jailed in recent years, saying the socialist governments of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have mismanaged the economy since coming to power in 1999.
In an address from the presidential palace, Nicolas Maduro said the helicopter had flown over the Supreme Court and also the justice and interior ministries.
Officials quoted by Reuters said four grenades were dropped on the court and 15 shots had been fired at the interior ministry.
No injuries were reported but President Maduro said “a social event” had been taking place at the Supreme Court and the attack could have caused “dozens of deaths”. One of the grenades failed to detonate, he added.
Nicolas Maduro has placed the military on alert.
“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said.
“Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those who carried out this terror attack.”
The police officer identified himself as Oscar Pérez in video statements posted on the social media platform Instagram.
Appearing in military fatigues and flanked by armed, masked men in uniform, he appealed to Venezuelans to oppose “tyranny”.
Venezuela opposition has set up roadblocks and staged demonstrations demanding elections as the country’s political and economic crisis deepens.
Protesters responded with defiance to President Nicolas Maduro’s call for a new constitution to end unrest that has killed 28 people.
Nicolas Maduro said his move was necessary to fend off a foreign-backed plot against him.
The US said it was a bid to cling to power, while Brazil called it a “coup”.
President Maduro’s opponents want to hold a vote to remove him, blaming the left-wing president for food shortages that have led to rioting.
The president has rejected their calls and issued a presidential decree creating a 500-member “constituent assembly” to rewrite the constitution, a step that would bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Nicolas Maduro announced the step to thousands of his supporters at a May Day rally two days ago.
Elsewhere, security forces deployed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators.
Opposition leaders have called for a “mega protest” on May 3.
There has been widespread international criticism of the move.
The head of the Washington-based Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called it wrongheaded, unconstitutional and fraudulent.
The US state department spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick told reporters: “We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy.
“What President Maduro is trying to do yet again is change the rules of the game.”
Meanwhile, Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes called the move a “coup”.
“It’s another step in breaking the democratic order, which contradicts the country’s own constitution,” he said.
In Venezuela itself, in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, lawmakers voted to reject the new body with many saying President Nicolas Maduro was attempting to sideline the legislature and avoid new elections.
Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013 to succeed the late Hugo Chavez, a popular figure who introduced wide-ranging social welfare programs.
The government has called on its supporters to hold rival marches.
Venezuela is deeply divided between those who support the government of the socialist President Nicolas Maduro and those who blame him for the economic crisis and want him gone from power.
Image source Wikimedia
There has been a series of anti-government protests in Caracas and other major cities, as well as marches by government supporters.
In their joint statement, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay rejected the violence, which led to the deaths of six people during the recent demonstrations.
The Latin American countries called on President Nicolas Maduro “to prevent any violence against protesters” and also called on opposition groups “to exercise their right to demonstrate responsibly so that the day remains peaceful with people expressing themselves calmly”.
They also called on the Venezuela government to quickly set dates for elections to be held “to solve the grave crisis which Venezuela is experiencing and which worries the region”.
Regional elections originally due to be held in December 2016 were postponed by the electoral council to 2017, but a date has not yet been set.
Municipal elections are also due to be held in 2017.
Minister Delcy Rodriguez also wrote that “these governments misuse international law to back interventionism in Venezuela to attempt to govern the country from abroad”.
Delcy Rodriguez ended a series of tweets by saying that “there is no imperialist force in this world which can defeat the sovereign people of Venezuela”.
Correspondents say Nicolas Maduro’s acknowledgement that Venezuela needs outside help is indicative of the dire situation the country is in, despite having some of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Venezuela’s newley appointed vice-president, Tareck El Aissai, has been added to the US narcotics “kingpin” sanctions list after being accused of involvement in international drug trafficking.
Sanctions were also slapped on wealthy businessman Samark Lopez, described as Tareck El Aissami’s “primary frontman”.
Tareck El Aissami was appointed last month by President Nicolas Maduro.
There was no immediate response from the vice-president or Samark Lopez, but Tareck El Aissami has previously denied criminal ties.
The sanctions freeze Tareck El Aissami’s assets in the US and bar him from entering the country.
Image source Flickr
The US Treasury statement says Tareck El Aissami facilitated huge shipments of narcotics from Venezuela by air and sea. It also says he was in the pay of convicted Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled for the protection of drug shipments.
John E. Smith, acting director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the sanctions were “the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities.
Tareck El Aissami was previously the governor of Aragua state and served as minister of the interior and justice in Venezuela from 2008 to 2012.
US media, citing leaked intelligence documents, say Tareck El Aissami has also been under investigation in the US for suspected ties to the militant group Hezbollah.
During his time as interior minister, fraudulent Venezuelan passports ended up in the hands of members of the Lebanese group, it is claimed.
Earlier this month, 34 members of the US Congress sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
They said that Tareck El Aissami’s appointment as vice-president put him in line to become Venezuela’s next leader which, they said, was “troubling given his alleged ties to drug trafficking and terrorist organizations”.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has announced the withdrawal of the 100-bolivar banknote will be delayed until January 2, 2017.
The sudden change of policy comes after days of economic chaos.
In a TV address, President Maduro claimed Venezuela had been the victim of international sabotage, which had prevented new 500-bolivar currency notes arriving in time.
Many Venezuelans have spent several days in long queues trying to hand in or swap the old notes.
Thousands of stores have closed because of a cash shortage, and the public have been forced to rely on credit cards or bank transfers. Many were left unable to buy food.
Anger over the move led to skirmishes in six cities on December 16, the Associated Press reported. It said 32 people were taken into custody and one person was injured.
In the capital, Caracas, people waved their 100-bolivar bills in the air and chanted “they’re useless!” – then turned and ran as police in riot gear fired tear gas.
Nicolas Maduro’s government had said the scrapping of the 100-bolivar note was necessary to prevent smuggling.
The president said the aim was to tackle gangs which hoard Venezuelan currency abroad, a move he has previously described as part of the “economic war” being waged against his government.
Nicolas Maduro has said the gangs hold more than 300 billion bolivares worth of currency, most of it in 100-bolivar notes.
He said there were “entire warehouses full of 100-bolivar notes in [the Colombian cities of] Cucuta, Cartagena, Maicao and Buaramanga”.
Nicolas Maduro said one reason for withdrawing the banknotes was to block any of the 100-bolivar notes from being taken back into Venezuela so the gangs would be unable to exchange their hoarded bills, making them worthless.
Venezuela’s central bank data suggests there are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, making up almost half of the country’s currency.
Economic experts fear scrapping the 100-bolivar note will have little positive effect on Venezuela’s chronic economic and political problems.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has ruled out holding early elections amid calls from opposition groups for him to resign.
In a TV address, Nicolas Maduro said “nobody should get obsessed with electoral processes that are not in the constitution”.
The president’s comment comes a day after the government and opposition groups agreed on a road map to resolve Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.
President Maduro’s term ends in early 2019.
The opposition blames him and his government for the dire state of Venezuela’s economy.
Image source Wikimedia
Venezuela is suffering from sky-high inflation and there are shortages of many basic goods, including medical supplies.
According to a recent poll, more than three-quarters of Venezuelans are unhappy with Nicolas Maduro’s leadership.
However, an attempt by the opposition to organize a referendum to oust Nicolas Maduro from office has stalled after the Supreme Court ruled that there had been fraud during the early stages of the process.
The move caused outrage among opposition groups which then began to call for early elections as an alternative way to remove Nicolas Maduro from his post.
Speaking on his weekly TV program on November 13, Nicolas Maduro asked: “An electoral way out? Way out to where?”
Negotiators for the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and the government met on November 11 for two days of Vatican-backed talks on how to end the political and economic crisis.
They released a joint statement in which they pledged to “live together in peace” and laid out a road map on how to defuse the situation.
While there was no mention of early elections in the joint statement, opposition lead negotiator Carlos Ocariz later announced that the MUD coalition would stay at the negotiating table only until it obtained early elections or a recall referendum.
After ruling out early elections, Nicolas Maduro mocked Carlos Ocariz’s statement saying that “it makes me very happy that the MUD will continue in the dialogue until December 2018”.
December 2018 is when the next presidential election is due to be held if no early polls are called.
The next round of talks between the opposition and the government is scheduled for December 6.
However, a number of opposition leaders have already called for protests, which had been halted as a sign of goodwill ahead of the talks, to resume.
Venezuela’s opposition leaders have staged a general strike to push for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power.
Many stores, businesses and schools stayed closed on October 28 and public transport was quieter than usual.
However, adherence to the strike was patchy and poorer areas largely ignored it.
Nicolas Maduro, who had warned companies they risked being seized if they joined the strike, said the walkout had failed.
Speaking to crowds of supporters, the president said the oil industry had ignored the strike, as had basic industries, banks, schools and transport.
Nicolas Maduro also announced measures to offset economic hardship – mostly caused by plummeting oil prices – by promising to implement a 40% rise of the minimum wage. It was the fourth increment this year.
The move has been dismissed by analysts as insignificant when the country faces spiraling inflation.
The center-right opposition coalition is also angry over a decision to block a referendum on removing Nicolas Maduro from power in Venezuela.
The coalition won a majority in the National Assembly last December and staged huge anti-government protests earlier this week.
The mass demonstrations came after a recall referendum process – an attempt to remove Nicolas Maduro from power – was suspended.
Opposition activists had gathered about 1.8 million signatures petitioning for the referendum, 400,000 of which were validated by electoral authorities.
The process was halted last week after officials said the signature collection process had been marred by fraud.
Parliament voted on October 25 to open a trial against Nicolas Maduro, whom lawmakers accuse of violating the constitution.
The president called it a “political trial” and said anyone who violated the constitution by launching it should be jailed.
Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation and widespread food shortages.
In turn, he has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, a recall referendum can be held once a president has served half of his term in office and the requisite steps are met.
So far, the opposition has only completed the first step of the process.
In a surprise move, Venezuela opposition and the government are to meet for crisis talks, the Vatican says, after an intervention from Pope Francis.
Protests have been held in recent days over the suspension of a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro.
The move came after Nicolas Maduro met Pope Francis in an unannounced visit.
The Vatican and regional bloc Unasur will mediate in the talks.
Pope Francis “urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue”, the Vatican said in a statement.
After meeting representatives from both sides, the Vatican’s envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, said “a national dialogue” had already started.
He said they had agreed to formal talks on Sunday on Margarita island in the Caribbean.
Nicolas Maduro said “at last” dialogue could begin.
The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, who met Emil Paul Tscherrig, said while talks were important “it can’t continue to be a strategy for the government to win time”.
Another top opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, dismissed the announcement as a diversionary ploy.
“No dialogue has begun in Venezuela,” he said.
Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and spiraling inflation.
The opposition is trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office but electoral authorities suspended the process last week.
The official reason was allegations of fraud during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required to enable the referendum.
However, opposition lawmakers have long accused the National Electoral Council of being under the government’s control.
In an emergency session of the National Assembly on October 23, they approved a resolution accusing Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist government of engaging in “an ongoing coup d’etat”.
The Organization of American States also said it was “profoundly worried” by the electoral authorities’ decision.
Hundreds of students protested on October 24 in San Cristobal, a city near the Colombian border. Nationwide protests are planned for October 26.
Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.
Cuba’s ex President Fidel Castro has made a rare public appearance at an event to mark his 90th birthday on Saturday, August 13.
Fidel Castro appeared at a gala in Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre with his brother, President Raul Castro, and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
In his first public appearance since April, Fidel Castro appeared frail and remained seated during the event.
Fidel Castro, who stood down in 2008, had earlier attacked President Barack Obama in a newspaper column.
The former Cuban leader criticized President Obama for not apologizing to the people of Hiroshima for the nuclear bomb dropped there by the US in World War Two.
Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May.
Fidel Castro wrote: “He lacked the words to ask for forgiveness for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people.”
Ties between the United States and Cuba have been restored under Raul Castro’s presidency, but after a visit by Barack Obama to Havana in March, Fidel Castro wrote that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything”.
The gala in Havana focused on key moments of Fidel Castro’s life, including the CIA-backed invasion attempt in the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
A large street party was also held in Havana on August 12, and fireworks exploded when the clock hit midnight.
According to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, a referendum the opposition is trying to recall him will not take place this year.
There was no time to organize the recall referendum, said Nicolas Maduro.
On June 10 the National Electoral Council (CNE) declared more than 600,000 signatures on a petition for the referendum invalid.
Venezuela’s opposition says the electoral authorities are working alongside the government to derail the process.
Opposition leaders say their signatures on the petition have also been invalidated, revealing the electoral council’s bias.
Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is among those who say their signatures have been ruled out for “failing to meet the requirements”.
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, described the move as “shameful” and “a provocation”.
Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition of fraud and said he would ask the Supreme Court on June 13 to annul the process.
“If they meet the requirements, the recall referendum will take place next year, full stop” said Nicolas Maduro at a rally in Caracas.
“If they don’t meet the requirements, there will be no recall referendum, full stop.”
Timing is essential for both sides. If the referendum is held by January 10, 2017, and President Nicolas Maduro loses, a new election will be called.
If it is held after January 10, 2017, and the vote goes against Nicolas Maduro, his vice-president takes over and remains in power until the end of the presidential term, in January 2019.
The opposition handed over the petition on May 2.
It said it had gathered the signatures of 1.85 million voters backing a recall referendum, many more than the 197,000 needed at this initial stage. The CNE said on June 10 there were 1.97 million signatures on the list.
The voters whose signatures have not been struck off by the CNE – more than 1.3 million people – will need to turn up at regional electoral offices to confirm their identities later this month.
They will have five days from June 20 to have their signatures checked, CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced on June 10.
Henrique Capriles urged voters to get ready to comply with the CNE demand and go to government offices to have their identities checked later this month.
Venezuela is in a serious economic crisis, which the opposition blames on mistaken left-wing policies of Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.