The Venezuelan opposition scored a major victory on Sunday July 16th, as millions of Venezuelans rejected the regime of Nicolas Maduro in a popular referendum.
This referendum, also called a “popular consultation” in legal terms, was organized by the Venezuelan opposition, approved by the legislative power (which is in the hands of the opposition), and disapproved by the Electoral National Council or CNE (which is totally being ran as a puppet of the Maduro government).
This public consultation was initiated by the opposition after three months of popular protests against the regime of Nicolas Maduro that left 100 people dead, including a woman killed on the day of the vote by government thugs, also known as “colectivos.” The idea of the referendum is embedded in Article 71 of the Venezuelan constitution of 1999 approved and supported by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez. According to this constitutional article, “issues of special national importance can be subjected to popular referendum either by initiative of the President, by a vote by the majority of the members of the National Assembly, or by a petition of a minimum of 10% of those who are registered to vote.
Likewise, the referendum finds ground in article 350 of the constitution that allows civil disobedience or non-recognition of a regime or authority whose behavior contradicts the values and principles of the Republic, fails to guarantee democratic governance, or undermines the rights of Venezuelan citizens.
The referendum was also conducted in reaction to Maduro’s call for a new constituent assembly that would reform the current constitution. Maduro’s constitutional reform has been widely interpreted as an attempt to consolidate the de-facto dictatorship he has imposed on the Venezuelan people. In fact, it is an anti-constitutional constitution.
Thus, the referendum sought to reject Maduro’s “constitutional” initiative by asking the question, “Do you reject the constitutional assembly without the previous approval of the people of Venezuela?” The consultation also poses the question, “are the Venezuelan Armed Forces to obey the 1999 Constitution and abide by the decisions of the National Assembly?”
This second question is the result of the fact that throughout the years the Chavez and Maduro regimes have co-opted the armed forces by purging certain officers and promoting others in order to subordinate the armed forces to the political project of the regime. Thus, the Armed Forces have ceased to be subjected to the constitution and the laws of the state and instead they have become tools of the regime’s prerogatives and arbitrary will.
The last question asked of the citizens is if they approve that the renewal of the public powers and the restoration of free elections is to be followed by a government of national unity.
The third question, in fact, asked the people if they are interested in new free elections that could lead to a transition from the current authoritarian rule.
The referendum was not approved by the CNE. Therefore, this body has claimed the result of the consultation is not binding. On the other hand, the opposition claims the results should be binding because the National Assembly has the constitutional authority to convene it.
Regardless of whether the Maduro government recognizes this referendum or not, or whether its results are legally binding or not, in a country where the government itself is illegitimate, the referendum reflects this very illegitimacy.
Interestingly enough, when the CNE decided not to provide its stamp of approval to the referendum, it also remained powerless to conduct any type of fraud. Elections organized and approved by the government have always been suspected of being fraudulent. In fact, in the last parliamentary election, where the opposition won the majority, Maduro attempted to manipulate the results. However, such move was halted by the Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino, most probably afraid of a popular uprising.
Now after Sunday’s victory, the National Assembly feels it has a mandate to name a new transitional government, new ministers, new electoral authorities, and new Supreme Court justices. (The “zero hour”)
This “zero hour” also means that the population is encouraged to resist and strike until the Maduro regime collapses.
But the “zero hour” also applies to us, the international community, and to the United States in particular.
This time the overwhelming defeat suffered by the Maduro government reflects the real will of the people and most importantly, their courage to express rejection of the Venezuelan dictatorship. The world must see this and react with the moral integrity that the situation requires. Respect the results of this referendum and support the opposition.
Latin American countries and the entire international community, including the United States, must recognize the results of the popular consultation as legitimate. Latin American presidents that supported OAS action on Venezuela must be the first ones to do it.
The world needs to proceed to apply sanctions, particularly mega sanctions. President Donald Trump must set the pace. Freeze the assets of CITGO, the American branch of the Venezuelan oil-giant PDVSA, and the main lobbying force in the U.S. on behalf of this dictatorship that is also a narco-state with ties to terrorists. The political and military leadership of Venezuela must be isolated, sanctioned, and their assets must be frozen. Dissidence must be encouraged among those who are part of the government. There have been already some acts of desertion within Chavista ranks, and this popular consultation may bring more defectors.
Latin American leaders and President Trump must make a courageous decision now. The world will hopefully follow.