Venezuela: Parliament Approves Contentious Amnesty Law, Potential Reforms to Supreme Court

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas

Opposition lawmakers rushed through a contentious amnesty law on Tuesday, following months of staunch opposition from leftist politicians and civil society.

The now infamous “amnesty law” was introduced as a signature bill by the National Assembly’s incoming opposition majority in January.

The new law will pardon hundreds of individuals convicted of crimes such as “violence or resistance to authority,” “military rebellion” and “damage to transport systems, public services” over the past seventeen years– provided that the felonies were committed as part of anti-government political protests.

Anyone convicted of the 33 crimes outlined in the legislation will be effectively categorised as a political prisoner and subject to pardon.

The bill has been dubbed a “law of impunity” by government officials and supporters, who maintain that the opposition is looking to reprieve those who have attempted to illegally topple the country’s leftist government over almost two decades.

The controversial legislation was finally passed on Tuesday after opposition lawmaker Delsa Solórzano reportedly requested that it be included in parliament’s agenda at the last minute.

“Live with #Periscope. We have fulfilled our duty to VENEZUELA, today we approved the Law for Amnesty and National Reconciliation in 2 discussion,” tweeted Solórzano.

While opposition lawmakers maintain that the legislation will not grant a pardon to those convicted of homicide or human rights abuses, pro-government legislators have derided the approval of the law as a carte blanche to commit further crimes.

“We cannot apply a law which violates all Venezuela’s laws, which violates human rights, which violates international rights. We cannot apply a law which defends the corrupt, which defends terrorists and shysters and murderers,” stated United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator Hector Rodriguez.

The opposition has also come under fire for passing the law without due process or adherence to internal parliamentary norms.

Discrepancies include failing to carry out a public consultation on the law, calling secret meetings for the commission designated to develop the bill, not having officially included the discussion of the law in parliament’s agenda and failing to submit a necessary “final report” due to its incompletion.

On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, also moved to condemn the legislation, dubbing it a law for “terrorists and drug dealers”.

Over the next ten days the law will be sent to the president for approval, although Maduro has publicly vowed to block it.

If the executive rejects the law more than once, it will be sent to the Supreme Court (TSJ) for a final verdict.

The country’s top judiciary could block the legislation if it stands in violation of the Constitution and other existing laws.

On the other side of the political spectrum, opposition leaders applauded the law’s approval.

Lilian Tintori, whose right-wing politician husband Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to thirteen years  for his leading role in 2014’s violent street barricades that killed 43 people, congratulated opposition legislators for their work.

“We are grateful to the lawmakers for the work that they done over the last few months #AmnestyIsLiberty,” she tweeted.

Nonetheless her message was met with scorn by some followers.

“Hang on, what have they actually done? They haven’t approved anything to solve the country’s problems just pay favours,” replied user Dervis Vallenilla.

On the same day the legislation was passed, anti-government violence erupted in Tachira state killing two police officers.

Supreme Court

The National Assembly also approved a law in first discussion to reform the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ)– which has moved to block a number of parliamentary motions since January due to their unconstitutional nature.

Amongst other initiatives, the law proposes increasing the number of leading Supreme Court judges from seven to fifteen– ostensibly in a bid to pack the tribunal with opposition-allied judges who are appointed by Congress.

Pro-government lawmakers accused their opposition counterparts of attempting to subvert Venezuela’s system of checks and balances in response to the bill.

“Understanding that the TSJ will not allow them to carry out a parliamentary state coup, they are now presenting a bill to reform the law of the TSJ,” explained PSUV legislator Pedro Carreño.

The opposition have openly testified that the law aims to prevent the TSJ from vetoing their initiatives.


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