International Community Responds to Venezuela’s Political Unrest

By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas

The international community has responded with mixed opinions to Venezuela’s current political turmoil, which has seen violent clashes between opposition demonstrators and state security forces in eastern Caracas.

For more than a week opposition protestors have taken to the streets demanding “respect for the [opposition-controlled] National Assembly, humanitarian aid, freedom of political prisoners and elections” in the South American country.

The demonstrations initially began in response to a controversial and later annulled Supreme Court (TSJ) ruling on March 29 giving the judiciary temporary powers to assume certain functions of the National Assembly, which is currently in violation of the high court. However renewed protests were also called this past weekend after former opposition presidential candidate and current Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski was banned from holding office for fifteen years by the Comptroller General’s office for “illicit administrative practices”.

Sectors of the opposition responded by mounting roadblocks, ransacking public property including a school, attacking members of the security forces, and carrying out arson attacks on public institutions such as the Supreme Court. Illegal wildcat marches have also been held by the MUD opposition coalition, which has accused the government of reacting with “repression” to the unrest. For its part, the national government has rejected the violence and says that the opposition is deliberately promoting chaos in a bid to bring about regime change in Venezuela.

In a brief statement released Monday, the European Union officially addressed the stand-off, calling on “all parties to find common ground and end the violence,” which the body criticized for having increased divisions in the country.

Nonetheless, the organization appeared to take aim at the national government in the communique for employing excessive “use of force” against the protesters. It also condemned the Comptroller General’s ban against Governor Capriles, but did not comment on the validity of the charges against the opposition politician.

“Heavily sanctioning the opposition – most recently an opposition politician Henrique Capriles Radonski who was banned from political life for 15 years – does not help to lower the unrest and the tensions in the country,” it reads.

The opposition governor also received support from Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, who backed Capriles in a tweet over the weekend.

“We are with liberty and democracy. Our solidarity with @hcapriles,” read the tweet.

Closer to home, rightwing Argentine President Mauricio Macri also waded into the standoff, accusing the Venezuelan government of human rights violations and alleging that the country did “not count as a democracy”.

In an interview with German television channel Deutsche Welle, Macri confirmed that his government would seek to expel Venezuela from the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) should the standoff persist.

Venezuela’s membership at the organization repeatedly came under fire in 2016, after the allied governments of fellow member-states Brazil and Argentina were replaced with hostile rightwing administrations.

In a meeting in Buenos Aires on April 1,  Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay issued a joint statement calling on Venezuela to reestablish “effective separation of powers” or face expulsion from the commercial body.

Earlier in the week, Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who backed dialogue as a solution to the country’s political strife.

“We trust that, through an agreement between parties, Venezuelans will restore their democracy,” commented the head of state.

For its part, the Foreign Ministry of Mexico released a cautious statement calling for “all parties to refrain from resorting to violence or provocation and resolve their differences through peaceful means”.

The reactions come just a week after fifteen member-states at the Organization of American States (OAS), including Argentina, Mexico, the US and Canada, signed a controversial statement during an extraordinary meeting denouncing an altercation in Venezuela’s constitutional order. The statement was vehemently protested by other OAS member-states, who accused the countries of bypassing OAS protocol to intervene in Venezuelan politics.

Meanwhile other governments in the Latin American region have once again come to the Venezuelan government’s defense in the face of the attacks from the opposition and OAS.

From the fifteenth Political Congress of the ALBA-TCP (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America- Commercial Treaty of Peoples) in Havana this Monday, member states backed a document rejecting the violent actions of the opposition, as well as the “interventionist” designs of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.

In March, Almagro tried to have the OAS’ Democratic Charter applied against Venezuela in a bid to force the country’s suspension from the bloc, but the move was not backed by the majority of member-states.

“Let us defend the sovereignty, independence and peace of Venezuela… The Foreign Ministers of the member countries of the ALBA reject the manipulations and attacks against our sister Republic of Venezuela…which threatens its sovereignty, independence and stability, as well as that of the whole region,” stated Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, reading from the ALBA’s final approved text.

The regional body also demanded that the OAS explain its “political selectivity” as well as its silence over human rights violations committed in Latin American countries such as Mexico and Colombia, which are allied with the US.

The ALBA-TCP includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nieves, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as Suriname as a guest member.

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