Caracas — Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly voted Tuesday to launch a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro for “breaking the constitutional order.” The Congress declared itself in open rebellion last Sunday and called for street demonstrations after the government last week postponed a referendum to force Maduro out of office this year.

The Democratic Unit (DU), the opposition coalition, was set to begin collecting signatures of 20 percent of eligible voters on Wednesday as part of the plan to hold a referendum this year. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked any chances of going further with that democratic strategy to get rid of a president whose actions have led to an economy that’s expected to contract by 10 percent this year. The inflation in Venezuela is at 475 percent and could rise to 1,660 percent in 2017, according to IMF predictions.

Venezuela opposition
Opposition MPs voted Tuesday, October 25 to launch a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro. Image credit: EFE/Crtistian Hernández.

The opposition party claims that the Congress is the only truly autonomous institution and that Maduro backs all others. Electoral officials, who are reportedly partial, last week, suspended the referendum process after arguing the opposition had committed fraud in the initial signature effort.

However, the National Electoral Council (CNE) itself had already validated the process. The CNE also postponed regional elections scheduled for later this year. Opposition leaders say the state is violating the constitution by not letting citizens vote for the future of their nation.

With almost every democratic venue closed, the DU is now using its power base in Congress to take legal action against the 53-year-old socialist leader. The National Assembly ordered Maduro to attend a session next Tuesday, but he’s highly unlikely to take that call seriously given that he controls the very Supreme Court that declared the Congress illegitimate.

About 8 million Venezuelans voted last December for those who represent today’s legislative power, but that doesn’t seem important to Maduro’s government. Vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz even described the National Assembly as nonexistent amid Supreme Court rulings that every measure taken in Congress is null.

As lawmakers were discussing how to proceed following the suspension of the referendum on Sunday, supporters of Maduro violently stormed into the National Assembly.

Instead of collecting the 20 percent of the signatures to hold the referendum, the opposition coalition will hold peaceful protests across the country starting Wednesday. The mass demonstration had been billed the “Taking of Venezuela.”

Venezuelans are expected to attend the call for peaceful rebellion as they face severe shortages of food and medicine and “a profound humanitarian crisis,” according to Human Rights Watch.

On Tuesday, students in the Andean city of Merida clashed with security forces while protesting and blocking a major road. Police used tear gas to squash them, and eight people resulted injured, according to social media reports.

Uncertainty about a peaceful dialogue mediated by the Vatican

Maduro’s opponents have agreed to participate in talks sponsored by the Vatican and other South American governments. The dialogue is scheduled for Oct. 30 in the Caribbean island of Margarita, but opposition leader Jesus Torrealba told CNN in Spanish on Tuesday that the Democratic Unit would only participate in the talks if they were to take place in the capital city of Caracas.

He explained to CNN’s Patricia Janiot that such an important event would require the presence of the media and the government might block access to the island so journalists could not be able to do their job. A journalist himself, Torrealba remarked that every Venezuelan had the right to be fully informed.

Accusations against Maduro

A new front in the assembly is targeting the president’s nationality. Opposition leaders claim Maduro was born in Colombia, which could make him ineligible to be president. He has ignored calls to show his birth document.

Several lawmakers on Tuesday argued Maduro had abandoned the presidency by neglecting his job as he went on a trip to Saudi Arabia without requesting the legal permission.

According to polls, more than 75 percent of Venezuelans reject Maduro’s government. Presidential elections could have been triggered, and a new president would have been elected if the referendum was to be held this year.

Maduro, Vatican
Maduro met Pope Francis privately at the Vatican on Monday and vowed to travel to Margarita to launch the talks himself. Image credit: EFE/ Miraflores Palace.

“If Maduro has dual nationality, he has no constitutional right to govern Venezuela,” said Juan Miguel Matheus, an opposition lawmaker, as reported by The New York Times. “He’ll go down as one of the biggest liars in history and the constitutional mechanisms to remove him from power and call new elections should be activated.”

Source: The New York Times