Venezuela: Supreme Court rejects pro-coup 'amnesty' bill, Maduro sets up truth commission

April 17, 2016


The Venezuelan Supreme Court unanimously ruled on April 11 that a controversial “amnesty law” passed by the country's right-wing opposition-controlled parliament is unconstitutional, Venezuela Analysis said the next day.

The law, approved by Venezuela's National Assembly on March 29, would have exonerated dozens of people convicted of crimes over the last 17 years, Venezuela Analysis said. These included those responsible for 2014's deadly anti-government protests, in which dozens were killed, as well as those involved in the failed 2002 coup against then-president Hugo Chavez.

The failed coup against Chavez's elected, pro-poor government was a watershed moment in Venezuelan and Latin American history. Released documents have proven the US government was directly involved in the coup. With US backing, an alliance of military generals, media barons, capitalists and corrupt trade union leaders kidnapped Chavez and installed the head of the Chamber of Commerce as president.

A mass uprising of Venezuela's poor majority, along with loyal soldiers, overthrew the coup junta within 48 hours. Along with the defeat of a bosses' lockout later that year by mass mobilisation of the poor and working people, the momentum from this victory for popular power allowed the Chavez government to radicalise the Bolivarian Revolution

However, in recent years, economic problems worsened by an ongoing “economic war” by businesses and falling oil prices — as well as serious weaknesses in the revolution such as corruption and inefficiency — have allowed the right to wrestle back ground. In December parliamentary elections, the right-wing Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) won a majority — only the second win for the right in national elections since 1998.

The amnesty bill is a key part of the right's attempt to attack the revolution by “liberating” right-wing figures associated with often violent criminal acts — in the name of “freeing political prisoners”. Other measures include moves to pass a law that would privatise public housing that was built for the poor under the Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro governments.

Maduro had refused to approve the amnesty law, sending it to the Supreme Court to rule on it. Venezuela Analysis said Maduro submitted the bill to the court for review under Article 214 of the Constitution. The president said the law is an “affront” to victims of human rights violations and warned that its approval could lead to civil war.

Venezuela Analysis said: “In its verdict, the top court acknowledged the authority of the legislature to grant amnesties, but noted that this power 'does not permit the parliamentary majority to violate the constitutional spirit of rejection of injustice and institute impunity for the violators of fundamental rights'.

“Referring to sections of law that absolve persons convicted of offences such as 'conspiracy and terrorism', 'violence or resistance to authority', 'mutiny, civil rebellion, treason, military rebellion', the court stated that amnesty in these cases would compromise 'the rights of the victims to access justice.'”

In response, the opposition blasted the Supreme Court ruling. Venezuela Analysis said opposition deputy Freddy Guevara, a member of Lopez's far-right Popular Will party, said: “What has occurred today only reaffirms Venezuelans' convictions that we have to accelerate the exit of this government as soon as possible.”

Venezuela Analysis said Guevara was also a leader in 2014's violent opposition protests that resulted in the death of 43 people.

National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup accused the Surpreme Court of being “controlled” by the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who he said “ordered” the move.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHRC) also lashed out at the ruling, calling the law “an enormous push towards dialogue and reconciliation” and questioning the independence of Venezuela's judiciary.

Venezuela Anlaysis said that human rights groups, however, applauded the decision.

“With this ruling together with mobilisation in the streets, we have successfully defeated this law,” said Edgar Marquez, president of the Association of Victims of the April 11 Coup.

He added that the victims group feels “vindicated” that the verdict was released on April 11, which marks the 14th anniversary of the 2002 US-sponsored coup.

As an alternative to the Amnesty Law, Maduro announced the formation of a truth and justice commission on April 12. It is tasked with investigating the 2014 violence, known as the guarimbas.

Venezuela Analysis said: “Created at the behest of the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup, the commission will be headed by Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz and will include UNASUR General-Secretary Ernesto Samper, international Nobel Peace Prize laureates, representatives of different branches of government, members of the PSUV parliamentary block, and four spokespersons for the opposition.”

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