April 19th is a red-letter day in Venezuela: on this date in 1810, Venezuelans began their drive for independence from Spain. This year, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets throughout the country in another protest for political change in Venezuela, demanding that President Nicolas Maduro and his government respect the autonomy of the democratically-elected National Assembly and restore democratic norms, schedule long-delayed elections, and free political prisoners.
Since President Maduro took office in 2013, low oil prices, wide-spread mismanagement, and corruption have resulted in a deep economic crisis.
Maduro’s government has delayed gubernatorial elections that were to be held last year derailed a recall referendum against his government, and jailed, threatened or otherwise is seeking to silence the political opposition.
In January 2016, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the democratically elected National Assembly to be in contempt and nullified all its decisions. In two decisions in late March, 2017, the Court formalized its takeover of the legislative powers of the Assembly; even as the President then had the court partially reverse course, this series of actions ignited popular demonstrations in support of democracy.
“Venezuela has been witness in recent weeks to ongoing social protests, ever since the Supreme Court demonstrated its lack of independence from the Executive Branch,” said Acting State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner.
“We call again upon the Government of Venezuela to fulfill the commitments it made as part of a dialogue process last Fall: to hold prompt elections; to respect the constitution and the National Assembly; to provide for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners; and, to tend to the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people.
“We also again remind the public forces – members of the Police, the Army and the National Guard – as well as members of the judiciary, of their legal and constitutional responsibilities to protect, not prevent, peaceful demonstrations,” he said.
“Those responsible for the criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity, for the undermining of democratic institutions and practices, and for gross violations of human rights, will be held individually accountable for their actions by the Venezuelan people and their institutions, as well as by the international community.”