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Suffocating civil society

On Friday, August 4, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ by its Spanish acronym) issued an intervention measure of the Venezuelan Red Cross (VRC), in response to a request for a precautionary measure filed by the general prosecutor imposed by the illegal national constituent assembly. The request for the precautionary measure, in turn, occurred after Diosdado Cabello made complaints against the president of the VRC in his program on July 19. In this way, once again the pattern of televised complaints by Cabello that are immediately accepted by the Public Ministry and transferred to justice is repeated.

The following Friday, the same Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ decided on an appeal for amparo that led to the intervention of the Communist Party of Venezuela and the appointment of a new leadership in the oldest political organization in the country. This was the culmination of a process that began when the communist party, an ally of the ruling party from the very beginning, began to disagree with the positions of the executive branch. The amparo, additionally, was promoted by persons outside the party who did not have legal qualifications to exercise the action.

In June 2020, the TSJ had suspended the leadership of the Acción Democrática and Primero Justicia parties and in July of the same year the Voluntad Popular party was intervened, while in 2019 it had imposed a new leadership in the Social Christian party COPEI. Previously, in 2015, the TSJ intervened in the Podemos party, appointing an open ally of the ruling party as its president.

On the other hand, according to a report by the Coalition of Human Rights University Centers, only between 2012 and 2015, the Electoral Chamber of the TSJ issued 43 sentences that affect electoral processes in universities in the country. In fact, the Electoral Chamber of the TSJ issued a measure that suspended the elections of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) scheduled for 2011 and it was not until June 2023 when a new election of authorities was finally held in that house of studies.

In the spirit of the policy of cohabitation that has been tacitly imposed between the government and opposition actors, which also includes some sectors of civil society, it is observed that in the VRC’s supervisory board there is not only a former president of Fedecámaras (organization that brings together the business community of Venezuela) but the vice-rector of the recently elected authorities of the UCV.

In this way, to the imposition of restrictions through the courts, the cooptation of people with a certain representativeness is added to give a veneer of legitimacy to arbitrary decisions. Thus, the suffocation is not produced only by the progressive deprivation of oxygen, but by the submission of sectors of the same civil society that have decided to dose their criticism to take advantage of political bubbles as supposed opportunities that are reversed against the few independent spaces that subsist in the country, either inadvertently or despite being aware that it is an instrumentalization that degrades the institutional framework.

What is not achieved by either of these two paths is imposed using unconstitutional laws such as the anti-hate law and the anti-terrorism law, which are constantly applied as tools of political repression, as in the cases of the journalist Roland Carreño, the human rights defender Javier Tarazona and the six social fighters and trade unionists detained since July 2022 and recently sentenced to 16 years in prison.

It has been a long but sustained process of closing the civic space that also goes through other restrictive regulations and practices that impose barriers to the legal existence of independent social organizations and critics of the arbitrariness of the dictatorship.

The international community must bear in mind that, without Ortega’s stridency in Nicaragua, Maduro is aiming at the same purpose: the suffocation of civil society. The fact that the decisions in Venezuela come out of the TSJ or other courts does not make them different in their effects from those that come out of Ortega’s pen, since the result is similar, so the alarms must go off with the same determination.