I think that it’s really important to stress what a huge deal what happened yesterday is, and what it means for Venezuelan democracy. You’ll remember that National Assembly Deputy Maria Corina Machado, a loud opponent of the government and a leader of the protest movement, was essentially impeached in the span of six minutes last night.
Venezuelan legislators have a certain amount of immunity from criminal liability. It is akin to what here in Canada is called “Parliamentary Privilege”, where legislators are granted immunity from liability (for example, for slander) during the course of their legislative duties. This immunity is granted for a number of reasons, chief among them so that legislators are not afraid to speak their mind on any issue. As a deputy of the National Assembly, Maria Corina Machado has such immunity.
However, there is a process whereby a member of the National Assembly who is suspected of being involved in criminal activity can have something done to them – an antejuicio de merito – which is the first step to impeachment and removal from office. If, for example, I have physical evidence that a National Assembly deputy is embezzling funds, I can present this evidence to the chamber, who can then choose to take the evidence to the attorney general. Once there, an investigation is conducted using the evidence (and by collecting new evidence). A kind of report is made, and the attorney general then gives an opinion as to whether or not a criminal act has taken place. If a criminal act has taken place, that information goes to the supreme court, which can then remove immunity from the deputy, at which time an impeachment can take place.
As you can imagine, this is an incredibly complicated legislative and judicial process. It should be! Legislative immunity is an important part of democracy, and accusations of criminal activity must be examined with the utmost care.
Yesterday, this process was condensed into exactly six minutes.
The video below is out of order. It’s broken up into three sections. I’m ignoring the first section (roughly the first 30 seconds) because it’s just Deputy Diaz saying there should be no impunity from the law.
The last section of the video starts at 3:50, but it is in fact the first in chronological order (note the time stamp on the bottom left showing 5:38 PM local time). The second section of the video starts at 0:34, but it is in fact the last in chronological order (note the time stamp on the bottom left showing 5:40 PM local time)
To watch the session as it happened in chronological order, start watching the video at 3:50, then wind back to 0:34.
Here is the video of the National Assembly proceeding yesterday:
I’ve translated the session below as it happened in chronological order. Starting with Deputy Diaz’s motion at the 3:50 mark in the video:
… this is why I request in the name of the chamber that all of these documents, that the evidence that the commission [created] to investigate the deputy [Machado], that – on top of that – be added the work that the Comision de Politica Interior [The Commission of Internal Politics] has been doing on the issue of all these acts of violence, be taken to the Fiscalia General de la Republica [the Attorney General’s Office] so that the Fiscal can determine if there is enough evidence to request the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia [Supreme Court] to call for the impeachment of Deputy Machado.
[Deputies chant “Justicia! Justicia! Justicia!”(Justice! Justice! Justice!)]
This isn’t about a political confrontation. This isn’t a personal issue. This is about serving the mandate that the people have given us. This is about [the fact that] this institution has to guarantee the rights of the people, because that’s what the Constitution says and that’s what we’ve sworn to do. And whoever makes an attempt against the right to life, the right to health, against the right to an education of the people, is violating the Constitution and is going against the rights of the Constitution.
And Diosdado’s speech, starting at 0:34:
… again, article, article one hundr– sorry, seventy nine. “While the National Assembly considers one issue, another one cannot be taken up. Unless it is proposed in an urgent manner, and it is so esteemed by a majority of those present. While the body debates and urgent matter, [the matter] cannot be deferred. At the same time, while a motion to defer is being discussed, an urgent matter cannot be taken up. When an urgent matter is being discussed, the National Assembly can create a permanent or special commission, which can then examine [the urgent matter] with due attention.
The deputy has the right according to Article 79. In no part of that [article does it say] to establish a debate. No… [responding to calls from the floor] no, that will be decided.
Now, what the Deputy has said… [people on the floor yelling] I’m asking you, please, the President is here, and I am here due to life circumstances [beyond my control]. Life circumstances! Not because I want to be. Not because I want to be. I’m asking you, please, return to your seats. Not because I want to be. Not because I want to be. But by life circumstances. You decide how you want to do this. You decide. I’ve always told you, it’s however you like it.
This fellow deputy has made a proposal before the country. For peace in this country. For justice. Because here, it looks like the [mass media] has said that “democracy” means that a President elected by a majority of the people has to step down because four impulsive bourgeois [people] want him to step down. No! President Nicolas Maduro will not resign. President Nicolas Maduro will not resign! It looks like that’s what’s democratic, right? No, no, no! No!
And deputy [Maria Corina], is an accomplice, an instigator of murders in this country. Murders! We have to call it by its proper name: murders! 29 dead [during the protests] in this country. But the democratic thing is for Nicolas to resign because she wants to be president? She will never be president of this country, do you hear me? Never! Remember that.
Now, she’s said during these past few days – something that draws our attention – that she was elected by the people, and that the people would decide if she would continue [to be a deputy]. Ah! So Nicolas wasn’t elected by the people? Do you understand now how the Venezuelan bourgeois is? She has a right, but Nicolas does not. Fascist! Terrorist!
The deputies who agree to immediately suspend this session and immediately head to the Fiscalia to officially submit our request for an investigation with the goal of impeaching this deputy so that she can answer before Venezuelan justice for crimes committed in this country since February 12, vote in the customary way [by raising your hand]. Revolutionary Majority! Approved! Let’s go directly to the Assembly… to the Fiscalia General to take this document requesting this investigation. No to impunity! If there is no justice, there will be no peace in this country!
Exactly six minutes, from the time Deputy Diaz called for the documents to be filed with the Fiscalia General to the time the voting on the motion was concluded.
On top of that, you also saw the president of the National Assembly (also the vice president of the country) calling Maria Corina a terrorist, a fascist, and a murderer. Diosdado is holding her personally responsible for the 29 deaths that have occurred during the protests. Not, “Well, the deaths are kind of her fault because…” – fully, directly, personally responsible for every single death.
There is no doubt that some of those killed during the protesters died as a result of actions of the protesters. There is also no doubt that some of those killed died as a result of actions by security forces or pro-government demonstrators. The very first student killed during the protests, Bassil da Costa, was killed by fire coming from a group of security officers/pro-government demonstrators.
Simply put, there are no grounds for holding Maria Corina Machado personally responsible for these deaths. There is no merit for calling her a terrorist, a fascist, or a murderer. The government’s intentions with this move are clear: to silence a major opposition voice.
Leopoldo Lopez has been in jail for a month now. There is now little doubt that Maria Corina Machado will soon be joining him.