Blackouts, Poverty Plague Venezuela as Opposition Deputy Returns to Face Arrest
"Without electricity the National Assembly in the country with the largest proven oil reserves," observes one tweeter, disseminating a picture of Venezuela's legislature consumed by darkness. Even President Nicolás Maduro's radio show is offline as the country faces increasing blackouts on a day of high tension for the opposition.
María Corina Machado is on a plane to Caracas, to reclaim her position in the Parliament. Machado is among the most prominent opposition leaders in the country, and one of the few to remain outside of prison since Maduro's heightened repression of political dissidents. Legislative president Diosdado Cabello claimed to have stripped her of her powers as a lawmaker yesterday while the legislator remained in Lima, Perú, advocating for international aid in stopping the government-fueled violence in Venezuela.
From an airport in Lima, Machado announced that she was to return to the National Assembly and face the government. "I am a representative sent to the National Assembly and will remain a representative to the National Assembly," she told the crowd. "I know very well what my responsibilities and right are... they do not have the authority to remove a legislator."
Machado is expected in the National Assembly upon her arrival in Caracas, and may face arrest upon arriving. She insists that she has legislative immunity and cannot be arrested, though Cabello has argued that his stripping of her privileges as a legislator negates that.
Without legislative immunity, Machado faces charges of treason and murder for organizing protests against the dictatorship. Machado would be the latest in a string of arrests of public officials that began with the arrest of Popular Will party leader Leopoldo López. Daniel Ceballos, mayor of the opposition stronghold San Cristóbal, was convicted of encouraging violence among protesters and sentenced to a year in prison today.
"You wanted elections, right?" a wry Nicolás Maduro taunted opposition members upon the arrests of Ceballos and San Diego mayor Enzo Scarano. Maduro has called for a shift in focus from arresting protesters to arresting state leaders that oppose his socialist government, including three generals yesterday. Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of Miranda who ran against Maduro for President, has so far been spared of any antagonism, possibly due to his decision not to contest his election loss despite international observers witnessing fraud.
Meanwhile, the economic situation in Venezuela worsens. The National Assembly itself suffered two blackouts today in the middle of floor debate, while Caracas itself continues to suffer through periodic darkness. With the socialist economic wrecking the OPEC member nation, many of the country's poor have even bigger concerns than the lights going out. Thanks to Maduro's new rationing system, families must now fight at markets for basic food needs. In one market in Maracaibo, a large fight broke out among mothers lining up to buy the market's little remaining milk:
The country remains divided between the socialist oligarchy and average Venezuelans who are forced to see media institutions shut down and politicians arrested for their beliefs.