Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday decided to empanel a “truth commission” to investigate the ongoing violence and deaths that have occurred since anti-government protests ignited across the country on February 12.
With a ruling party majority, the assembly appointed five members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and said it will allow the opposition to take four seats. But one of these will go to an alternative deputy, who has been leaning in recent weeks toward joining the bloc supporting President Nicolás Maduro.
Tuesday marked the first time in three weeks that the National Assembly had met. The session was mostly geared toward attacking opposition leader María Corina Machado, who, along with her jailed colleague, Leopoldo López, has led a campaign calling for Maduro’s ouster.
López has been in custody at the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas after he turned himself in on February 18, days after the violence began.
Tania Díaz, one of the ruling party’s lawmakers who will serve on the commission, presented an urgent motion in which she questioned whether any of her fellow deputies could be charged by the panel with committing the crimes it will be investigating.
Her suggestion was aimed at Machado, whom the government has publicly accused of helping foment the violence, which so far has left 29 people dead and more than 300 injured across Venezuela.
Venezuelan laws will be applied to María Corina Machado”
Shortly afterwards, Díaz called for the suspension of the session so that she and a group of PSUV deputies could go to the Attorney General’s Office to deliver a petition asking for a preliminary investigation that could lead to the lifting of Machado’s parliamentary immunity. A preliminary inquiry is the first step lawmakers face – followed by a chamber vote – before their parliamentary immunity is withdrawn and they can be put on trial.
Later on a video posted on YouTube, Machado accused the government of using all its means to silence the opposition.
“It has been made clear that Maduro’s intentions are to suppress the feelings of the people. The government has removed its mask and now we have discovered what he really is: a dictator,” she said, arguing that the president and his supporters are looking to stir up a civil war.
Machado was scheduled to leave for Washington later Wednesday to attend a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). The government of Panama, which has filed a petition calling for an investigation into the recent events in Venezuela, has offered her a seat on its committee so she can testify about the political and social crisis facing her country.
Last week, Maduro broke off relations with Panama, accusing the Central American nation of interference.
“So that there can peace, there must be justice without any impunity,” said National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello – who is considered the second-most-powerful politician in Venezuela – standing outside the Attorney General’s Office in Caracas.
He explained that in the petition there are allegations suggesting that Machado could have committed certain crimes, such as homicide, treason and criminal association.
“Venezuelan laws will be applied to María Corina Machado,” he said. “She thinks that because she comes from the privileged classes no one will mess with her.”
If she is convicted, Machado could face a lengthy prison term. Her alternate as deputy is Ricardo Sánchez, the opposition lawmaker Cabello appointed to the Truth Commission.
Eduardo Gómez Sigala, an opposition deputy from Lara state, said that his colleagues refuse to be part of any panel “that turns its back on the country, students and truth as we know it.”
Air Canada and DHL stop service
Airline Air Canada and logistics firm DHL both announced separately on Monday that they will no longer cover routes and direct service to and from Venezuela.
The Canadian carrier, based in Toronto, said that because of the “ongoing civil unrest in Venezuela” it “can no longer ensure the safety of its operation and has suspended flights to Caracas until further notice.” Air Canada had three direct weekly routes between Caracas and Toronto.
For its part, DHL, an affiliate of Deutsche Post, also said it was suspending all deliveries and operations to and from third countries, but would continue its services within Venezuela.
The decisions come on the heels of a major crisis between the Venezuelan government and international carriers over some $3.7 billion they are owed from costs stemming from currency controls. The government has made it difficult for airlines, as well as other foreign companies, to trade the bolivars they earn from sales into dollars because of a shortage of hard cash.
Colombia’s Avianca is among one of several carriers that have scaled down their flights to and from Venezuela. Other airlines, such as Luftansa, have begun using smaller aircraft for their own journeys. International Air Transport Association's CEO Tony Tyler said in a speech on March 12 that it was “unacceptable that the Venezuelan government is not playing by the rules to which it is treaty bound.”
During a political meeting on Saturday, Maduro warned that any carrier that abruptly stops its services to Venezuela will not be able to return in the future.