López Rejects Dialogue as CNE Begins Signature Validation Process

The opposition leader dismissed the possibility of dialogue with the government unless a recall referendum is guaranteed.

By LUCAS KOERNER
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Leopoldo Lopez takes part in violent anti-government protests in 2004. (Archive)
Leopoldo Lopez takes part in violent anti-government protests in 2004. (Archive)

Caracas, June 20, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López dismissed on Sunday the possibility of dialogue with the government unless the latter guarantees a recall referendum this year against incumbent Nicolas Maduro.

“No dialogue can stand above the constitutional right that a recall referendum against [President] Nicolas Maduro be held this year in 2016,” he published on Twitter.

The statement echoes remarks by fellow leaders of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, who have slapped a host of other preconditions on possible talks with the government, such as the release of all so-called “political prisoners”, the solution to the “humanitarian crisis”, and “respect” for the laws passed by the opposition-held parliament. 

Maduro, for his part, has welcomed the UNASUR-mediated dialogue efforts, announcing three “proposals” of his own, including the creation of a truth and justice commission, the convening of a meeting between the different branches of government to resolve constitutional disputes, as well as an “agreement for peace and non-violence”.

Earlier this month, Lopez was permitted a private meeting with former Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, who is part of the UNASUR mediation team, in what was widely seen as a gesture of good-will on the part of the Chavista government.

According to a recent survey by the independent polling firm Hinterlaces, approximately 74% of Venezuelans support talks between the government and the opposition to resolve the country’s severe economic crisis.

Lopez’s call for a recall referendum comes as the National Electoral Council (CNE) begins validation of the over 600,000 signatures collected by the MUD as part of the first step towards triggering a recall.

Signatories will have until the end of the week to present themselves at one of the 128 CNE offices nationwide in order to biometrically validate their signature.

The CNE has indicated that the validation phase will be complete by July 26, at which time the MUD request for a recall will be formally accepted and a three-day period for the collection of a further 3.8 million signatures will be subsequently announced.

Opposition leaders have accused the CNE of deliberately stalling the process in order to prevent a referendum from being held this year.

The Maduro government has fired back that the MUD delayed months in initiating the process due to internal divisions and that a recall referendum is not guaranteed for this year since the procedure requires a total of 238 days.

Lopez and his hard right-wing Popular Will (VP) party have only recently thrown their support behind the recall referendum as the opposition’s principal strategy for removing Maduro.

 In February, VP National Coordinator Freddy Guevara called for “massive non-violent street pressure” to force Maduro’s resignation in addition to proposing a constitutional amendment to retroactively shorten the presidential term by two years, which was torpedoed by the Supreme Court in April. 

Lopez is currently serving a 13-year prison term for his role in leading 2014’s violent anti-government street protests aimed at ousting of the democratically-elected leftist president, which left 43 dead, the majority of whom state security personnel and passerby.

The Harvard-educated lawyer is set to attend a hearing Monday at Venezuela’s Court of Appeals, which he hopes will overturn his conviction.

Also present at the hearing was Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, the ex-justice minister under right-wing Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, who has recently joined Lopez’s defense team.