Deprivation of Citizenship as Political Punishment

Just when the government increases pressure on the opposition pre candidates, a lawmaker talks about following the Nicaraguan way

In a new episode of the never-ending tragic-comedy that is Venezuelan politics, a troubling twist has emerged: members of the ruling Chavista party are considering stripping opposition leaders of their citizenship due to their support for sanctions imposed on individuals and state-controlled companies.

Last week, Ileana Medina, a deputy of the National Assembly and general secretary of the PPT (Patria para todos, a PSUV ally, ironically meaning motherland for everyone), floated the idea in an interview with propagandist Michel Caballero on the podcast Hablando Claro. During the 30-minute program, both speakers launched vitriolic attacks against the entire opposition leadership. In a stern and serious tone, Medina stated, “Look, I can tell you that there’s a group of people who want to propose that the Constitution undergo significant reforms. For example, they suggest that those reprehensible and criminal behaviors of these individuals should…result in the loss of nationality.” According to her, these individuals “have broken the most important spiritual ties that bind a citizen to their homeland: breaking the spiritual ties.” Caballero then inquired, “Would you support the existence of a legal instrument through which these individuals permanently lose their nationality?” to which she replied emphatically, “Absolutely.” Juan Guaido, Leopoldo Lopez, Julio Borges and others were the names mentioned by Medina.

The ambiguity in the Constitution’s stipulations highlights the complexity of this issue. The CRBV (the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s constitution) states in the 2nd Chapter, Articles 39 and 42, that Venezuelan citizens who are not subject to political disqualification or civil interdiction are entitled to political rights and duties. The suspension of citizenship or any political rights can only be done through a final court ruling in cases determined by law. This vague legal jargon provides the Chavismo an open path to reformulate and manipulate the constitution as they please. Additionally, with the absolute majority in the National Assembly and control over other branches of power, Chavismo can bend (or break) the Constitution with carte blanche.

This display of power illustrates how political systems, especially autocratic and tyrannical regimes, have historically eliminated adversaries and silenced dissenting voices. In the past, even in the ancient Greek democracy, the practice of Atimia or Atimoi was used to strip individuals of their rights as citizens. Disenfranchised citizens (atimos) could be abused with impunity, deprived of property, exiled, or even killed. They were also denied various privileges reserved for Athenian citizens, such as participating in the assembly, serving as a juror, bringing public or private suits, giving evidence in court, holding a magistracy, visiting the Agora or sanctuaries, and giving evidence in court. In modern times, some Latin American regimes, such as the Nicaraguan, have utilized similar legal devices to incriminate and disqualify political opponents. For instance, in a troubling move, the Ortega-Morillo regime stripped 94 Nicaraguans of their citizenship last February, labeling this modern Atimos “Traitors of the motherland.”

This alarming discourse in Venezuelan politics raises concerns about the path Chavismo is taking. After the efforts by Lula, Fernandez, and Petro to usher Venezuela back into the international community, some believed it would change its traditional approach with political adversaries. In addition, the Celac-EU Summit seemed like a chavista attempt to overcome its reputation as a pariah abroad. However, Maria Corina Machado’s illegal disqualification to hold political office shows chavismo walks the autocratic talk. Delcy Rodriguez’s friendly demeanor is nothing more than one of the well-known deception tricks the regime uses as a means to navigate these international meetings.

Even though this comment by a single Chavista deputy doesn’t mean they are going to implement those measures, some questions arise, mainly: What kind of activities will be understood as an affront against the motherland? And who would be subject to this kind of punishment? While the scope may seem as if it has infinite possibilities, the strategy behind this kind of discourse is very clear as it’s meant to fuel radical positions. But beyond its communicational effect, the reality is that the government is willing and able to eliminate and oppress any political adversary who could destabilize its power.