The Siege of Alfredo Ramos

It was the afternoon of May 11th and the Causa R Mayor of Barquisimeto, Alfredo Ramos, was appalled. The small Chavista majority on the Municipal Council had just decided to remove him from his post. We’re now at the end of May, though, and Ramos is still in charge. But as local Chavismo has decided to retreat a little bit in the face of legal and political backlash, their plan to put pressure on Ramos remains in place.

The current standoff between the mayor and city council in Iribarren Municipality got white hot on April 29th, when pro-government colectivos occupied the sessions hall of the Municipal Palace o. Ramos was meeting with municipal workers at the time to inform them that the council was trying to remove him. As tensions are running high around town because of the protests, the long-term conflict between the two local government branches has reached a new level.

Since our sessions started, the pro-government majority on the council has tried to displace Alfredo Ramos from the Mayor’s post.

Since his election in 2013, Ramos has faced constant obstructionism from the Chavista majority on his city council. PSUV outnumber MUD 8-to-5, and they’ve blocked pretty much all of his initiatives. In its almost three-and-half years in office, the Council has passed a grand total of three municipal ordinances, and only one has been fully enacted: this year’s budget.

“Since our sessions started, the pro-government majority on the council has tried to displace Alfredo Ramos from the Mayor’s post, given its political importance,” said MUD councilor Milagros Gomez de Blavia in a phone interview with Caracas Chronicles.

Under Venezuelan law, mayors cannot be removed from their posts. The law, that establishes how municipalities are governed (Ley Orgánica del Poder Público Municipal) says mayors can only be replaced in case of death, incapacity, resignation, losing a recall referendum, being sentenced to prison by a court of law or if they’re absent of their office for more than 90 days.

That, of course, has not stopped Chavismo from finding creative ways to get rid off opposition mayors: it’s happened five times in recent years. Two have gone by orders of the Supreme Tribunal’s Constitutional Chamber (San Cristóbal’s Daniel Ceballos and San Diego’s Enzo Scarano), and three others via votes by chavista-controlled municipal councils (Guasdualito, Maturín and El Limón, in Aragua State). Recently, the Mayor of Valera (Trujillo State) José Karkom faced a similar threat over unpaid wages to workers.

Chavista councilors Alejandro Natera (PSUV) and Jesus Superlano (PPT) blamed Mayor Ramos for the those events.

But those are relatively small places, compared to Barquisimeto, the fourth most populous city in  the nation. At a council meeting on May 11th, the official agenda called for discussing 30 additional credits. During the session, the President of the Municipal Council, Teresa Linarez (PSUV) decided to introduce the topic of the council’s recent move to its administrative building, seeking shelter from the violence that shook place the Municipal Palace at the end of April.

Chavista councilors Alejandro Natera (PSUV) and Jesus Superlano (PPT) blamed Mayor Ramos for the those events. On that basis, Natera soon told local paper El Informador that “the Mayor must be removed now.” In fact, Natera photos and videos now in the hands of the Fiscalía show Superlano was likely behind the end-of-april violence. Right after that, the Chavista majority went ahead with his removal.

The five MUD councilors strongly rejected the unilateral decision, saying that it violated Article 143, section 1 of the Venezuelan Penal Code. Lara State Governor Henri Falcón gave his full support to Ramos, calling his removal as “unconstitutional, irregular and fraudulent”.

Then Linarez decided to change the script: “we didn’t remove the Mayor,” she said, “we just asked for his removal.” In her view, it’s up to the courts to decide the Municipal Council’s formal request to unseat him. Councilor Superlano considers that the council has acted properly in accordance to its duties. Fellow councilor Natera accused Ramos of steal 10 million Bs. to “finance the guarimbas”.

But Ramos is not buying it. He went to court to demand the council’s decision to be nullified and introduced a demand in the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the Chavista councilors for violence against municipal property.

I called the Legal Counsel for Iribarren Municipality, Jose Emilio Jiménez to learn more. He confirmed that the Chavista majority on the council wants to use the judicial process to justify their actions. Days before the May 11th session, a lawsuit against Mayor Ramos wasfiled and later admitted in record time.

Such lawsuit comes from an alleged group of residents near the Guardagallo Bridge, which has been blocked repeatedly by protesters in recent weeks. According to Jiménez, after reviewing all the documents, the lawsuit not only has serious inconsistencies but also was changed from its original purpose. In his words, this action is pretty similar in spirit to the recent TSJ ruling against several opposition mayors last week.

Meanwhile, another legal front has opened up: a military prosecutor opened an investigation against Ramos regarding a demonstration held on May 8th which, because it passed near a restricted military base. Several municipal police officers were detained for hours and later released. Ramos was present for the demonstration and military justice wants a copy of the protest permit.

Jiménez accepts that political polarization is causing Barquisimeto has hit the quality of life in Barquisimeto.

Jiménez argues the order seeks to force the Mayor to restrict the right to protest in the city. The other two opposition mayors of Lara State (Jose Barreras of Cabudare and José Martín of Quibor) joined Ramos at a recent press conference and said that the recent TSJ ruling has the same intent.

Beyond this latest controversy, Gómez de Blavia and Jiménez share disappointment in the constant political deadlock in the city chamber and what it’s meant for the city.

Jiménez accepts that political polarization is causing Barquisimeto has hit the quality of life in Barquisimeto. “We owe a debt with the citizens over the lack of discussion and approval of ordinances,” Gómez de Blavia told me. “The lack of legal security and the irregular functioning (of the council as an institution) are simply not part of the norms for a proper parliamentary body”.

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