Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Venezuela's attorney general condemns Supreme Court ruling

Melinda Barton | 10 April, 2017, 01:03

Seeking to cool protests and worldwide outrage, socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday the Supreme Court would review its move to annul the opposition-led congress, which critics decried as a lurch toward dictatorship.

Global powers condemned the court's move, which gave the socialist president control over the only major state institution that still had been out of his grasp.

The magistrates ruled late Wednesday that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past rulings, the high court, or an institution it designates, can assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition for almost a year and a half.

Rather than removing the lawmakers to swiftly remedy the stalemate - which has led the Supreme Court to declare all National Assembly decisions null for months - since taking sweeping control of the Assembly in December 2015, the majority opposition parliament has largely focused on attempts to remove Maduro from office.

And in Venezuela, Luisa Ortega, the chief prosecutor, and a previous key ally of the ruling Socialists, said the Supreme Court's decision was a power grab.

The comments by Ortega Diaz, in which she said the court ruling "ruptured" the constitutional order, were a rare - nearly unheard of - public condemnation by a high-ranking government official of the direction the faltering country is heading.

"In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote", Mr Borges said.

The Supreme Court's move this week may have been partly motivated by financial reasons.

Opposition leaders sought to galvanize their case against the Maduro government and said the government's apparent reversal of the court ruling would not alter their plans.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Dionisio Brito, left, holds up a copy of Venezuela's Constitution as he argues with Maduro supporters during a protest outside of the general prosecutor's office in Caracas. The United Nations' top human rights official called on the high court to reverse its decision.

We consider it a serious setback for democracy in Venezuela.

Small groups of protesters blocked roads, unfurled banners and chanted slogans against Maduro's government, including "Freedom!" and "No to Dictatorship!"

As the country's currency hemorrhaged value and some analysts began to project the beginning of the end of 18 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, Maduro invited congress president Julio Borges to speak with him about the situation.

The ruling, misrepresented in worldwide media as a move to dissolve the parliament, sparked a firestorm of criticism from the opposition as well as right-wing neighboring governments, with Peru and Colombia recalling their ambassadors.

OAS head Luis Almagro, whom the Venezuelan government views as a pawn of Washington, has been pushing for its suspension from the 34-nation regional bloc, which has announced an extraordinary meeting for Monday to debate Venezuela.

The top court's decision has triggered global condemnation.

Given past failures of opposition street protests, however, it is unlikely there will be mass support for a new wave.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis after two previous sessions this week ended with 20 governments led by the US and Mexico voicing deep concern but no concrete actions to hold Maduro accountable.

It seems that a combination of internal and external pressures forced President Maduro's hand.

Venezuelan National Assembly president Freddy Guevara said on Twitter that the "coup" was unacceptable to the people and joined calls for protests on Saturday morning. Washington has been a longtime antagonist of the socialist government of Maduro and his predecessor, Chavez, who was an implacable critic of what he termed US "imperialism".

The court on Saturday released new rulings that appeared to reinstate congress' authority.