Venezuela’s political crisis has deepened after a new pro-government “superbody” stripped the opposition-held parliament of its legislative powers and the fugitive attorney general accused President Nicolás Maduro of links to a corruption scandal.
The move by the national constituent assembly, denounced by regional powers and the US, has limited practical impact. The government had in effect neutered the parliament soon after the 2015 election that brought it to power, and the new constituent assembly already has virtually unlimited reach.
But it underlines government plans to use the new superbody, officially convened to update the constitution, to pursue its own political agenda. The opposition denounced the move as a further blow against democracy, but said it would ignore the order and continue to meet.
“The international community should know that in Venezuela the Maduro regime is carrying out a coup against the state itself. Rejecting a legitimate parliament is also a form of coup,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.
The assembly convened a special session for Saturday morning, attended by several foreign diplomats, and with only one order of business, “in defence of the national constitution”. It called for an investigation of the attempt to dissolve the parliament and asked for international support.
“We call on the international community, to support with appropriate actions, the defence of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people and the legitimacy of the national parliament,” the motion said.
The US state department condemned the move as a “power grab” by an “authoritarian committee operating above the law”, and the regional trading bloc Mercosur, which has refused to recognise the constituent assembly, warned that it was taking Venezuela further from democracy.
Government loyalists denied that the move aimed to usurp parliament, alleging that parliamentarians had themselves been violating the law.
“For those of you who are whining [about this], the constituent assembly did not eliminate the national assembly. It simply took over the functions of those who have been acting at the margins of law,” Diosdado Cabello, a top Maduro aide, said on Twitter.
Many of the opposition have been detained, barred or forced into hiding, undermining efforts to take on the government. However they are likely to receive a boost by the escape of former attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former government loyalist who has emerged as a fierce critic earlier this year.
She was stripped of her post earlier in August and claimed asylum in Colombia after days on the run, having warned that she feared for her life in Venezuela.
“Ms Ortega arrived in Columbia accompanied by her husband,” Colombia’s migration agency said in a statement, adding that she arrived by private plane from the island of Aruba, which lies just off the coast of Venezuela.
She could prove a formidable opponent for the government, given her access to information and evidence in her previous post. Shortly after her plane touched down, she alleged that Maduro was caught up in the corruption scandal surrounding Brazilian firm Odebrecht by taking kickbacks from contracts.
“The investigation into [Odebrecht] involves Mr Nicolás Maduro and his associates,” Ortega said. “It is the biggest corruption case in the region, and this has them very worried and concerned because they know that we have information and details of all the transactions and amounts.”
The Venezuelan president had already been accused in 2012 of taking kickbacks from Odebrecht contracts, by Mônica Moura, a Brazilian publicist who together with her husband organised campaigns including Hugo Chávez’s final re-election campaign.
But Ortega’s accusations carry a heavier weight because her history as a Chávez loyalist gives her a political clout that Moura lacked and her position at the heart of the legal system suggests she may have or at least have seen evidence directly implicated Maduro.
Source: The Guardian via Msn.