Venezuela government allies seize legislative powers
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's new pro-government constitutional authority declared Friday, August 18, it was seizing power from the opposition-led legislature, tightening President Nicolas Maduro's grip on the country in defiance of international outrage.
It was the latest maneuver in a deadly political crisis that has seen Maduro branded a dictator by opponents, whom he in turn accuses of plotting with the United States to overthrow him.
The Constituent Assembly unanimously adopted a decree authorizing it to "take over functions to legislate on matters directly concerned with ensuring peace, security, sovereignty, the socio-economic and financial systems, state assets and upholding Venezuelans' rights."
The opposition-led National Assembly rejected the move.
"The NCA is null and its acts are illegal and unconstitutional," the body said on its official Twitter account.
Supreme public power
The center-right opposition says the new constituent assembly is a ploy by Maduro to tighten his grip on power.
It was ostensibly set up to rewrite the constitution but has been handed sweeping powers to override all other branches of government.
"All the organs of public power are subordinate to the National Constituent Assembly," said the decree, read out at Friday's session.
The body's 545 members, all Maduro allies, were elected on July 30 in polls marred by violence and allegations of fraud.
"We will not permit any more diverting of power" by the opposition, said the assembly's president, Maduro's former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez.
"The constituent assembly is here to impose order."
One of the assembly's first moves after being elected was to fire the country's attorney general Luisa Ortega, who had become Maduro's most senior critic.
She hit back on Friday by claiming she had evidence implicating Maduro and his inner circle in an international bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
"They are very worried and anxious, because they know we have details on all the cooperation, amounts and people who got rich, and that investigation involves Mr Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle," Ortega told a meeting of Latin American prosecutors in Mexico by video conference.
The socialist leader was elected in 2013 but is facing calls to quit from opponents angry at an economic crisis that is causing hunger and deadly violence.
Nearly 130 people have been killed this year in a wave of anti-government protests.
The legislature – controlled by the opposition since late 2015 – was the last state institution still not held by Maduro's allies.
The constituent assembly was set up for a period of two years, meaning it would retain its powers beyond the end of Maduro's elected term in office, which ends in 2019.
"Beyond just rewriting the constitution, it is turning itself into the de facto legislative body," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuelan analyst with consultancy IHS Markit.
"That was one of the areas the government was looking to finally control."
One of Maduro's fiercest international critics, the leader of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called for a special meeting of the body in response to the latest moves.
He denounced what he called the "fraudulent dissolution" of the legislature.
US President Donald Trump warned a week ago that that he was considering various options to resolve the Venezuela crisis, "including a possible military option if necessary."
His Vice President Mike Pence softened that stance this week during a tour of Latin American countries.
He said he was sure democracy could be restored in Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure. – Rappler.com