Friday 24 January 2020

Venezuela edges closer to pariah status as democratic norms are dissolved

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: PA
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: PA

Harriet Alexander in New York

Venezuela's newly installed constitutional assembly fired Venezuela's defiant chief prosecutor yesterday, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro's embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving political crisis.

Cries of "traitor" and "justice" erupted from the 545 pro-government delegates who voted unanimously to remove Ms Luisa Ortega from her post as the nation's top law enforcement official and replace her with a staunch government supporter.

They said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and freezing her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega, a longtime loyalist who broke with Maduro's government in April, refused to recognize the decision and vowed to continue defending Venezuelans from Maduro's "constitutional coup".

"This is just a tiny example of what's coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government," Ortega said in a statement she signed as chief prosecutor. "If they do this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in."

In response Delcy Rodriguez, a former Venezuelan foreign minister and Maduro confidant who heads the assembly, said the governing regime would begin to punish opponents. "Don't think we're going to wait weeks, months or years," she said. "The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you."

Before the assembly convened, Mr Maduro said it would be used to strip opposition politicians of their immunity, and described the body as "a superpower".

It will have sweeping abilities to upend institutions and rewrite the constitution and has been criticised in South and North America and by the Venezuelan opposition, which fear the assembly will be a tool for imposing a dictatorship.

New attorney general Tarek William Saab is considered one of President Maduro's most staunch supporters.

He has remained loyal even in the face of familial strife after his son, at the start of the protest movement, released a video calling on his father to abandon the government and put himself on "the right side of history".


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