Pro–Maduro in­sti­tu­tions en­croach on Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion

Cape Breton Post - - World -

In­sti­tu­tions loyal to Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro en­croached fur­ther on his op­po­nent’s dwin­dling power base in the na­tion’s gov­ern­ment on Tues­day, tak­ing over the halls of the en­dan­gered, op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress and sen­tenc­ing a mayor at the cen­tre of re­cent protests to prison.

Del­e­gates to the new, allpow­er­ful con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly con­vened in the stately, gold-domed cham­ber where congress nor­mally meets in an­other sign that it in­tends to mus­cle aside any author­ity still held by the op­po­si­tion.

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers said they were barred from en­ter­ing the leg­isla­tive palace af­ter se­cu­rity forces led by con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly pres­i­dent Delcy Ro­driguez broke into congress late Mon­day to set up seats for the 545 pro-gov­ern­ment del­e­gates.

“This gov­ern­ment invades the spa­ces that it is not ca­pa­ble of le­git­i­mately win­ning,’’ Stalin Gon­za­lez, an op­po­si­tion law­maker, wrote on Twit­ter of the assem­bly’s takeover of the con­gres­sional cham­ber the op­po­si­tion has con­trolled since win­ning 2015 elec­tions.

Pho­tos of late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, who first in­stalled Venezuela’s so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment, were promi­nently dis­played at the front of the hall.

In her open­ing ad­dress at Tues­day’s ses­sion, Ro­driguez de­scribed the takeover of the con­gres­sional cham­ber as an act “com­ply­ing with norms and laws of the repub­lic, which for the ma­jor­ity of Venezue­lans should be some­thing nor­mal.’’ The con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly later passed de­crees pledg­ing “sup­port and sol­i­dar­ity’’ to the pres­i­dent and the na­tion’s armed forces af­ter a week­end at­tack at a large military base.

Mean­while, only a few dozen de­mon­stra­tors heeded the op­po­si­tion’s call to set up traf­fic­snarling road­blocks in Cara­cas to show their op­po­si­tion to the new assem­bly.

Protests that drew hun­dreds of thou­sands at their peak are draw­ing fewer and fewer as fear and res­ig­na­tion creep in. At least 124 peo­ple have been killed and hun­dreds more in­jured or de­tained dur­ing the protests.

A United Na­tions re­port re­leased Tues­day found that Venezuela’s armed forces were re­spon­si­ble for 46 of the deaths since April. An­other 27 peo­ple were killed by groups of armed, pro-gov­ern­ment civil­ians, the re­port said.

Ear­lier Tues­day, Venezuela’s pro-gov­ern­ment Supreme Court sen­tenced a Cara­cas-area mayor at the cen­tre of re­cent protests to 15 months in prison for not fol­low­ing an or­der to re­move bar­ri­cades set up dur­ing antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in the leafy sub­urb of Cha­cao where he has been mayor since 2013.

Ra­mon Mucha­cho is the fourth op­po­si­tion mayor whose ar­rest the high court has sought in the past two weeks. The court also or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an­other prom­i­nent Cara­cas-area mayor, David Smolan­sky, for the same al­leged crimes.

Mucha­cho’s where­abouts were not im­me­di­ately known, but he de­nounced the rul­ing on Twit­ter, say­ing that “all of the weight of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary in­jus­tice has fallen on my shoul­ders’’ for merely act­ing to guar­an­tee the con­sti­tu­tional right to protest.

Cha­cao was pre­vi­ously gov­erned by Leopoldo Lopez, the most prom­i­nent ac­tivist jailed by the Maduro gov­ern­ment, and is the main gath­er­ing point for protests.

The con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly’s meeting Tues­day came amid mount­ing crit­i­cism from for­eign gov­ern­ments that have re­fused to rec­og­nize the new su­per-body.

More than a dozen Latin Amer­i­can lead­ers were gath­er­ing in Peru to discuss how to force Maduro to back down. Peru’s pres­i­dent has been vo­cal in re­ject­ing the new Venezue­lan assem­bly, but the re­gion has had trou­ble agree­ing on col­lec­tive ac­tions.

In re­sponse, Maduro con­vened a meeting of for­eign min­is­ters from the Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance, a left­ist coali­tion of 11 Latin Amer­i­can na­tions.

Venezue­lan For­eign Min­is­ter Jorge Ar­reaza told rep­re­sen­ta­tives from na­tions in­clud­ing Cuba and Bo­livia that long­stand­ing U.S. ag­gres­sion against his trou­bled South Amer­i­can na­tion have “en­tered a much stronger phase.’’

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers have vowed to hold onto their only gov­ern­ment foothold _ the coun­try’s sin­gle-cham­ber congress _ de­spite threats from the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly to strip them of any author­ity and lock up key lead­ers. Law­mak­ers voted unan­i­mously Mon­day not to rec­og­nize any of the new su­per body’s de­crees.

Since the dis­puted elec­tion, se­cu­rity forces have stepped up their pres­ence. The U.N. hu­man rights com­mis­sioner re­port warned of “wide­spread and sys­tem­atic use’’ of ex­ces­sive force, ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion and other rights vi­o­la­tions against de­mon­stra­tors.

AP PHOTO

Pedes­tri­ans walk past a bar­ri­cade set up by anti-gov­ern­ment de­mon­stra­tors, in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Tues­day.

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