Venezuela high court, top pros­e­cu­tor in po­lit­i­cal show­down

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

A con­flict be­tween Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment and his in­creas­ingly de­fi­ant chief pros­e­cu­tor was com­ing to a head Tues­day as Luisa Ortega Diaz an­nounced she was boy­cotting a Supreme Court hear­ing on whether to lift her im­mu­nity from be­ing tried for un­spec­i­fied ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

Ortega Diaz ar­gued the out­come of Tues­day’s hear­ing was a fore­gone con­clu­sion de­cided by the gov­ern­ment that vi­o­lates her le­gal right to de­fence and due process.

“I am not go­ing to val­i­date a cir­cus that will stain our his­tory with shame and pain,” she said at a news con­fer­ence as the hear­ing was get­ting un­der­way.

The case against her for al­leged “se­ri­ous er­rors” while in of­fice was brought by a rul­ing­party law­maker and could lead to her ouster.

Na­tional Guard troops and riot po­lice took up po­si­tions out­side the court build­ing in Caracas, where protests against Maduro’s gov­ern­ment have been rag­ing al­most daily for sev­eral months.

On Mon­day the gov­ern­mentstacked Supreme Court acted to strip a key power from Ortega by act­ing it­self to im­pose her deputy: a loy­al­ist who was sanc­tioned by the United States in 2015 for her role pros­e­cut­ing some of Maduro’s most vo­cal op­po­nents.

The de­ci­sion to name Kather­ine Har­inghton to the post ef­fec­tively made her the na­tion’s No. 2 law en­force­ment of­fi­cial even though the con­sti­tu­tion says the semi-au­tonomous chief pros­e­cu­tor has the power to name her own deputy, with con­fir­ma­tion by congress.

Law­mak­ers on Mon­day had re-con­firmed Ortega’s own choice as deputy af­ter he was re­moved by the high court last week.

As Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis has deep­ened, Ortega has emerged as Maduro’s most-feared critic. In April the once-loyal left­ist broke with the gov­ern­ment over its de­ci­sion to strip congress of its last pow­ers, and she has made com­mon cause with right-wing op­po­nents in blast­ing Maduro’s plans to re­write Venezuela’s 1999 con­sti­tu­tion.

The Supreme Court has also at­tacked Ortega’s au­thor­ity by throw­ing out her or­der for the for­mer head of the Na­tional Guard to tes­tify about al­leged hu­man rights abuses dur­ing the crack­down on the protests, which have left at least 80 dead. It has also lim­ited her pow­ers to in­ves­ti­gate abuses, which are shared with the na­tion’s om­buds­man.

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