Venezue­lan as­sem­bly opens amid protests

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JORGE RUEDA

De­fy­ing crit­i­cism from Wash­ing­ton to the Vat­i­can, Venezuela’s rul­ing party on Fri­day in­stalled a new su­per as­sem­bly that sup­port­ers prom­ise will pacify the coun­try and crit­ics fear will be a tool for im­pos­ing dic­ta­tor­ship.

The con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly’s first or­der of busi­ness was se­lect­ing its head — for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Delcy Ro­driguez, a loyal fol­lower of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

The nom­i­na­tion was ap­proved unan­i­mously by the 545 del­e­gates, who marched to the neo­clas­si­cal leg­isla­tive palace led by so­cial­ist party leader Dios­dado Ca­bello and first lady Cilia Flores and ac­com­pa­nied by hun­dreds of red-shirted gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers car­ry­ing roses and por­traits of the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s pre­de­ces­sor and men­tor.

Some shouted, “He’s re­turned!” as a jab at the op­po­si­tion, which had or­dered im­ages of Chavez re­moved from an ad­ja­cent build­ing when it won con­trol of congress in 2015.

The as­sem­bly was sched­uled to meet again Satur­day, and Ro­driguez pledged it would be tak­ing ac­tion against Maduro’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

“Don’t think we’re go­ing to wait weeks, months or years,” she said. “To­mor­row we start to act. The vi­o­lent fas­cists, those who wage eco­nomic war on the peo­ple, those who wage psy­cho­log­i­cal war, jus­tice is com­ing for you.”

The in­stal­la­tion of the all-pow­er­ful con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly is vir­tu­ally cer­tain to in­ten­sify a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has brought four months of protests that left at least 120 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds jailed. Maduro vows the as­sem­bly will strip op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers of their con­sti­tu­tional im­mu­nity from prose­cu­tion, while mem­bers of congress say they will only be re­moved by force.

“It doesn’t mat­ter where they meet, they’re in­stalling a fraud­u­lent in­sti­tu­tion,” de­clared Freddy Gue­vara, the Na­tional As­sem­bly’s first vice-pres­i­dent, at an op­po­si­tion demon­stra­tion in east­ern Cara­cas that drew only a few hun­dred pro­test­ers, one of the small­est in months.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of for­eign gov­ern­ments have sided with the op­po­si­tion, re­fus­ing to rec­og­nize the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly and fur­ther iso­lat­ing Maduro’s gov­ern­ment. The U.S. State Depart­ment said Thurs­day the as­sem­bly was il­le­git­i­mate.

The op­po­si­tion boy­cotted the July 30 elec­tion of the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly, say­ing the rules were rigged to fur­ther en­trench Maduro’s “dic­ta­tor­ship.”

The re­sults have come un­der mount­ing scru­tiny af­ter the in­ter­na­tional com­pany that pro­vided the elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines said that “with­out any doubt” the of­fi­cial turnout had been tam­pered with — a charge dis­missed by Maduro and the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil.

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