Po­lit­i­cal cri­sis is wors­en­ing in Venezuela

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - FABIOLA SANCHEZ

CARA­CAS, VENEZUELA — Pro- and anti-gov­ern­ment fac­tions dug them­selves fur­ther into their trenches amid Venezuela’s deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, with each side stak­ing a claim to the pow­ers granted them by du­el­ing na­tional as­sem­blies.

The new chief pros­e­cu­tor who re­placed an out­spo­ken gov­ern­ment critic out­lined plans Mon­day for re­struc­tur­ing the Pub­lic Min­istry, and the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly vowed to con­tinue meet­ing at the stately leg­isla­tive palace — a short walk across a plaza from where the all-pow­er­ful con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly is ex­pected to hold its next meet­ing Tues­day.

Na­tional As­sem­bly pres­i­dent Julio Borges told fel­low law­mak­ers they should keep an ac­tive pres­ence in the build­ing de­spite threats from the new as­sem­bly to swiftly strip them of any au­thor­ity and lock up key lead­ers. Borges called the build­ing, with its gold cupola, the “sym­bol of pop­u­lar sovereignty.”

“We are a tes­ta­ment to the fight for democ­racy,” he said at a meet­ing cob­bled to­gether amid mount­ing un­cer­tainty about the leg­is­la­ture’s fu­ture. “It should be known this as­sem­bly was true to its man­date.”

In the­ory, both the Na­tional As­sem­bly and the pro-gov­ern­ment con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly can rule si­mul­ta­ne­ously, but the new su­per body cre­ated through a July 30 elec­tion that drew in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion has the au­thor­ity to trump any other branch of gov­ern­ment.

Since its in­stal­la­tion Fri­day, it has sig­nalled that it will act swiftly in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s com­mands, which have in­cluded strip­ping leg­is­la­tors of their con­sti­tu­tional im­mu­nity.

Dios­dado Ca­bello, a con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly mem­ber and a leader of the so­cial­ist party, said the new body would be in power for “at least two years.” He de­fended ini­tial de­crees to oust top law en­force­ment of­fi­cer Luisa Ortega Diaz and cre­ate a “truth com­mis­sion” that will wield un­usual au­thor­ity to pros­e­cute those sus­pected of fu­elling re­cent po­lit­i­cal un­rest.

Ca­bello said the de­ci­sions all aligned strictly with the 1999 con­sti­tu­tion crafted by the late pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez.

“This is a com­pletely le­gal process,” he said.

Ortega Diaz’s re­place­ment, Om­buds­man Tarek William Saab, who was re­cently sanc­tioned by Wash­ing­ton for fail­ing to pro­tect pro­test­ers from abuses in his role as the na­tion’s top hu­man rights of­fi­cial, ap­peared on state tele­vi­sion to both chas­tise the leader of the agency he will over­see and an­nounce his plans to re­vamp it.

He crit­i­cized Ortega Diaz for “fan­ning the flames” of po­lit­i­cal con­flict in Venezuela and said he would pro­ceed with a “log­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing” of an of­fice he deemed overly po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic.

Ortega Diaz is not rec­og­niz­ing Saab as at­tor­ney gen­eral, and both op­po­si­tion lead­ers and for­eign dig­ni­taries have said they will not ac­knowl­edge him as Venezuela’s chief pros­e­cu­tor.

The widen­ing po­lit­i­cal gulf comes as op­po­si­tion par­ties face a rapidly ap­proach­ing dead­line to de­clare whether or not they will take part in sched­uled De­cem­ber re­gional elec­tions. Op­po­si­tion mem­bers re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion for del­e­gates to the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly but have thus far been di­vided on whether or not to take part in the up­com­ing vote for gov­er­nors. While Maduro’s pop­u­lar sup­port is es­ti­mated to run at no higher than 20 per cent, some op­po­si­tion lead­ers are skep­ti­cal of run­ning in an elec­tion they fear could be rigged. The of­fi­cial turnout count in the July 30 elec­tion for the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly is be­ing ques­tioned at home and abroad.

AR­I­ANA CUBILLOS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A cutout of Venezuela’s late pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez stands out among sup­port­ers dur­ing a rally back­ing the new Con­sti­tu­tional As­sem­bly on Mon­day.

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