Venezuela’s power strug­gle heats up

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CARACAS: The op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress named a slate of new judges Fri­day re­place the gov­ern­ment-stacked Supreme Court, which wasted no time in re­ject­ing the move as an on­go­ing power strug­gle heats up be­tween Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and his foes. Em­bold­ened by a 24-hour na­tional strike that par­a­lyzed much of the coun­try the pre­vi­ous day, the Na­tional Assem­bly named the 33 mag­is­trates to re­place the en­tire Supreme Court, which Maduro op­po­nents ar­gue does his bid­ding and con­tin­u­ally vi­o­lates the con­sti­tu­tion. Many of the cur­rent court’s jus­tices were hastily ap­pointed shortly be­fore the rul­ing party lost its ma­jor­ity in congress.

“To­day our jus­tice sys­tem has been hi­jacked. It is at the ser­vice of the regime,” con­gress­woman So­nia Me­d­ina said at cer­e­mo­nial swear­ing-in of the mag­is­trates. “The judges have re­moved them­selves from sub­mit­ting to the rule of law, from the honor of ju­di­cial power, to re­press, pur­sue, tor­ture and jail.” The Supreme Court promptly moved to block the new­com­ers, declar­ing the ap­point­ments to be in vi­o­la­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion.

‘Re­spect the rules’

Jose Men­doza, head of the court’s con­sti­tu­tional branch, said of­fenses pun­ish­able by both the civil­ian and mil­i­tary pe­nal codes had been com­mit­ted, and au­thor­i­ties should take un­spec­i­fied ac­tions in re­sponse. “It is time for them to re­spect the rules of the game,” Men­doza said. The Na­tional Assem­bly has the power to in­stall mem­bers of the Supreme Court, but Men­doza said there are no va­can­cies and any judges ap­pointed would be il­le­gally usurp­ing au­thor­ity. The Na­tional Assem­bly and the Supreme Court have been at odds since the op­po­si­tion gained a ma­jor­ity in 2015 leg­isla­tive elec­tions. The court’s con­sti­tu­tional cham­ber voided eight laws passed by the Na­tional Assem­bly be­tween Jan­uary and Oc­to­ber 2016, af­ter just one such rul­ing in the pre­vi­ous 200 years, le­gal ex­perts say.

In late March a Supreme Court de­ci­sion strip­ping the Na­tional Assem­bly of its re­main­ing pow­ers un­leashed the cur­rent wave of po­lit­i­cal un­rest. Though the de­ci­sion was later re­versed fol­low­ing a back­lash of domestic and in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism, protests erupted in which at least 97 peo­ple have been killed in nearly four months.

Demon­stra­tors are de­mand­ing that pres­i­den­tial elec­tions sched­uled for 2018 be held im­me­di­ately as the coun­try slides fur­ther into triple-digit in­fla­tion, food short­ages leave fam­i­lies hun­gry and cor­rup­tion runs ram­pant. Pres­i­dent Maduro is push­ing a July 30 vote for a spe­cial assem­bly to re­write the 1999 con­sti­tu­tion crafted un­der the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez. Maduro claims the con­stituent assem­bly will pro­mote di­a­logue and re­solve the stand­off, but the op­po­si­tion has re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in what it con­sid­ers an at­tempt by Maduro to fur­ther con­sol­i­date power.

The con­stituent assem­bly could do away with the Na­tional Assem­bly en­tirely and can­cel the 2018 pres­i­den­tial vote. Venezuela is fac­ing mount­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to sus­pend the up­com­ing elec­tion of the spe­cial assem­bly. The Mer­co­sur trade bloc on Fri­day asked Maduro to halt the plan and of­fered to fa­cil­i­tate talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion.

Left­ist gov­ern­ments

Venezuela be­came a mem­ber of the trade group in 2012 when South Amer­ica was dom­i­nated by left­ist gov­ern­ments, but was sus­pended last year over what other mem­bers said was its fail­ure to com­ply with com­mit­ments to democ­racy and hu­man rights. “We call on the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion not to carry out any ini­tia­tive that could fur­ther di­vide Venezue­lan so­ci­ety,” Mer­co­sur lead­ers said in a state­ment fol­low­ing a meet­ing in Men­doza, Ar­gentina.

Maduro and his al­lies are none­the­less press­ing for­ward with the vote, height­en­ing their rhetoric in re­cent days against the op­po­si­tion and warn­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion re­write will en­sure they face jus­tice. “No one can mess with the con­stituent assem­bly,” Maduro told sup­port­ers Fri­day in a speech that hailed the yet-tobe-writ­ten doc­u­ment as a so­lu­tion for the coun­try’s eco­nomic woes.

The mil­i­tary an­nounced it was de­ploy­ing 185,000 troops to “guar­an­tee the se­cu­rity and peace of the peo­ple dur­ing the elec­toral process.” De­fense Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the ini­tia­tive was be­ing launched much ear­lier than planned due to the un­rest. He added that the mil­i­tary would help make sure “the coun­try can re­turn to how it should be.” Op­po­nents are es­ca­lat­ing protests ahead of the vote. Thurs­day’s one-day strike, when four demon­stra­tors were killed, left many parts of the cap­i­tal, Caracas, des­o­late. The op­po­si­tion called for an­other mass protest Satur­day. “At stake is our ex­is­tence. At stake is the coun­try,” op­po­si­tion leader An­dres Ve­lasquez said. “And that’s why no one can be in­dif­fer­ent.” — AP

— AP

CARACAS: A Na­tional Guard points his weapon dur­ing clashes with anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in the streets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.