New as­sem­bly ousts Maduro critic

The Venezue­lan at­tor­ney gen­eral said the con­sti­tu­tional body was il­le­gal.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Mery Mo­gol­lon and Chris Kraul Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents Mo­gol­lon and Kraul re­ported from Caracas and Bo­gota, Colom­bia, re­spec­tively.

CARACAS, Venezuela — In a unan­i­mous vote, Venezuela’s newly in­stalled con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly fired Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz dur­ing its first of­fi­cial ses­sion on Satur­day.

Ortega has crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro in re­cent weeks for call­ing the as­sem­bly, which she said was il­le­gal.

In a let­ter to as­sem­bly Pres­i­dent Delcy Ro­driguez af­ter the 545-0 vote, Venezuela’s Supreme Court said it also has dis­qual­i­fied Ortega from hold­ing any pub­lic of­fice for an in­def­i­nite pe­riod and pro­hib­ited her from leav­ing the coun­try, open­ing the way to her pros­e­cu­tion on charges of un­spec­i­fied “crimes.”

Ortega will be re­placed as at­tor­ney gen­eral by Tarek Wil­liam Saab, a Maduro loy­al­ist, said as­sem­bly Vice Pres­i­dent Dios­dado Ca­bello to re­porters out­side the Fed­eral Palace where the vote took place. Dur­ing the vote, some mem­bers shouted “traitor” and “jus­tice” in ref­er­ence to Ortega.

“I pro­pose that Luisa Ortega Diaz be re­moved from her du­ties, not sus­pended,” Ca­bello said dur­ing the ses­sion prior to the vote.

Since Fri­day morn­ing, po­lice have re­stricted en­try to the Pub­lic Min­istry, where Ortega kept her of­fices. When Ortega ar­rived for work Satur­day morn­ing, she was barred from en­ter­ing. She told TV re­porters at the scene that she had been pushed and struck by po­lice when she tried to en­ter.

“The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to hide proof of Oder­brecht, proof of cor­rup­tion and the vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights,” Ortega told re­porters be­fore leav­ing on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle. “This is a dic­ta­tor­ship, what we are liv­ing in Venezuela. They ar­rest peo­ple ar­bi­trar­ily, try them with mil­i­tary jus­tice and now they are stop­ping the at­tor­ney gen­eral from en­ter­ing [her] of­fice.”

The ref­er­ence to Oder­brecht, a Brazil­ian con­struc­tion com­pany, was in re­gard to al­leged bribes paid to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in ex­change for pref­er­en­tial con­tracts.

Ear­lier, Ortega had ac­cused the gov­ern­ment over her so­cial me­dia ac­count of mount­ing a “siege” of her of­fice and in­cluded pho­tos of a dozen po­lice in riot gear stand­ing sen­try at the build­ing.

Late Fri­day, the In­terAmer­i­can Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, an arm of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, is­sued a state­ment de­mand­ing that the Maduro gov­ern­ment guarantee “the phys­i­cal well-be­ing” of Ortega.

Maduro has de­scribed his con­ven­ing of a new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly as ne­c­es­sary to reestab­lish order in a coun­try rocked by four months of protests that have left 130 dead and thou­sands in­jured and ar­rested. But crit­ics say its true pur­pose is to cir­cum­vent the demo­crat­i­cally elected and op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly.

Once a fierce loy­al­ist of late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, Ortega has be­come Maduro’s most prom­i­nent critic within the gov­ern­ment, and says the as­sem­bly is il­le­git­i­mate. The cur­rent 1999 con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that any new con­sti­tu­tion must first be au­tho­rized by the pub­lic in a na­tion­wide ref­er­en­dum. Maduro called the new as­sem­bly on his own.

It re­mains to be seen whether Maduro will have Ortega ar­rested and on what charges. In speeches lead­ing up to the elec­tion of as­sem­bly del­e­gates on July 30, a vote that was boy­cotted by his op­po­nents, Maduro said dis­si­dents would be pun­ished with pos­si­ble jail terms.

In a speech to new as­sem­bly del­e­gates at a swearingin cer­e­mony Fri­day, Ro­driguez told “fas­cist” op­po­nents of Maduro that “jus­tice is com­ing.”

Maduro warned the op­po­si­tion that the new con­sti­tu­tion would mean Na­tional As­sem­bly mem­bers would lose their im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. He has sin­gled out op­po­si­tion leg­is­la­tor and for­mer stu­dent leader Freddy Gue­vara as among the first he would have ar­rested.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ments in the re­gion, in­clud­ing those of Colom­bia, Mex­ico and Peru, have crit­i­cized the new con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly as anti-demo­cratic.

They were joined on Satur­day by Ar­gentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, which sus­pended Venezuela from the Mer­co­sur trad­ing block for “rup­ture of demo­cratic order.”

“The sus­pen­sion of Venezuela was ap­plied due to the ac­tions of the Ni­co­las Maduro gov­ern­ment and is a call for the im­me­di­ate start of a process of po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion and restora­tion of demo­cratic order,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Wil Riera As­so­ci­ated Press

ATTY. GEN. Luisa Ortega Diaz, left, is sur­rounded by loyal em­ploy­ees as she is barred from en­ter­ing her of­fice by se­cu­rity forces in Caracas, Venezuela.

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