Political and Economic Crises Converge with Supreme Court Decision

In what is being called a point of no return, Wednesday night's ruling effectively shuts down the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Deputies of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), clash with Venezuela's National Guards during a protest outside the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in Caracas, Venezuela March 30, 2017.

Peru's government recalled its ambassador in protest of what it called "a flagrant break in the democratic order".

The Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that as long as lawmakers remained in contempt of court rulings that nullified all legislation passed by the chamber, the high court, or an institution it designates, can assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition for almost a year and a half.

"While a situation of contempt (of court) and the invalidity of the actions of the National Assembly persist, this Constitutional tribunal will guarantee that parliamentary functions are exercised directly by this tribunal or by another body at its disposition, in order to maintain the rule of law", continued the ruling.

The court ruled in August 2016 that the National Assembly leadership was in contempt for swearing in three lawmakers who were suspended over alleged electoral fraud.

Venezuela's opposition has called the Supreme Court move a "coup", and also the Organization of American States rejected the move as the "final blow to democracy" in Colombia's neighbor to the east.

There is an ongoing conflict between socialist President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition which is seeking to end his presidency.

The opposition had been using its majority in the Assembly to push for the release of a number of prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in jail for three years, and to limit the influence of Maduro's administration.

"Maduro is now the National Assembly", Borges told the AP. "It's one thing to try to build a dictatorship and another to complete the circuit".

"It is false that a coup d'etat has occurred in Venezuela", declared the Venezuelan foreign ministry, which blamed the current controversy on "imperialist" meddling from Washington and its allies.

From early morning, several dozen students marched in Caracas to the supreme court, which this week assumed the functions of the opposition-led National Assembly.

With worldwide pressure so far proving fruitless, Venezuela's domestic opposition is already organizing; initial reports tell of opposition leaders blocking a highway in Caracas in the first protests since the ruling. The courts have overturned every single piece of legislation passed by the National Assembly since the opposition took power in January 2016 and held the entire body in contempt of court for the better part of the past year. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that elections are the democratic solution for Venezuela, but Diosdado Cabello, a top Venezuelan official, disagreed.

And the U.S. has reiterated its call for him to free political prisoners and hold immediate elections to resolve the crisis.

Wednesday's ruling seems to have stemmed from the National Assembly's refusal to authorise a joint venture with private companies by Venezuela's state-run oil company.

Critics blame a failing socialist system, whereas the government says its enemies are waging an "economic war". We'll find out "who is with the people and democracy and who is with corruption and dictatorship".

He added that the best dialogue that Venezuelans have is to vote in free elections, stressing the possibility that a way out of the crisis of the country could come from a possible general election this year. "We know that there is fear and repression but this is the time to make your voice heard", he stated.

Opposition politicians said it was a step towards dictatorship. They drew comparisons with former Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori's notorious 1992 closure of congress.

"It is no longer just a question of annulling everything that the National Assembly does", Guevara said, "but of usurping all its powers, allowing them to approve new "sentencing laws" that give more power to the dictator to continue hurting the people".

  • Leroy Wright