Venezuela Crisis Explained: Government Accused of Staging 'Self-Inflicted Coup'

As the economy fell deeper into recession, inflation accelerated and shortages increased, the opposition requested a referendum to remove Maduro from office.

National Assembly President Julio Borges rips up Supreme Court documents ruling that it can take over responsibilities assigned to congress, during a press conference at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, .

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro also described the move as a "self-inflicted coup" by the Maduro administration.

Maduro's opposition controls the legislature, and many of its efforts to rein in the government were blocked in court.

The opposition promised new street protests starting from Saturday - but that tactic has failed in the past despite marches that have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Leaders of Venezuela's Democratic Unity opposition coalition renewed their demand for early presidential elections and accused Maduro of duplicating Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori's notorious 1992 closure of Congress. Several opposition leaders called for street demonstrations and other forms of “democratic resistance.”.

Colombia announced on Friday that it had recalled its ambassador from Venezuela after the neighboring country's Supreme Court controversially removed the National Assembly's legislative powers. He also received pledges from anti-American allies such as Russian Federation, which urged external actors to refrain from interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs.

"But they failed in both of the sessions to prevent member-states from stating their concerns about the state of Venezuela's democracy and failed to prevent member-states from proposing means by which the OAS can now support a peaceful resolution to the situation in Venezuela".

In Caracas, national guardsmen in riot gear fired buckshot and swung batons at a group of students who gathered outside the Supreme Court. Weeks of unrest in 2014 resulted in more than 40 deaths and dozens of arrests, while a mass protest last September was followed by authorities a few days later cancelling a recall petition campaign seeking to force Maduro from office before his term ends in 2019.

Venezuela's opposition won a parliamentary majority in December 2015 for the first time since 1999.

While the opposition saw their legislative initiatives stymied and their efforts to unseat Maduro blocked previous year, more recently they have been emboldened by efforts to deprive the cash-strapped government of worldwide financing as it scrambles to kick start a moribund economy and make good on around $2.5 billion dollars of debt payments that come due next month. The country's highest court, in a ruling Wednesday, said that 'as long as the disrespect and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body available to it, to ensure the rule of law.

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives", the US statement said. Then late on Wednesday, it explicitly stated it was assuming Congress's role in a ruling authorizing Maduro to create joint oil ventures without the previously mandated congressional approval. Rajoy expressed support "for freedom, for democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela". "On the contrary, the institutions have taken corrective legal action to stop the distractive, coup-like actions of an opposition that has declared itself openly in contempt of the decisions made by the republic's top court". He sees the government hardening its position in the face of growing economic woes and worldwide pressure, further dashing hopes for dialogue and an electoral solution.

"It's perfectly predictable that the government is going to keep radicalizing", he said.

Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Joshua Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia.

  • Leroy Wright