Venezuela’s Supreme Court is taking control of the opposition-controlled legislative branch, a move that gives the Maduro administration license for a "dictatorship," some observers say.
In a wide-ranging ruling issued late Wednesday, the court criticized the National Assembly for what it called “disrespect and invalidity of its proceedings.” It said as long as that persisted, “this Constitutional Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this chamber or by the body it has in place to ensure the rule of law.”
"Maduro is now the National Assembly,'' assembly leader Julio Borges told The Associated Press, speaking of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. "It's one thing to try and build a dictatorship and another to complete the circuit."
The decision follows Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting of the Organization of American States, in which diplomats met in Washington to debate how to resolve the South American country’s years-long political and humanitarian crisis.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro had recommended suspending Venezuela's membership in the group unless it released political prisoners and scheduled long-delayed elections, but the United States and others urged giving the country another chance to cooperate on re-establishing democratic norms. The U.S. was one of 20 member states that committed to taking as-yet-uncertain steps in guiding Venezuela toward that goal.
A protester mocking Uncle Sam holds a painting of OAS leader Luis Almagro at a rally against the United States and possible OAS sanctions, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 28, Hours before the decision was announced, Eustoquio Contreras, a legislator and deputy of the pro-government Polo Democratico party, defended Maduro.
He told VOA in a phone interview Wednesday that “we are seriously threatened in our institutions. The government has had to choose to govern by decree and the extraordinary way, because the opposition has not ceased to advance its own interests. …”
A constitutional expert said Wednesday’s ruling enables the government to suspend elections, detain deputies and withdraw Venezuela from the OAS. "This is not an ordinary sentence," said Luis Salamanca, a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. He told El Nacional newspaper that the ruling gives socialist Maduro the power to "practically handle everything without any respect for the rules set out in the charter."
The National Mesa Bureau, an opposition group, condemned the court’s decision as a flagrant violation of the constitution. The bureau said in a statement that the government had resorted to "desperate measures." It said that, through "legal aberration, the Constitutional Chamber urges the president to review criminal and even military laws under the state of emergency," allowing him to more directly attack the democratically elected National Assembly and its leaders.
In Washington, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio told the Voice of America that "what exists in Venezuela today is not democracy." Reflecting on Tuesday’s OAS session and representatives’ stances on Venezuela, the Florida Republican added, "I thank the countries like Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Honduras and others that have been clear in their position and I think it is unfortunate that countries like Dominican Republic, Haiti and El Salvador have used that [session] as an opportunity to defend the tyranny of Maduro." VOA Spanish Service's Gioconda Tapia Reynolds and Gesell Tobias contributed to this report.