August 8, 2017
Pro- and anti-government factions dug themselves further into their trenches Monday amid Venezuela’s deepening political crisis, with each side staking a claim to the powers granted them by dueling national assemblies.
The new chief prosecutor who replaced an outspoken government critic outlined plans for restructuring the Public Ministry, while the opposition-controlled National Assembly vowed to continue meeting at the stately legislative palace — a short walk across a plaza from where the all-powerful constitutional assembly is expected to hold its next meeting Tuesday.
National Assembly president Julio Borges told fellow lawmakers they should keep an active presence in the building despite threats from the new assembly to swiftly strip them of any authority and lock up key leaders. Borges called the building, with its gold cupola, the “symbol of popular sovereignty.”
“We are a testament to the fight for democracy,” he said at a meeting cobbled together amid mounting uncertainty about the legislature’s future. “It should be known this assembly was true to its mandate.”
In theory, both the National Assembly and the pro-government constitutional assembly can rule simultaneously, but the new super body created through a July 30 election that drew international condemnation has the authority to trump any other branch of government — and Venezuela’s leaders have promised to do just that.
Since its installation Friday, the constitutional assembly has signaled that it will act swiftly in response to President Nicolas Maduro’s commands, which have included calls to strip legislators of their constitutional immunity from prosecution.
National Assembly members voted unanimously not to recognize any of the new super-body’s decisions, which include removing chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz from power and installing a “truth commission” that will wield unusual authority to prosecute and levy sentences.
Ortega Diaz’s replacement, Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who was recently sanctioned by Washington for failing to protect protesters from abuses in his role as the nation’s top human rights official, appeared on state television to both chastise the leader of the agency he will oversee and announce his plans to revamp it.
He criticized Ortega Diaz for “fanning the flames” of political conflict in Venezuela and said he would proceed with a “logical restructuring” of an office he deemed overly political and bureaucratic.
Ortega Diaz is not recognizing Saab as chief prosecutor, and both opposition leaders and foreign dignitaries have said they will not acknowledge him as Venezuela’s top law enforcement official.
John Magdaleno, director of the Caracas-based consulting firm POLITY, said that rather than having co-existing assemblies and chief prosecutors, it is more likely that opposition-controlled institutions will be rendered powerless as Maduro’s administration further consolidates Venezuela into an authoritarian state.