Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro yesterday urged the nation’s Supreme Court to review a decision stripping the Venezuelan Congress of its last powers, a ruling that set off a storm of criticism from the opposition and foreign governments.
The announcement came just hours before the opposition hoped to mount large protests against the socialist government, spurred by anger over the ruling.
In an address after a Friday night meeting presided over by Maduro, the Venezuelan National Security Council announced it was supporting a review by the court “with the goal of maintaining institutional stability.”
“April is starting on a good step,” Maduro said jubilantly surrounded by a dozen officials after the emergency meeting. “Constitutional victory.”
Opposition leaders were quick to condemn the announcement as a ploy that did little to alleviate the crisis.
“Let’s be absolutely clear,” Venezuelan National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara said. “A revision of a decision that leaves everything like before doesn’t resolve a coup.”
The three-hour-long meeting capped an extraordinary day in which Venezuela’s chief prosecutor and long-time loyalist of the socialist government broke with the Maduro administration and denounced the court ruling.
Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said it was her “unavoidable historical duty” as the nation’s top judicial authority to decry the ruling against the opposition-controlled National Assembly as a “rupture” of the constitutional order.
“We call for reflection so that the democratic path can be retaken,” she said to the applause of aides around her.
Maduro convoked the council seeking to calm the political uproar, but at least one key member refused to attend.
About a dozen officials were present at the session, but among those notably absent was Venezuelan National Assembly President Julio Borges, who said the meeting was no more than a circus act created for a convenient photo opportunity by the same person the opposition blames for the country’s troubles.
“In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote,” Borges said.
Maduro, dressed in black and waving a small blue book containing the Venezuelan Constitution early in the televised meeting, likened the international condemnation of the court decision to a “political lynching.”
On Friday, troops from the Venezuelan National Guard fired buckshot and swung batons at students protesting in front of the court.
A few people were arrested and some journalists covering the demonstration had their cameras taken. A few small protests popped up elsewhere in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
Larger demonstrations were expected yesterday in what opposition leaders hoped would be a big turnout to denounce Maduro and call for elections.
“We all have to get out — for the dignity of our country, the dignity of our children and the dignity of Venezuela,” Borges said in urging Venezuelans to join in protests.
The court ruled late on Wednesday that until lawmakers abide by previous rulings that nullified all legislation passed by congress, the high court could assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition since it won a landslide victory in elections in late 2015.
Friday brought a second day of condemnations of the ruling by the US and governments across Latin America.
The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) likened the decision to a “self-inflicted coup” by Maduro and the UN’s top human rights official urged the high court to reverse its decision.
The OAS announced that it will hold an emergency meeting at its Washington headquarters tomorrow to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
Venezuelan opposition leaders called on other public officials to follow Ortega Diaz’s example in repudiating the court’s ruling.
Some urged the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela, to defend the constitution drafted by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
“You have a new opportunity to show the country and international community if you are with the dictatorship or want your children and grandchildren to grow and live in a country where there’s democracy and liberty,” said David Smolansky, the mayor of El Hatillo municipality in Caracas.
The normally ever-present Maduro was conspicuously silent during much of the two days of turmoil, but then he went on state TV to say that Venezuela’s institutions are operating normally.
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