Venezuela faces outrage after new
assembly takes legislative power
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[August 19, 2017]
By Hugh Bronstein and Julia Symmes Cobb
CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuela's new
legislative superbody was criticized by South American governments and
Washington on Friday after giving itself the power to pass laws,
superseding the opposition-led congress while ex-top prosecutor Luisa
Ortega fled the country.
President Nicolas Maduro sponsored last month's election of the
545-member constituent assembly over objections from the opposition,
which boycotted the vote, calling it an affront to democracy. In its
first session on Aug. 5 the assembly fired Ortega, who had accused
Maduro of human rights violations.
The oil-rich but economically ailing country has seen months of
political unrest in which more than 125 people have died.
Ortega arrived in neighboring Colombia on Friday, migration authorities
in Bogota said. She told Reuters in an Aug. 10 interview that she feared
for her life in Venezuela, although she still considered herself the
country's chief prosecutor.
U.S. State Department meanwhile joined South American trade bloc
Mercosur in condemning the new super-assembly.
"As long as the Maduro regime continues to conduct itself as an
authoritarian dictatorship, we are prepared to bring the full weight of
American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the
Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy," the State
Department said in a statement.
In practice, the assembly's assumption of legislative power changed
little in Venezuela, where the Supreme Court has shot down nearly every
law that congress has approved since it was taken over by the opposition
Delcy Rodriguez, a Maduro ally and president of the constituent
assembly, insisted the move did not imply a dissolution of the congress.
"Those lazy bums have to work. What we are doing is telling them:
'Gentlemen, we are not going to let you take a holiday'," Rodriguez said
in a reference to opposition legislators.
But trade bloc Mercosur condemned what it called a usurpation of
legislative power, according to a statement released by Brazil's Foreign
Ministry. Mercosur founding members Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and
Paraguay will not recognize any measures taken by the assembly, the
The assembly had invited leaders of the existing congress to join the
session. Congressional leaders did not attend, insisting it was
fraudulently created and usurped their powers.
"(Congress) only obeys the constitution and the people. We do not
recognize the constituent assembly, much less subordinate ourselves to
it," Freddy Guevara, an opposition politician and vice president of the
congress, wrote on Twitter.
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Delcy Rodriguez (C), president of the National Constituent Assembly,
speaks during a meeting of the Truth Commission in Caracas,
Venezuela August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
"This afternoon the attorney general of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz
arrived from Aruba in a private plane to Bogota's airport and
completed the corresponding migration process," Colombia's migration
agency said in a statement.
She was accompanied by her husband, the legislator German Ferrer,
the agency added. It was not clear whether the couple were seeking
asylum in Colombia.
Her replacement, ex-human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab, this week
outlined corruption accusations against Ortega and her husband. The
couple is accused of running an "extortion gang" and funneling
profits into an account in the Bahamas.
Maduro pushed for the creation of the constituent assembly on
promises it would bring peace to the country.
Anti-government demonstrations have run out of steam since the
assembly's July 30 election as opposition leaders prepare candidates
for gubernatorial elections expected in October. Many opposition
supporters are demoralized and the assembly shows no sign of letting
up the political pressure.
It has formed a truth commission to investigate opposition
gubernatorial candidates to see if played a role in any violent
protests over the last four and a half months. If found to have done
so they may face charges under a proposed "law against expressions
of hate and intolerance," backed by Maduro.
Rights groups say the measure is worded so vaguely that it could be
used to prosecute nearly anyone who voices dissent.
(Additional reporting by Corina Pons, Brian Ellsworth, Andreina
Aponte in Caracas, Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Eric Walsh in
Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish, Robert Birsel)
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